Believe it or not, the North Star State has a burgeoning wine industry that has grown along with the state’s craft beer and spirits trends. Unlike beer and spirits, however, winemaking takes a little more patience. Vines have to mature over several years to achieve target flavors and bouquets. Fortunately, several of Minnesota’s wines are starting to peak, and happen to be some of the Midwest’s best.
The grandaddy of Minnesota wineries, Alexis Bailly has been in business since the late 1970s. The winery makes the claim that it is the first commercial winery to grow and use grapes grown in Minnesota. Although it’s been best known for its dessert wines, Bailly’s maturing vineyards are now producing grapes that make smooth and complex reds. Its beautiful setting on bluff-top farm make it a perfect locale for a day trip and picnic. Play some bocce ball and enjoy the vineyard’s sculpture garden.
Not only does it produce some of the state’s best wine, but Carlos Creek also happens to be a pretty fun place to visit. The tasting bar serves up pizza and live music on weekends. Every September, the winery hosts its three-day Grape Stomp Festival, which includes live music on four stages, food, artists, and hundreds of teams competing to crush 10,000 pounds of grapes with their feet. Try the kinda-sweet Hot Dish Red or the Wobegon White, which hints at a Riesling.
The Peterson family started out making and selling honey and then tried their hands at honey wines. Since making its first wines in the early 1990s, WineHaven has expanded its roster to include fruit and dessert wines, as well mead, and more standard grape offerings like merlot and Rieslings. The winery also hosts several events throughout the year, like cheese and chocolate tastings paired with its wines.
One of the state’s prettiest wineries, the petite (six and half acres) Falconer Vineyards is perched on the Mississippi River bluffs an hour south of the Twin Cities. Sip from your samples while looking out across the vineyards and down the tree-lined valleys. Be sure to try the Frontenac rosé, which was voted best white wine by the Minnesota Grape Growers Association.
This is an ideal destination for families with apple-picking children. St. Croix Vineyards is immediately adjacent to Aamodt’s Apple Orchard, so parents can brace themselves for the impending hayrides and caramel apple messes—before and after visiting the orchard. The winery, itself, also has a calming herd of goats and hosts a Grape Stomp Festival the weekend after Labor Day.
Located in downtown Cannon Falls, Cannon River Winery’s tasting room is as popular with the locals as it is with tourists. The tasting counter is large and inviting, and serves up crisp white wines like the winery’s chardonnay, “Classic White,” made from Cannon River’s own grapes. They’re grown on a vineyard located on 20 acres just outside of town. Visitors can buy wine by the bottle and accessories at the shop adjacent to the tasting room.
At Millner Heritage Vineyard, it’s all about the grapes. With a clear German and Eastern European influence in its wines, you’ll taste the difference that diligence makes when you sample the winery’s Riesling and dry reds. As an added bonus, Millner Heritage also grows its own apples and presses a cider that’s crisp and refreshing… not a bad palate-cleanser.
Featuring Minnesota’s only underground aging cellar, Morgan Creek makes its wines in naturally-ideal temperatures, which is apparent in its final products. On Saturday nights from May through October, Morgan Creek offers live jazz to enhance your sampling experience, as well as an annual Winemakers Dinner in November.
With a focus on wines made from grapes developed in the Upper Midwest, Wild Mountain’s dozen or so wines are true regional specialties. Featuring several dry whites and reds, as well as few sweet wines, this winery takes a scientific approach to vintner’s perfection. The full-bodied “Rustic Red” could hold its own against a ribeye from Manny’s.