Do you think that wine is only made in California? Well Skippy, you would be wrong about that. American’s don’t live by those kinds of rules. We make wine where we want. For instance? Minnesota. Land ‘o 10,000 lakes. And this viticultural area is surrounded by several.
Grapes produced: Brianna, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, King of the North, Marquette, Petit Pearl, Prairie Star, Sabrevois, Valiant
Weirdest nearby attraction: Kensington Runestone – a 200lb slab of greywacke covered in alleged 14th century runes that is generally considered to be a hoax. Wine lovers please note that greywacke is generally thought of as a soil base for wines in Germany, New Zealand and South Africa.
On my way back from Walla Walla and before I reached my stop at Bunbury Farm, I stopped at the one winery in the one viticulture area entirely within the state of Minnesota. Alexandria Lakes, as previously mentioned is tucked in between several of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. Currently there is only one winery located in this region, Carlos Creek.
I pulled into the winery’s driveway on a Wednesday morning in June to find the place packed. Maybe folks were taking 4th of July vacations early, but I got the feeling that the place was used to this kind of crowd. The tasting room was large with a rectangular bar in the center. One side of bar was stocked with the wines shelves and related tchotchkes. The other side of the bar had tables for groups to linger at including a cozy firepit.
I walked up to the bar for a tasting ($5.00 which includes a keepsake wine glass) and began to try the wines. I learned that the winery has twelve acres of vines of Frontenac, Foch, Valiant, Swenson Red, La Crescent, King of the North, Brianna, Marquette, Petite Pearl and Edelweiss and fifteen acres of apples including Honeycrisp, the Minnesota State apple. The winery also makes wine from contract grown fruit that is both local and out of state.
I began with the Chardonnay (grown in California as that is not a grape to survive the harsh Minnesota winters. The color was beautiful and tasted dry with a nice amount of fruit although the finish was a shade metallic.
The Woebegone White was pale and offsweet with the flavors of apples and pear and is produced from Frontenac Gris. This wine is part of the wineries “Minnesota Nice” line which are made entirely of locally grown fruit. It is a nice wine for a hot summer afternoon spritzer (my preferred way of drinking sweeter wines). The line also includes the Hot Dish Red, a blend of Frontenac and Valiant and the You Betcha Blush (a phrase, I sadly associate with Alaska instead of Minnesota these days) which is also Frontenac based.
Next I tried the reds. I started with the Marquette. The grape is a recent development from the University of Minnesota which has a strong viticulture program and is the Upper Midwest’s answer to Pinot Noir. It was certainly dry, with distinct tannins and smooth texture. In all fairness though, it was not my favorite as there was a distinct foxiness to the wine.
I then tried the house Chianti which is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and several estate grown grapes. I liked this wine. Like my favorite kinds of Chianti, it was flavorful and smooth to make it perfect to drink with dinner.
The last wine I tasted was the Trinity, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah and ended up being my favorite wine of the afternoon. I have to admit to enjoy trying traditional varietals from local wineries. I feel that these wines provide a baseline about a winery. I know what California Cabernet is supposed to taste like. When I try the local options, I am better able to pick up the nuances of varietals that I am less familiar with and terroir. The Trinity was cherry and peppery on the nose with a taste spiced cherries and plums.
At this point in my visit a tour of the facility was beginning, led by the wineries’ owner Tami Bredeson. We learned that she and her husband Kim became interested in wine and winemaking after he was commissioned to produce a carved mantelpiece for a woman who worked for Robert Mondavi. As a thank you, she gave them a bottle of Opus One and the Bredesons decided to learn more about wine before opening that bottle.
I have been on several winery tours and this was about the most thorough that I have seen (particularly for a winery without an extensive history). We learned how they chose the cork for their bottles (Sardinian cork) and the cooperage that they buy barrels from (Kelvin Cooperage). A nice surprise was the cave built under the winery. The Bredeson’s attention to detail is impressive.
Like most wineries, the Carlos Creek hosts a wide assortment of events in addition to the tastings and tours, including weddings, craft shows, live music, surrey bike rides, mazes for the kids, cross country skiing and dog sled rides. This is not your average country winery.
Whhoooa… Back up there partner! I skipped a highlight of Minnesota. Silly me.
That highlight is Minnesota’s only AVA, Alexandria Lakes. The appellation was created in 2005 and is located between Lakes Ida, Carlos, Darling, Alvin and Miltona. (Hey, it is Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, after all)
The AVA is nearly 11,000 acres and home to one winery. Carlos Creek Winery is the largest winery in the State of Minnesota and is located on 160 acres of which 12 acres are planted with vines such as Frontenac, Marechel Foch, Valiant, Swenson Red, La Crescent, King of the North, Brianna, Marquette, Petite Pearl and Edelweiss. They make sixteen wines from their estate grown grapes as well as out of state grapes and juice and six apple wines (there are fifteen acres of apple orchards on the property as well).
Best of all? The winery is just a hop, skip and a jump from the interstate! Hoping that I will get a chance to stop!