Who would have thought 20 years ago Minnesota would make wines? I guess lots of us would have laugh at this idea. The cold winter months were killing most of the plants and wine makers had to go through a great deal of work to protect the vines from freezing.
Thanks to the research done at the University of Minnesota, Minnesotans can proudly tut their horn. The state has over 40 wineries and more than 600 vineyards. No, this is not a typo. The University developed cold-hardy wine grapes: Frontenac, Frontenac Gris and Marquette for red grapes and La Crescent for whites. If you like sweet and fruity wines, Minnesota wines are for you. I find the so-called dry wines relatively sweet for my French palate, but I can proudly say that the wine-makers know what they are doing, and represent a new standard in cold hardy viticulture and oenology.
So, why not take 2 or 3 days and follow the Great River Road Wine Trail. Eleven wineries are part of the experience. The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. I believe the bluff lands of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa are the most scenic, but this is just my opinion. All 11 wineries on the Great River Road Wine Trail use the same northern grown grapes, but each make distinctive wines.
From the Twin Cities, go south and stop in Cannon Falls to visit the Cannon River Winery located downtown. Then drive to Red Wing and stop at Falconer Vineyards located on the north side of town on Old Tyler Road. Head south of Red Wing to one of the newest winery, Flower Valley Vineyards. Continue driving in the southern direction to Winona and the Garvin Heights Vineyards.
On the second day drive from Winona to Riverview Vineyard & Winery in La Crescent. The next stop south will take you to Iowa and the Eagles Landing Winery in Marquette. At this point you will need to cross the river and take Hwy 35 to the north into Wisconsin for the third stop of the day at Elmaro Vineyard in Trempealeau, WI. A short drive north and you will run into Seven Hawks Vineyards in Fountain City.
The third day will take you to Alma at the Danzinger Vineyards. Continue on your northern track and stop at Villa Bellazza in Pepin. A few miles up the Hwy drive to Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery in Stockholm for the last stop of your voyage.
Most of the wineries have limited hours in the winter months, make sure to check each website before planning your trip. Some offer entertainment in the summer as well as special weekend Wine/Food pairing events worth staying longer.
Where to stay? Spend a couple of nights at the Village House Inn in Winona located on the edge of town. The B&B is an old farmhouse tastefully renovated, a great pied-a-terre for your three days journey.
Just keep in mind, always have a designated driver and drink responsibly.