Anyone with preconceived ideas about Minnesota wines is probably re-evaluating those notions if they were part of Saturday's first-annual Savor Minnesota event at Canterbury Park, which featured the best of Minnesota wine, food, and beer. Though the exhibitors were overwhelmingly Minnesota vineyards, none of the 300 or so tasters at the event was heard complaining. A $40 ticket was a license to sample and savor the products of more than 30 local vendors, from wineries and Summit beer to cupcakes and oysters.
It turns out Minnesota wine can be far from the sweet cranberry reds and apple whites you might expect.
It was easy to tell some of the wineries were newer at this than others, but Saint Croix Vineyards of Stillwater, Crofut Family Winery & Vineyard of Jordan, and Winehaven Winery and Vineyard of Chisago City stood out from the rest.
The common thread among the wines was the use of four cold-hardy grape varieties bred at the University of Minnesota, and a few of the school's grape-breeding experts were even there to talk grapes. Marquette is Minnesota's newest variety, and though many wineries have already sold out of last year's Marquette reds, which feature notes of cherry, berry, spice, and black pepper, by midsummer you can expect to see much more of it.
La Crescent, a Riesling-esque white, was very popular. The Saint Croix Vineyards' version was a favorite--crisp and not too sweet.
Frontenac and Frontenac Gris were also regulars, two other grapes bred at the U of M that produce dry reds and sweet whites, respectively. Warehouse Winery's Frontenac-St. Croix red blend was a favorite, with a roasted coffee aroma and earthy fruit tones, as was Crofut Family Winery & Vineyard's award-winning Frontenac Gris.
The food from Chester Creek Café in Duluth might just be worth the drive north. The café's curried oysters were buttery and flavorful, and the paprika roasted almonds were addicting. Matchstick carrots with cumin, potatoes with aioli sauce ... the pleasures went on and on.
All in all, a successful debut for the event, sponsored by Minnesota Grown and Minnesota Farm Winery Association. And the best part may have been learning that you no longer have to travel to the coast for a great day of vineyard hopping and wine tasting. Napa Valley--watch out!