Turning down the winding road that leads to St. Croix Vineyards, just outside of Stillwater, the afternoon sun basks the boughs of the apple trees and grapevines. A light afternoon breeze catches the branches, which seem to bow to acknowledge our arrival. The grounds, which share space with the Aamodt orchard, are lightly populated. The full fall rush of apple pickers has yet to descend.
Owners Paul Quast and Peter Hemstad greet us at the door. The room smells of fresh-cut wood from the new deck just added to the front of the building. The room is full of people taking advantage of the $5 wine tasting that the vineyard offers. We've arrived for a VIP tour of the vineyard as well as a full tasting.
We begin by returning to the outdoors and walking past the large barn, around the tennis court full of mini John Deere riding toys for tots, over a small hill and up toward the rows and rows of lush grapevines. It's there that we meet with Martin Polognioli, a native of Argentina with a soft accent and an easy smile. He squints over the grapevines as the call of a bird in distress washes over our small group. Quast explains that it's a device they use to help scare the birds off and keep their greedy little beaks off the grape goods. Polognioli places a grape in what appears to be a little metal test tube to measure the brix level of the grapes, the amount of sugar in the crop, to see if they're ready to harvest. Holding the tester up to the eye, a bright purple line indicated that they weren't quite ready. Almost.
Back in the wine room our tasting began with the frontenac gris. The frontenac grape was formulated at the University of Minnesota as a grape that can withstand our frigid winter temperatures. The white wine was a juicy, sweet glass with pronounced peach flavor. They also use this grape to make an ice wine.
They frontenac rose was a nice surprise, not overly sweet or dry, beautifully balanced--an ideal sipping wine for an afternoon in the sun. St. Croix does a bit of everything with this grape, including a red and a port. The port was full of dark cherry flavor, husky and robust.
The crowd favorite was the marquette, a new grape also developed by the U of M viticulture program. Decended from pinot noir, it tastes similar but with a blend of something richer like a cabernet. The wine is just begging for a little steak au poivre. Its gushing blackberry flavor finishes with a hint of vanilla from the barrels they age them in.
St. Croix's reasonably priced wines range from $13.95 for the Seyval to $32.95 for the La Crescent. The tour and tasting lasted a couple of hours, as we walked through where the winery stores its barrels discussing and sampling most of their varietals. All the wine was provided by the vineyard, as well as a parting gift of the marquette, the port, and the La Crescent. It was a fabulous way to spend a late summer afternoon, especially with the Savvy Traveler, Rudy Maxa, another guest of the vineyard, standing next to us offering his take on all the wines in his honey butter voice.
St. Croix Vineyards
6428 Manning Ave.