Wouldn't it be nice this summer to escape from your busy, hectic, real life and run away to wine country? Can't you just picture yourself in a rented convertible driving through rolling, picturesque hills with a picnic in the trunk as you head to a small winery, where you might be inspired to play a little bocce under the graceful trees? Wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to pay the $6 million plane ticket? Well, you don't. You can have it all—right here in good ol' Minnesota.
(Cue the record screech.) What!?
The only requirement for a little time in Minnesota wine country is an open mind. You have to leave your wine snobbery in your mud room as you head out the door because it's not like they're pouring you a glass of battery acid. Local wine is made from fermented grapes just like the Californians', and our wine is harder won: It has more character and fortitude. That alone should make you give it a shot. Remember, people used to turn up their noses at wine made in, uh, Oregon. (They must have, right?)
We'll call it something kitschy and puntastic like the Frosty Vine Tour or Searching for Parka Pinot. Grapes of Humidity? Mosquito Varietals? Nah . . .
Alexis Bailey Vineyard is arguably the most well-known of our local vineyards. Driving down through Hastings is a nice ride, and the vineyard itself is summer wonderful. The vine-covered deck is perfect for sampling wine with your picnic fare, which can be supplemented with the vineyard's available local cheese assortment. You'll find friendly competition at the bocce ball court and amiable winery workers who will answer any of your questions. A classic, low-key winery afternoon.
Down in Red Wing, Falconer Vineyards hosts a Music in the Vines concert series. Stroll around the vineyard, get some sampling in, and cop a squat on the ground and listen to local musicians in a very comfortable, laid-back setting.
This weekend at the Cannon River Winery, it's the Minnesota Meritage release party. There'll be jazz, food sampling, and a special winemaker's tour on Sunday. If you can't make it this weekend, plan to stop by after a bike ride through the nearby Sogn Valley or attend one of the Wine Appreciation 101 classes with the winemaker.
Carlos Creek Winery is a little bit of Disneyland madness but fun nonetheless. Located in Alexandria, the winery encompasses 160 acres, which can be toured on a Segway! Or a four-seater Surrey bike! Besides wine, the winery operates the Shops at Carlos Creek and claims to have North America's largest living maze. It is open every day, year-round, and next month, they're throwing a barn dance and silent auction to benefit military families.
Vino in the Valley is a little different; it's like an outdoor restaurant and vineyard all in one. Thursday through Sunday, the outdoor pavilion is turned into a restaurant serving brick-oven pizzas and pastas along with the vineyard's bottles. The scenery of the surrounding Rush River Valley just might lull you into finding a room at one of the area B&Bs.
Morgan Creek Vineyard in New Ulm also offers wood-fired pizzas and flatbreads as well as Swiss raclette on their Friday night Winedown for the Weekend. In one of the most beautifully landscaped wineries around, you may also partake in cooking classes, a German wine tasting festival (in conjunction with New Ulm's Bavarian Blast celebration), and a Welsh poetry festival (this Sunday).