Winona = Wine Country

I like wine. In fact, I like wine enough to have visited California’s famed wine regions more than once to sample the fare at legendary wineries. A few years ago if you visited a ” wine trail” it almost certainly meant you were out west somewhere, because it was the only place temperate enough for the grapes.

Well not so fast. Winona, Minnesota is on a wine trail too. For real. I had no idea.

This revelation came as I sat across a table from Marvin and Linda Seppanen, a couple who lives atop the bluff on the fringe of beautiful Winona. I had heard about a couple of wineries in the region, but the only products I’d sampled had been that sweet fruit wine that I don’t especially love. (Okay listen, don’t send me angry notes – I know lots of people love apple wine and cherry wine and plum wine and revel in its sweetness, but I happen to be more of a chardonnay and cabernet type of girl).

Anyway, we were at a cocktail party and engaging in the normal chatter: Them: “Your name sounds familiar. Are you the Cynthya Porter that writes for the paper?” “Yes, that’s me.” “Oh, that makes you Porter the reporter.” Laughs all around. sigh. If I had $1 for every time I’ve heard that… well, I’d have a lot of money, so anyway, they were probably laughing a little harder than I was.

Me: “So what do you do?” “Oh, we own a winery.” Which of course made me spit my pinot noir. “Really? Where?” “Right on top of the hill.”

For the next half an hour I got a wonderful education from the Seppanens about grapes and wine making and how the University of Minnesota has spent 30 years tweaking grapes to make them not only survive in this climate, but thrive. The results go far beyond those sweet fruit wines that I won’t bring up again, producing lush, complex wines that would rival a lot of wineries out west.

But wait, there’s more.

The Seppanens with their Garvin Heights Vineyard aren’t the only ones doing this. They are on something called the Great River Road Wine Trail, which snakes down the Mississippi from Prescott to Marquette. The wineries on this trail are a bit more spread out than the wineries in Napa Valley, but the drive is arguably more beautiful here and they have products that are every bit as interesting to sample.

How could I not know this? I’ve written about wineries in Door County. I’ve photographed wineries in Monterrey. Here, in my own stomping grounds, these wineries have been quietly springing up, even selling their products at local stores and I’ve never visited them.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for summer, when I will open the windows, fold a map and set out on the Great River Road Wine Trail to see this for myself. If you’ve been to one of these wineries I’d love to hear what your favorites were.

Wine grapes
Ready to pick...

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