Living in Minnesota has its rewards; a brief but beautiful summertime, numerous lakes, rivers and streams, gorgeous open plains and dense forests, fresh air and a high quality of life. It’s becoming more known for its restaurants and food scene, and gets either high praise or dubious press over the local professional sports teams.
One thing it isn’t famous for is vineyards. Sure enough, they do exist in this state and you can find them online at
I met Nicole in my Wine Professionals Certification course last Fall at Saint Paul College, and her dream was to build a vineyard. Her and her husband Jeff bought a five-acre property in Buffalo, MN, complete with a huge pole barn; and this past Spring I had the great honor of leaving behind copious amounts of sweat and lending a hand as they began their adventure into building a vineyard and eventually, a winery.
Through an all day class at a vineyard in Lake City, Nicole learned the ins and outs of planting a vineyard- growing the vines, pruning, prep, the trellis system and times for harvest. She has already dabbled in home wine making, plucking recipes from a small handbook titled ‘The Winemakers Recipe Handbook’ and collecting bushels of fruit from family members in which she turns into amazing creations adorned with her own homemade labels. One sampling of a sparkling apple wine left me in awe- it was full of fresh picked flavor, like biting into a crisp beauty plucked straight off the tree; a strawberry wine was light and luscious with just enough sweetness, redolent of warm sunny red fruit, leaving me with pictures in my head of straw hats, balmy breezes and quiet rocking chairs on a sun dappled porch. But building a vineyard is not something that one does who expects immediate gratification. Nicole explained that in order to produce enough grapes to make a decent amount of wine, it would require a near 15-year commitment to get the vines to that point, and has set a goal of 10 years, more or less, to establish a tasting room and turn a section of their pole barn into a bonafide winery. Plenty of time as well to nurture her growing family as her and Jeff are expecting their first child this Fall. Nicole’s energy is inspiring; she has age on her side, being not quite 30, as well as drive and dedication. Building a vineyard while pregnant may seem overwhelming to some, but given the fact that Nicole built an education that included a Masters Degree by the age of 21, it doesn’t surprise me that she has the means to make this dream happen. Once her mind is set to it, she makes it a reality. I really look forward to trying her wines in the not so near future.
This is the half acreage of her property that was recently tilled over to supply ample room to grow Marquette, La Crescent and Frontenac wine grapes, capable of surviving Minnesota’s harsh winter weather. The first step in laying the foundation of a successful vineyard is to install a trellis system. On a fine Spring day, with enough of a cloud cover to keep the sun from burning us blind, we set out to hand dig every hole necessary to install the posts that would create the solid backdrop to hold tight some 300 plants she was planning to put in the ground. The earth was soft and with the help of Jeff, her dad and brother, over and over we ground out two foot depths and centered dozens of poles into the earth to form the main frame. The work was slow and taxing; compounded by moist clay that clung heavily to the pole borer and had to be clawed out with hand shovels. Even working hard for 6 hours, we barely made a dent in placing those poles.
That tiny white speck is Nicole, and no those aren’t toothpicks lying on the ground; those are 10 foot 4×4’s that got sunk into the ground at 8-foot intervals.
Nicole and her dad work out leveling the pole and filling in the soil around it. Eventually, once the vines are in and established, wire will be strung between the poles to create space for the vines to attach.
Nothing in this world worth having comes without some kind of sacrifice. Before too long, those poles were in, and in my second part of this series, I will share how Minnesota grape vines are planted and the means it takes to get them growing.