On the trail of Minnesota wine
Thanks in part to the University of Minnesota, you can now add "wine trail" to your list of Minnesota trails to explore. Simply follow the Three Rivers Wine Trail to enjoy locally-produced wines, tour wineries and view riverside scenery. Minnesota's first wine trail involves six wineries in the St. Croix, Mississippi and Cannon river valleys.
The university's wine grape program developed varieties that create delectable locally-produced wines. U of M grape varieties include Frontenac, Frontenac gris, La Crescent and Marquette.
Kent Gustafson, a Tourism Center Extension educator, helped get things started. "Wineries combine grape production and processing (agriculture) with wine tasting and tours (tourism)," said Gustafson, who works in the area of tourism development called agri-tourism. "It's a popular way for tourists to experience an element of agriculture production without really thinking they are visiting a farm."
Intrigued by a student's paper on the idea of a statewide wine trail, Gustafson recognized an agri-tourism project in the making. After researching wineries in the Twin Cities metro area, he met with owners of several wineries who expressed an interest in developing a wine trail. Several meetings later, they created an informal organization, produced a website and a brochure, and agreed to a grand opening event.
Two more successful events followed the trail's grand opening in June 2006—a fall colors tour and a cheese and chocolate Sunday. Although the trail is still in its infancy, one winery has indicated its business during the event weekends was double that of the same period in 2005.
To plan your next day trip to a growing industry, see www.threeriverswinetrail.com.
For more information, see www.tourism.umn.edu/
Locally grown university grapes
For more than 50 years, the University of Minnesota's Agricultural Experiment Station has been breeding cold-hardy, disease-resistant grape varieties that also taste good. The university has more than 10,000 experimental vines growing at the Horticultural Research Center near the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. There, a university winemaker also tests hybrids for superior wine quality potential.
Frontenac, introduced by the University of Minnesota in 1996, has become the most popular wine grape in Minnesota. The university also introduced La Crescent in 2002, Frontenac gris in 2004 and Marquette in 2006, in support of Minnesota's expanding grape and wine industry.
To learn more about growing grapes in Minnesota, see www.grapes.umn.edu or www1.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/fruit/growing-grapes-for-home-use/