The proliferation of vineyards and wineries in Minnesota has been the catalyst for new activities such as tours, tastings and vineyard concerts. And pairing up a wine tasting with a round of golf has become a popular pastime.
As this new agri-tourism model has emerged, various collections of wineries have formed wine trails. Most of the places on these trails have tasting rooms, offer tours and have periodic events such as entertainment, prix fixe dinners with wine pairings, and the vineyard version of a harvest celebration – the grape stomp. And each trail is close to several excellent golf offerings.
This tasty buffet of Minnesota wineries grew thanks to the cold-hardy grapes developed at the University of Minnesota, including the Frontenac, LaCrescent, St. Croix and St. Pepin grapes. Many of the approximately 38 Minnesota producers also make wines created from French and German varietals, such as Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling, as well as fruit wines.
The Three Rivers Wine Trail
Minnesota's first wine trail features five wineries in the St. Croix, Mississippi and Cannon River valleys, from Stillwater to Red Wing to Cannon Falls. Visitors to these wineries enjoy scenic views, charming towns and quality products. At Falconer Vinyards near Red Wing, you can take in scenic bluff views from the outdoor deck, savor wood-fired pizza, and enjoy a music performance. www.3riverswinetrail.com
Golf nearby: Oak Glen GC and Stoneridge GC, Stillwater; Mississippi National GL, Cottage Grove; Gopher Hills GC and Summit GC, Cannon Falls
The Heartland Wine Trail
Seven vineyards in the south central part of the state form a circular route. Woodland Hill in Delano is on Fountain Lake and also offers rhubarb and strawberries. At Millner Heritage near St. Cloud there's a trolley tour of the vineyard, an onsite restaurant open Thursday-Sunday plus an October 29 Halloween Masquerade Ball. Also in the area, the Crow River Winery just opened an event center and garden courtyard. Sovereign Estate, on the shores of Lake Waconia, has a tasting room that parrots a Parisian bistro. www.heartlandwinetrailmn.org
Golf nearby: Territory GC, St. Cloud; Island View GC, Waconia; Crow River GC, Hutchinson; Redwood Falls GC; Little Crow GC, Spicer
Minnesota Sips of History Wine Trail
The places on this trail have the Minnesota River in common. To make it more interesting, the four vineyards on the trail are 'paired' with a venerable 150-year-old brewery and six historic sites. Tours of Schell's Brewery end in its neat Rathskeller. Morgan Creek Vineyard in Cambria has ongoing events and classes. Together with the Heartland Trail the two make for a nifty circle tour. www.mnriverwinebeerhistorytrail.com
Golf nearby: New Ulm GC; Ridges at Sand Creek, Jordan; Stonebrooke GC and The Wilds GC, Shakopee; Minneopa GC, Mankato
American Viticultural Areas
An AVA (American Viticultural Area) is a federally designated geographical area with growing conditions that are deemed by the U.S. government to be distinctive from climate, soil and elevation perspectives. At least 85 percent of the grapes used to make wine must be grown within the AVA.
Minnesota has two American Viticultural Areas. The first was the Alexandria Lakes AVA, which contains popular Carlos Creek Winery. Carlos Creek has a lovely setting with vineyard, orchard, wine cave, and a two-seater Surrey bike for rent. The Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA has parts in four states, including six Minnesota vineyards, and is the largest AVA in the United States.
Alexandria golf: Alexandria GC, Atikwa at Arrowwood Resort, Geneva GC, Lake Miltona GC
Great River Road Wine Trail
The Great River Road Wine Trail includes three Minnesota stops, as well as seven Wisconsin spots, all part of the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA. Garvin Heights may be Minnesota's most scenic winery, hovering on the Mississippi River bluff above the town of Winona. Two of the Minnesota wineries on this trail are also on the Three Rivers Wine Trail. www.greatriverroadwinetrail.org
Golf nearby: Soldiers Memorial Field GC, Willow Creek GC and Northern Hills GC, Rochester; The Bridges GC and Cedar Valley GC, Winona