Sit back with a glass of wine, and enjoy this tale of three Frontenacs.
Minnesota has a difficult climate. I probably don’t even need to tell you that, since most MN Uncorked readers are from the Midwest, but you might be interested to know that since 1887 the University of Minnesota has been developing trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers and fruit to flourish here in spite of the bitter cold winters and hot, humid summers.
Perhaps among the best known fruit developed by the U of M are apples, inducing popular varieties such as Honeycrisp, Zestar!®, Rave®, First Kiss®, and SweeTango®.
In the 1970’s a wine grape breeding program was added to their roster of specialities which has resulted in the release of several celebrated wine grape varieties, among them are Frontenac (1996), a red grape; Frontenac Gris (2003), a pinkish-gray skinned berry; and Frontenac Blanc (2012), a white grape.
Deviating from the norm
The change in skin color for the Frontenac Gris and Frontenac Blanc grapes are a mutation, or a a slight genetic difference. Mutations can result in a trait that could be favorable, unfavorable, or negligible from the original.
You might be familiar with wine grape mutations such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio) and Pinot Blanc, which likely transformed hundreds of years ago and have since been cultivated worldwide. It was actually through DNA prototyping results published in 2000 that confirmed the Pinots’ lineage (Regner et al. 2000).
In the case of Frontenac, Minnesota’s vintners actually got to see it happen, noticing changes in their vines from black-skinned berries to pinkish-gray (gris), and white (blanc).
Breeding the mutated vines creates more of the same, and extensive winemaking and analysis of the results deemed Frontenac Gris and Frontenac Blanc also fit for winemaking, named and released for commercial use.
What I’ve summed up into a few lines above is astonishingly complex. If you’re ready for another glass of wine head on over here to read more about the process of developing new wine grape varieties.
Fast-forward to the incredible wines being made from Frontenac today, which is increasingly becoming one of my favorite local varietals. From stunning, tropical fruited white wines to smooth, decadent reds and gorgeous late-harvest and port style wines, I’m wild about what I’m seeing from the varietal. Here are a few examples:
7 Vines Vineyard Frontenac Blanc 2017
A decadent gold color. Ripe tropical fruit (pineapple) followed by developing aromas of petrol, dried apricot, honey, and candied orange. The wine is dry with high acidity, and medium body with flavors of lemon, fresh apricot, and tart pineapple, with a lengthy finish.
Pairing suggestion: Due to the backbone of acidity in this wine, imagine this would be a delightful pairing with something salty – perhaps prosciutto wrapped walleye, or pasta con pancetta.
Round Lake Vineyards Frontenac Gris 2017
A rich, salmon hue. Floral aromas, ripe peach, apricot, and fresh strawberry jam. The wine is semi-dry, balanced by moderately high acidity and medium-bodied with flavors of tangerine, grapefruit and strawberry.
Pairing suggestion: The wine has a slight sweetness that would play well with spicy asian dishes.
Carlos Creek Winery Frontenac Reserve 2017
Rich ruby color with a hint of brown. Fragrant, ripe red cherries and red currant with developing aromas of baking spice, vanilla, and a light herbal note. The wine is dry, with moderately high acid, medium body, and moderately light tannins that are smooth, and very well integrated. Flavors of cherry and baking spice mirror the nose, in addition to sweet tobacco, and a spicy herbaceous quality.
Pairing suggestion: The sweet/savory interplay of this wine would be a great pairing to seared duck in cherry sauce.
Parley Lake Winery Frontenac Dessert Wine 2016
A deep ruby color. Developing aromas of dried cherry, chocolate, and sweet spice like anise, licorice and vanilla. The wine is semi-dry with moderately high acid, medium body, and moderate, soft tannins. Flavors mirror the nose of cherry and chocolate, followed by and herbaceous and spicy quality.
Pairing suggestion: Give me a snifter of this and call me a happy gal — but if you must, try it alongside a cherry crisp and let me know how it goes.
Samples of these wines were provided by the producers, at my request. Do you have a wine you’d like to see on Minnesota Uncorked? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you
As part of a work experience program, Mahtomedi High School students participated in the harvest at 7 Vines Vineyard and Winery in Dellwood Friday, Sept. 20. The students in the Passages Transition Program visited the vineyard to gain some firsthand knowledge about the different stages of the process of wine production.
Learning opportunities abound for those interested in all things related to this beverage.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Wine is the ultimate lifelong learning topic. On the one hand, the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know, at once a humbling and inspiring feeling. On the other hand, you can pursue all manner of directions — or not — without any pressure to be a completist but with delightful paths along the way.
And there’s absolutely no better time to pursue edifying experiences, with more and better wine-education opportunities than ever before. Just as children are headed “back to school,” all manner of classes, events and venues afford near-endless options for honing our wine skills and knowledge at this time of year.
Two stellar teachers, each enthusiastic and engaging, are responsible for much of this font of knowledge-sharing. Jason Kallsen runs Twin Cities Wine Education, which offers 150 classes a year in six locations. Nikki Erpelding operates Vine Lab Wine & Spirits Academy, conducting courses for all levels of interest. Both will oversee weeklong deep dives into the wondrous world of wine in September (more on them below).
Twin Cities Wine Education: It’s grown steadily in recent years, with Shar Peterson (a graduate of one of Erpelding’s professional courses) coming on board for frequent “foundation of wine” talks on topics such as oak and acidity as well as “Wine After Work” sessions that usual focus on a region or type of wine; these run around $35.
Kallsen, whose ebullience is seriously contagious, puts on a monthly “Ultimate Intro to Wine” that he describes as “really good foundational stuff, including descriptions and being accurate in talking about wine in a restaurant.” Those classes run around $40, and more intermediate and advanced offerings such as “Wine Rivers of the World” and “Aged Oregon Gems” range from $50 to $90.
A lot of these classes fill up quickly, so getting on the e-mail list at twincitieswine.com is well advised.
Provided Jason Kallsen is the founder of Twin Cities Wine Education.
Vine Lab Wine & Spirits Academy: There’s also a looming deadline (Sept. 7) for Erpelding’s courses, including a Wine Pro 2019 “boot camp” that might have wider appeal than Level 2 and 3 Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) curriculum.
And her “Wine Education Week” sessions are bargains for as little as $15, at locals including St. Paul College, France 44 and 7 Vines Winery in Dellwood. Topics range from deciphering wine labels and demystifying Italian wines to “A Tale of Three Frontenacs” and a “Climate and Flavor Workshop.” Check out vinelabwine.com for more details.
Twin Cities Wine Education: Later in the month, this group’s semiannual “Wine Geek Week” focuses on a once-overrated, now-underrated wine region, Australia. There’s a $50 grand tasting (highly recommended) at the University Club in St. Paul on Sept. 24 and classes throughout the week. For details, see twincitieswine.com.
France 44: Also in September, France 44 will launch its fall series of wine/spirits/etc. classes with a Sept. 17 look at the emerging Republic of Georgia on Sept. 17. Of particular interest is “A Wine and Food Experience From the Wild West Coast to the Bold North” with vintner Page Knudsen and masterful cook Beth Dooley on Oct. 8. Go to france44.com for details.
Surdyk’s: Down the road, Surdyk’s will start up its classes in winter (surdyks.com), and the estimable Desta Klein of Meritage restaurant in St. Paul will conduct her semiannual seven- week course ($350; registration opens Dec. 1 at meritage-stp.com/wineschool).
Get thee to Hopkins
The other great way to learn about wine is to sample as many as possible, preferably in small doses. A great place to do that is the newly opened Vine Room wine bar (the Vine Room, 756 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 952-300-3534, thevineroom.co) in beautiful downtown Hopkins. The brainchild of Drew and Ali Hanson (she’s another Erpelding protégée), this bright, vibrant space has a stupendous selection of interesting and accessible wines.
Flights with three wines offer up a particularly swell chance to discover an array of flavors, but customers could throw a dart at the two-page wine list and hit a winner. Bonus points for having the terrific Field Recordings Chenin Blanc on tap. This gem of a wine bar is a worthy successor to Toast Wine Bar in the North Loop, which closed a few years back.
Great vinous get-together
Yet another schooling opportunity is here with the ever-growing Minnesota Wine Country building at the State Fair (1271 Underwood St., across from the Ag/Hort Building).
Actually, for some folks, this is an “unlearning” experience: Anyone who had less-than-stellar encounters with Minnesota wine in the past needs to see how much real progress has been made. Nine of the state’s best wineries are represented, available by the glass ($8) or in flights of three ($11).
Kallsen, Erpelding, local wine consultant Leslee Miller and Winehaven owner Kyle Peterson will be among those making presentations at 3:30 p.m. daily (Aug. 22-Sept. 2), and there’s music at night.
And of course, charcuterie on a stick all day long. Fine (wine)-tuning
Those who already know a lot about wine — and don’t mind shelling out good money — also could “find discovery” these days at Osteria I Nonni (981 Sibley Memorial Hwy., Lilydale, 651-905-1081, osteriainonni.com). There, some of the world’s best wines are available for only $20 more than the retail price at the adjacent store, Sunfish Cellars.
The available bottles are exemplary, featuring top brands from California (Harlan, Shafer Hillside Select), Burgundy (Armand Rousseau, Comte de Vogue), the Rhône (Jean-Louis Chave, E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Mouline), Spain (La Rioja Alta, López de Heredia), Italy (Giacomo Conterno, Quintarelli) and Australia (Penfolds Grange). I doubt there’s ever been a more stout wine list in the Upper Midwest.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.
7 Vines Vineyard is a labor of love founded by married duo Arlie and Ron Peltier, originally planted in 2011. The lovely Dellwood winery is named for Ron's hockey jersey number and the number of grandchildren in the couple's family, with all seven children's names gracing all bottles of wine the company produces. Fine wine varietals produced by the company throughout the year include Riesling, La Crescent, Frontenac Gris, Chardonnay, and Marquette, available for purchase and sampling at the company's public tasting room. Personal winery tours are also available Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays throughout the afternoon hours, overviewing the company's operations and offering samples of the company's current releases. Weekly Yoga at the Winery events are led by local certified yoga instructors.
7 Vines Vineyard in Dellwood is wine country incarnate, while UnWined Up North in Grand Rapids pours more than 30 locally produced wines.
By Bill Ward Special to the Star Tribune
A new winery and a new truly local wine bar are sure signs that Minnesota’s fermented- grape-juice scene is hopping.
Minnesota vineyard, global expertise
I spent a blissful Sunday afternoon at the 7 Vines Vineyard (101 E. Hwy. 96, Dellwood, 7vinesvineyard.com, 651-478-6300), on the north side of White Bear Lake. The vineyards and grounds are wine country incarnate, with slopes of vine-loving sandy loam. The cellar is packed with cutting-edge equipment.
So it’s little wonder that the wines are among the best I’ve tasted in Minnesota. There’s some deftly made stuff sourced from the West Coast (riesling, chardonnay, cabernet), but for me the eureka wines emanate from two cold-climate grapes, Marquette and Frontenac blanc.
The latter is actually a mutation of two University of Minnesota grapes, Frontenac and Frontenac gris, and along with the recently released Itasca, portends very good times ahead for white grapes in these parts. At 7 Vines, a terrific sparkling wine, Cuvée du Peltier, is made with 100% Frontenac blanc grapes. And the still Frontenac blanc is a knockout wine, clean, crisp and seriously delicious.
The winery also makes two versions of Marquette, the U’s most promising red grape. I was particularly enamored of the whole-cluster rendition, with a gorgeous nose and spot-on fruit/tannin/acidity harmony showcasing black fruit and black pepper. The “regular” Marquette gets 25% new French oak and also is nicely integrated.
The cozy bar serves food and wine, some made from cold-climate grapes.
Minnesota native Bryan Forbes worked at wineries on three continents and clearly gleaned some major expertise along the way, and Maureen McKenna is the recently promoted assistant winemaker.
The forces behind the operation are Ron and Arlie Peltier, who fell in love with the property, part of a James J. Hill estate, three-plus decades ago and waited patiently until it became available in 2010. The winery’s name came naturally: Ron wore number 7 as a hockey player at the U under Herb Brooks, and the Peltiers have seven grandchildren, who are commemorated on the foil atop the bottles.
Peltier has taken a “slow and steady wins the race” approach, planting a couple of acres each year and opening to the public in 2017. The warm and cozy wine bar, which serves flatbreads, sandwiches, soups and more, is augmented by an array of outdoor seating.
It’s absolutely worth the drive and would make a dandy “double dip” with another of Minnesota’s best wineries, St. Croix Vineyards (6428 Manning Av., Stillwater, scvwines.com, 651-430-3310). At the very least, pop into nearby Pine Tree Apple Orchard (450 Apple Orchard Road, White Bear Lake, pinetreeappleorchard.com, 651-429-7202) for, among other delicious delights, the kind of apple pie that Grandma used to make (if you had a blessed childhood).
Locavore wine bar
A couple hundred miles to the north, another couple with a vinous vision have seen it come to fruition. In mid-June, Lars and Tia Starks opened UnWined Up North (304 N. Pokegama Av., Grand Rapids, Minn., winebargrandrapidsmn.com, 1-218-999-9234), where the wine list (plus beer and cider) is all Minnesota, all the time.
They’re pouring more than 30 locally produced juice from four wineries — Carlos Creek, Forestedge, Millner Heritage and Cannon River — and beginning in August will add a Minnesota “Winery of the Month” to the offerings.
“We have been busier then we expected,” Lars Starks said. “I often hear ‘Thank you for doing this. We really needed a place like this.’ We feel very fortunate.”
UnWined Up North is open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. And this being Minnesota, there is patio seating throughout the summer.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.