The Free Press, Mankato, MN


February 25, 2014

Chankaska hires new winemaker

Mike Drash brings years of experience from Napa Valley

Mike Drash and his wife were considering a move to the Midwest — his wife has family in Wisconsin — when he noticed a peculiar job opening for a little winery in Kasota.

Funny thing was, the ad came from the same search firm used by the elite wineries in Napa Valley, some of the same wineries where he’d worked for years. So he took the ad seriously. And when he came out to visit Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery, he was impressed.

“If you put this place in Napa it would fit right in,” Drash said. “If it had been some mom and pop podunk, I wouldn’t have wasted my time.”

Drash interviewed for the job in December. A short time later he accepted. Two weeks ago, he arrived. Much of what he’s experienced so far isn’t that different from wineries in Napa.

“Today I’m down in the cellar and, besides looking outside at the snow and it being six below, it’s a winery,” Drash said.

But there are some differences. Major differences.

Drash has never worked with so-called cold-climate grape varieties, but he’s ready to jump into it. In fact, last weekend he attended a conference on cold-weather wine-making. While there, he said, he tasted about 20 different wines using the University of Minnesota-developed Marquette grape.

Chankaska’s Marquette red wine recently won a national award. Drash said the complexity of the Marquette is something he’s eager to dig into from an agricultural, chemical and artistic standpoint. He also excited to get learning about cold-weather grapes and their personalities.

In Napa, Drash said, the volume is a little different. Growers talk about their product in terms of “acres,” whereas in Minnesota they talk about in terms of “vines.”

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