The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 20, 2012

Wine country comes to rural St. Peter

Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery open for business

— After watching the first grapevines planted three years ago, Kent Schwickert spent the weekend welcoming customers for the first time to Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery near St. Peter.

Schwickert, who owns the winery with a group of investors, had a few large, private events at the winery earlier to give staff a chance to train in before opening to the public.

"Everything is going well. You never know what's coming when you haven't done it before. We had some glitches, but it wasn't anything customers noticed, just challenges for the staff," Schwickert said.

The new winery and retail building, along with expansive grounds that include trails and a creek, were getting rave reviews from customers.  

Mark Weinstein said Chankaska Creek has the feel of California wineries. "It makes you feel like you're in wine country when you drive in and see all the vines on the hills and the stream winding through.

"A lot of people are saying it's nicer than a lot of places in Napa Valley," Weinstein said.

And he gave high marks to the winemaker. "Their wines are really good. Very impressed." 

He said he knows people who have already booked weddings at the winery, one of the things -- along with corporate and other events -- that Chankaska Creek is focusing on.

"I think it's a real asset to the community, really first class," Weinstein said.

Schwickert said he heard nothing but positive comments about the winery grounds, wine and food as a steady stream of customers visited. "We were surprised at how strong the food sales were. The (wood-fired) pizza is very good. Our chef did a great job, but he got backed up about a half hour at times." 

Winemaker Drew Horton was giving tours of the winery, located beneath the retail portion of the building, with most customers interested in the room filled with large oak barrels.

"There's different types of oak used in the barrels. They all have a different scent and give the wine a different flavor," Horton said.

The 300-bottle barrels are filled with wine to age from four to 16 months.

Horton had bottled several varieties three months ago and has many more in oak barrels and stainless steel vats.

Horton has 18 years in the California wine business.

Besides grapes from the vineyard, Horton uses grapes from other Minnesota vineyards and some from Washington and California. Chankaska Creek plans to initially produce nearly 40,000 bottles of wine -- about what other area wineries make annually -- and increase production in coming years.

Wines now available include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, 2011 Petite Colline, Creekside White, Riesling, 2011 Kasota Rose, Marquette, 2010 Pinot Noir, 2009 Merlot and 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The winery -- near the site of the former Country Pub off Highway 22 -- is named for Chankaska Creek, which flows through the property, including past historic farm buildings incorporated into the winery setting.

The 15-acre site includes a 10-acre vineyard, trail system, amphitheater and indoor and outdoor event spaces.

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