The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 5, 2013

Happy winter trails at vineyard

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

— Imagine the serenity of snowshoeing through a snow-covered acreage, limitless blue sky above, view of the river valley expanding around you. Or maybe it’s midnight, the full moon a glowing orb in the night sky, tiki torches lighting a path through the woods.

Just when you think it can’t get any better, you remember that bottle in your backpack. You pull it out, pop the cork and sip from a glass of wine, wine made just a few hundred yards away.

A scene like this is the latest offering from the folks at Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery.

The winery, which opened in May, had been a popular place over the summer, with people purchasing wine and wandering the scenic vineyard grounds. Jane Schwickert, one of the owners, said she wanted to come up with some kind of activity to draw people during the winter months, too.

So she turned to one of her favorite winter activities: snowshoeing.

The Schwickert family loves its winter sports. They’ve got a home in Colorado where they both ski and go snowshoeing in that legendary Rocky Mountain powder.

It seemed natural, then, when she was looking for a good winter-time fit for Chankaska, to turn to snowshoeing.

Schwickert put her vineyard and grounds manager Bryan Kelling on the job of grooming out a few snowshoe trails last fall. Using 220 acres donated to the winery by the nearby family, Kelling created three “loops” that can give snowshoers a good workout for the day.

The best part, Schwickert says, is the idea of having a glass of wine while you’re out there.

“There’s nothing like a glass of wine when you’re out snowshoeing,” Schwickert said.

The trails are there for people who want to use them when the winery is open. Wine consumption is, of course, encouraged. But they insist you get the wine from them. And they don’t supply snowshoes. You’d have to bring those yourself.

Or, you could give Bent River Outfitters a call.

Chankaska has teamed up with Bent River to offer snowshoeing adventures for groups. They’re offering packages for daytime and moonlight snowshoe outings. Some packages include wine tastings, others include wood-fired pizza. All packages include transportation.

The trails, so far, have been a hit with those who have used them.

“Kasota has the best winter skies and sunsets,” said Melissa Windom, who has used the trails for both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

“I like the appeal that you can bring a bottle of wine,” added Zach Brooks.

Down the road, Kelling said he’s hoping to get a little more ambitious with what they can do with the trails. He’s hoping they can add more trails, and says the 220 acres they have to work with can accommodate it.