On a below-zero day last December, the Ray and Lisa Winter family was doing something you wouldn’t expect in Minnesota — picking grapes in their vineyard.
This weekend those grapes will be enjoyed as Indian Island Ice wine is released, one of 14 varieties the family made during the debut year of their new winery.
“The wine making has gone extremely well,” Ray said. “Everything’s gone great. People are really coming out and enjoying themselves.”
The Indian Island Winery, straight south of Smiths Mill, holds its grand opening this weekend.
For Ray and Lisa, it’s the culmination of a dream to expand their vineyard operation into a business the whole family could be involved in. Daughter Angie trained as a vintner and handles the winemaking along with her brother, Tom, who also oversees the vineyard. Tom’s wife, Angela, handles the bookkeeping and website (IndianIslandWinery.com).
“It’s a big risk and a big chance, but the response and support has been just fabulous,” Ray said. “I think it’s just going to be a wonderful thing for the local area and economy.”
The winery, a spacious building with a large terraced back patio with fire pits, is on Indian Island hill on land the family owned just east of their farmsite.
The hill was a summer hunting camp for Native Americans and the family has found many artifacts over the years. The Native American theme follows through the artwork created for the wine bottle labels, on the menu (elk and buffalo burgers) and in the decor.
The ice wine is created by using frozen grapes that have a concentrated, rich flavor. Ray said some wineries pick grapes in the fall and freeze them, but the quality is not as good.
“The flavor is nothing like letting them hang out there and pick them when they’re frozen,” he said. “But you give up most of your product because they shrink down and really concentrate.”
The Winters used all of their own grapes to make more than 20,000 bottles of wine this year and still sold 15,000 pounds of grapes to other wineries.
Ray is one of the pioneers of the Minnesota vineyard industry, which has flourished in recent years. He started a vineyard next to his farmhouse a decade ago and has been one of the go-to guys for those who’ve started their own vineyards. The vineyard is now more than 13 acres, producing 5 tons of grapes per acre. The family also sells nursery stock to other growers.
The family’s wine already has garnered attention. They entered three varieties in the Finger Lakes International wine competition in New York state, receiving medals for all three — Frontenac Rose, La Crescent and St. Croix.
“It’s good wine. We get a lot of compliments.”