Or in this case, Friday drink.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, DH and I set out on a little adventure. It was Cheese & Chocolate weekend on the Three Rivers Wine Trail.
Believe it or not, Minnesota has more than 20 active wineries, including the comically named Two Fools Vineyard in far northwest Minnesota. The Trail is a cooperative effort of six wineries located along the Mississippi, Cannon, and St. Croix Rivers. We didn't make it to all six, but had a lovely lazy Saturday meandering around south of the Cities for some wine and food tasting.
Our first stop was at Minnesota's oldest winery, Alexis Bailly Vineyard.
Rustic and charming, Bailly has been growing grapes since 1973. The winery is open year-round, although hours are limited in the winter. Imagine how nice it would be to spend an afternoon sipping wine on the deck:
Bailly was the only vineyard we visited that actually paired wines with the cheeses and chocolates available. It struck me later that they were wise to do that; at the other wineries we visited, the poor cheesemakers and chocolatiers looked a bit forlorn as everyone crowded around for wine, instead of sampling all the wares available.
One of winemaker Nan Bailly's accomplishments includes producing Ratafia, a wine she learned how to make while studying in France's Rhone Valley. It's a sweet yet tangy wine, infused with orange, and especially good with topnotch chocolate.
Note: I'm be no means an expert on wine (not for lack of drinking it), but one thing I noticed in our winery outing was that most of the wines made from Minnesota-grown grapes tend to be on the sweet, fruity side, which is not my favorite--I prefer drier wines. Talking to the winemakers, it seems that the grapes that are hardy enough to grow here (primarily Frontenac and La Crescent) lead to sweeter wines. Some of the wineries bring grapes in from other parts of the country to make drier wines, but if you want to sample Minnesota wine, be prepared for a sweeter flavor.
The Bailly winery, while small, is well equipped to handle visitors.
Their end of the wine tour was handled beautifully.
Our next stop was just outside of Red Wing at the Falconer Vineyards.
This small hillside winery is probably cozy and enjoyable when not packed full, the way it was the day we visited.
When the wine drinkers show up by the limo-full, you know it's going to be crowded. It must have been fun, though.
The public facilities could use some work.
Yes, those are cases of wine stored in the restroom. The restroom is very clean, I might add.
The view from the little gazebo is beautiful, and again, it would be a lovely way to spend a summer afternoon, sipping sweet Minnesota wine and watching the grapes grow.
Our final stop of the day was the Cannon Rivery Winery in Cannon Falls.
Unlike the other two, this one is in the town itself rather than out in the country. And contrary to the cozy window above, this one was bigger than I expected.
The public space was large and, as you can see, very congenial. They're open several days a week year-round and sell wine by the glass. And gifts.
And, of course, wine.
Including their Bootlegger's Red Port Wine, being packaged by these appropriately dressed winery employees.
Unlike the other two, Cannon River Winery is clearly meant to be a kind of "Cheers" for downtown Cannon Falls, and it was doing a booming business on Cheese & Chocolate day. While it lacks a scenic outdoor vista, it does have a very cheerful mural:
Did we buy much wine? No. While it was fun to taste, the sweetness didn't generally sit right with us. But I do find myself think of the Bailly Ratafia, and how nice it would be as a dessert wine for the holidays...
The other wineries on the Three Rivers Wine Trail are Winehaven in Chisago City, and Northern Vineyards and St. Croix Vineyards, both in Stillwater. Check the Three Rivers Trail website for more information about all six vineyards and upcoming events.