Aaron Schram isn’t short on ideas—or the energy to realize them. In less than 10 years, the winemaker and owner of Schram Vineyards and Brewery in Waconia has planted a vineyard, launched a winery, launched a brewery and built a tasting room—all while maintaining a full time job and raising two young children with his wife, Ashley.
Schram Vineyards and Brewery is the first winery/brewery hybrid in the state, which was a bit of an uphill battle from a licensing standpoint, but seemed like a logical business plan to Aaron. “It seemed to me like a natural fit, having beer and wine go together” he says. “Go to a party. The natural setting is having both options.”
Not only are the Schrams traveling new terrain with the winery and brewery combo, they’ve also taken on some projects that dedicated winemakers and craft brewers have yet to try. Aaron and his staff of brewers and winemakers are experimenting with sparkling wines and barrel-aging beers. He’s also considering options for developing wine-beer hybrid drinks.
Aaron started making wine in college when he discovered he could make wine from a five- gallon jug of Welch’s grape juice. He lived in a house with 10 roommates, and he’d make wine for the group, hosting informal wine drinking gatherings with his roommates and their girlfriends. “It was a lot of fun, it was one of those things I was actively drawn towards,” Aaron says. “After college… I found myself spending a lot more time and energy researching wine than I had any subject in school, and I got to the point where I decided at some point in my life I want to own a winery.”
In 2000, he wrote up his business plan, and on his first date with Ashley, he told her about the vineyard he hoped to start one day. In 2007, Aaron and Ashley took the leap, and began looking for property. They finally found the ideal location—land with a southern facing slope in Waconia. “We bought the property around 2008 and started planting grapes right away,” Aaron says. “I did what they tell you not to do: I planted a lot of grapes the first year. Usually you’re supposed to put some test ones in to see how they do. It was a leap of faith.”
In 2008, Aaron planted 250 vines and the next year he added more. The vineyard is currently 6 acres. “It was definitely a big leap of faith at that point and one that I don’t regret,” he says, noting many farmers choose to plant their vines more slowly over a series of years to make sure they’re happy in the location. Since it takes about three years for vines to produce grapes, Aaron didn’t want to wait.
In 2011, the Schrams sold their first harvest of grapes, vowing to start making wine the next year. Schram, who works as a program director for nutrition and training at Life Time Fitness, was initially self-taught as a winemaker. He worked in a couple of wineries, including St. Croix Vineyards, to gain experience, and took an online certification course. He also had help from a consultant from the University of Minnesota during his first six months of winemaking.
In July 2013, Schram Vineyards opened to the public, serving its own wine on an outdoor pavilion overlooking the vineyard. Lawn games added to the winery’s laid-back, friendly atmosphere. Although they were only open for the summer, the Schrams were happy with the business.
In 2014, they completed a new building that houses a tasting room and winery. They also launched, on a whim, a brewery (which is now housed in the original winemaking building). “I bought some used wine equipment from somebody in South Dakota,” Schram explains. “We wanted to get into sparkling wine and they had some old brewery equipment. So when I bought all that equipment and brought it back here, one of my buddies looked at me and said, ‘well, you know you have half a brewery here, with all the equipment you bought’ and that’s literally how it got started.”
Serving wine and beer has allowed the Schrams to attract a broader customer base, Aaron says. “Most couples, well, one likes beer more and one likes wine more,” he says.
As the craft beer movement grows, Aaron has noticed that like wine drinkers, more beer drinkers are interested in the story behind their pint, wanting to connect with the people and place where it was made.
That said, part of the vineyard and winery’s charm is its lack of pretention. “We don’t want to be wine snobs. We don’t want to be beer snobs,” Aaron says. “We want to be very open to anyone who walks in.”
The new building with a tasting room allows them to be open year-round for beer and wine tastings. There are typically about 10 beers on tap, as well as a variety of wines.
This summer the winery/brewery is hosting a bocce ball league, as it has in the past. The Schrams are also planning a seafood boil in the vineyard, live music, a traditional Highland games festival and brewery/winery tours.
Although he’s come a long way from making wine from Welch’s grape juice, part of the appeal of Schram Vineyards is that same laid-back vibe of a house party hosted by your friend who likes to make wine and beer.
Speaking of wine and beer, why no liquor? With all of that winery and brewery equipment lying around, there must be almost enough stuff for a distillery. When jokingly asked if there’s a distillery in his future, Schram laughed, but he didn’t say “no.”
After all, he’s a guy with lots of ideas—and the vision to execute.
Schram Vineyards Winery & Brewery
8785 Airport Road, Waconia
This is the second in a series of three stories profiling the winemakers of Waconia. Click here to read our first featuring Ben Banks of Sovereign Estate. Watch for our final story highlighting Steve Zeller of Parley Lake Winery in our June issue.