Most wine lovers have heard of Napa Valley and Sonoma, but what about the Big Woods region of Minnesota? That name might not be familiar to those who enjoy wine, but Terri Savaryn of The Winery at Sovereign Estates in Waconia is hoping a new alliance of winemakers will change that. “If you think you know about Minnesota wines, think again,” Savaryn says. “These are very serious wineries; that’s what people really need to know. There’s an industry here.”
Sovereign Estates, along with eight other regional wineries, have formed the Big Woods Alliance to help promote Minnesota wines, particularly those made in the Big Woods region of Minnesota. “The native grape that grows here is a hardy, cold-climate grape,” Savaryn says. “The heartiness of the grape is very critical to being able to produce wines in Minnesota that are good.”
Minnesota doesn’t have the tradition that European or California wineries have, but Savaryn says that winemakers are improving their techniques and hoping to grow the cultural and wine history of the area with help from the Big Woods Alliance. “The alliance got together because we are hoping to promote the wine awareness in the region, where we have a concentrated group of successful and award-winning wineries,” she says.
The group also hopes to obtain its own American Viticulture Area designation (AVA). This designation will highlight the unique characteristics of grapes grown in the Big Woods area, says Steve Zeller of Parley Lake Winery in Waconia. “The Big Woods define the geography of our Big Woods Alliance,” he says. “The soil is unique and is a great soil that works for growing grapes.” Zeller, whose winery has been operating for more than 10 years, says the land and climate are important for producing a great glass of Minnesota wine.
Savaryn, who is president of the alliance, says the AVA will help distinguish the region’s wines from others grown in the Midwest, and only wineries in the specific Big Woods region will be able to label their wines as Big Woods wines.
Along with receiving the AVA, the alliance hopes to share marketing resources, to give the wineries one voice when it comes to promoting their wines. “An individual winery is not going to get the same attention as an association of wineries that can act as one,” Zeller says. “We have a voice, and we can organize things ourselves. I used to say we craft wine, and now I say we craft experiences, and some of them happen to involve wine.”
Savaryn says the group will be able to develop a “wine trail” in the region. Kent Schwickert, president of Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery & Distillery in Kasota, agrees that wine trails are essential in exposing more people to Minnesota wines. “I believe wine trails are a necessity for our industry,” he says. “People enjoy options and making a day from it. Although our winery is more of a destination, we encourage visitors to try the other wineries in our region. Minnesota wines need more appreciation. We have wineries on our trail that are making exceptional wines.”
Events and wine festivals featuring wines of the Big Woods are in the works.
“I am very excited about this localized approach,” Savaryn says. “It will naturally become its own region for people
Big Woods Alliance wineries include:
- Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery, Kasota
- Crow River Winery, Hutchinson
- Indian Island Winery, Janesville
- New Chapter Winery, New Prague
- Schram Vineyards, Waconia
- Sovereign Estate Wine, Waconia
- Painter Creek Winery, Minnetrista
- Parley Lake Winery, Waconia
- Two Rivers Vineyard and Winery, Ramsey
Big Woods Alliance