The Petersons ventured into the wine business two decades ago to secure the family farm.
Already ranked as one of the largest honey producers in Minnesota, the family figured that adding a honey wine to its line of products was a smart way to build on the business it had already grown on 50 picturesque acres in Chisago City, Minn.
It turned out to be a recipe ripe with success.
Winemaking soon eclipsed the honey business, and this year Winehaven Vineyard and Winery is toasting its auspicious 21st anniversary.
It’s become one of the largest winemakers in Minnesota, producing about 10,000 cases — that’s 120,000 bottles — last year.
The vintner now makes nearly two dozen different kinds of wine, ranging from its signature honey wine Stinger Mead and bold reds to lighter fruit wines.
Winehaven’s new two-story event center and tasting room on Hwy. 8 is reminiscent of a lighthouse. A wall of windows looks out onto Green Lake and the vineyards, a spot where the Peterson children liked to play years ago.
“We really wanted to pay homage to the lakes area,” said co-owner and winemaker Kyle Peterson.
The Peterson family, originally from Sweden, moved to Chisago County five generations ago.
Kyle’s father, Kevin Peterson, worked for a local beekeeper as a young man and decided to buy out the business. He and his wife, Cheri, still live on the land today, and their sons Kyle and Troy joined the family business.
Kyle Peterson recalls spending the summers of his childhood moving the bees around the region in the spring and summer to pollinate crops and orchards. The bees traveled to Florida in the winter to pollinate orange groves.
In 1995, Kevin Peterson launched the winery. It proved to be excellent timing: A year later, the University of Minnesota released to the public its first cold-hardy wine grape, Frontenac.
The Petersons dug into Minnesota’s fledging wine industry and started planting.
“Grapevines are kind of like apple trees. It’s five years before you get your first decent harvest,” Kyle Peterson said.
Kyle journeyed to Cornell University to study the science of winemaking. His father, who walks the fields and oversees the vineyards, elevates it to an art, he said.
The pair have patented two grapevines they created, called “Chisago” and “Nokomis.”
The family’s intimate knowledge of the land helped the winery thrive. Recalling winter days spent sledding on sunny south-facing slopes near the lake, Kyle Peterson realized that those warmer microclimates would be perfect for vineyards.
“You can take a thermometer down there any time of the year when the sun’s out, and it’s 10 degrees warmer on the hillsides than the rest of the land,” Kyle said. “We can actually grow grapes there two to three extra weeks each fall.”
The property, full of nostalgia for the Petersons, is now becoming part of the lore of other families drawn to it.
“We’ve hosted 34 weddings,” Kyle Peterson said.