Local wine destinations offer day trips worth a tasting.
For many of us, an autumn drive is often just about the journey, not the destination. In fact, we generally don’t need a destination.
But in recent years, a few outstate destinations have popped up to make the journey even more fulfilling.
They’re called wineries.
As the nascent Minnesota wine business grows, vintners have tried to make their home bases meccas for travelers from near and far. With alluring tasting rooms, event spaces that provide the ideal backdrop for a wedding or party — not to mention ever-improving wines — they’re attracting folks in search of a relaxing afternoon and a taste of “the good life.”
We visited three of these wineries, all an hour or two away from the Twin Cities, and found each of them worth the trek in quite different ways.
The place: In just a few years, Kent and Jane Schwickert have crafted an utterly idyllic setting northeast of Mankato. The eponymous creek (“Chankaska” is Sioux for “enclosed forest”) courses through the property, with the tasting room, the 19th-century homestead where winemaker Mike Drash lives and vineyards overlooking it.
There are three event spaces on the property, and the tasting room is beautifully appointed without a hint of stuffiness. Jane Schwickert said she culled ideas for the space’s design from the couple’s extensive Wine Country travels. Just below that is a lovely patio overlooking the creek and featuring a fireplace and perhaps the Upper Midwest’s largest Jenga game. Musicians perform there every Friday and Saturday night.
The wines: Chankaska Creek has 1,400 Wine Club members just two years after opening, and with good reason: The wines are stellar.
Chankaska’s Marquette Reserve was my favorite wine at last spring’s Savor Minnesota event. The 2013 Marquette Estate is going into bottle next month with a price tag of $40. And it is worth every penny, a wine that could be slipped into a Rhône-blend tasting and more than hold its own.
The Petite Colline blend (edelweiss and brianna) is almost as stunning, a lush but minerally mouthful of fruit cocktail.
Whether using West Coast grapes (sauvignon blanc, pinot noir) or cold-climate varieties (La Crescent) or blending the two (the Creekside Red, with Marquette, sangiovese, zinfandel, petite sirah and St. Croix), the results are exemplary.
The lowdown: 1179 E Pearl St., Kasota, Minn. 1-507-931-0089, chankaskawines.com. Opens daily at 11 a.m. through Jan. 3.
The road trip: Take Hwy. 169 to St. Peter and go east on Hwy. 22; go 2 miles and turn left on E. Pearl Street; the winery is on the right.
The place: The building was a revelation: large and airy, true to the rural farming aspect of this project.