A rising tide lifts all boats, or so they say.
That certainly has proved true for Minnesota wineries that have joined forces with “wine trails,” “passports” and other alliances to reach their customer base.
“In our area of the state,” said Andy Olson, tasting-room manager at Wild Mountain, north of Taylors Falls, “we get a lot of people who have found out about our winery at another winery.”
Wild Mountain is part of the Upper St. Croix Wine Trail, and Olson said he’s hoping to become part of a resuscitated St. Croix Wine Trail, with wineries reaching down to Stillwater.
“If people have a good experience on one wine trail, it encourages them to try another wine trail. Wine trails promote the idea that there’s good wine out there,” he said.
Wine trails — in which several wineries form a marketing alliance — have been around for about a decade in Minnesota. While the trails themselves have morphed and at times faded, alliances among wineries remain strong.
Parley Lake owner Steve Zeller said that his winery has had “a more passive presence” the past few years in the Heartland Wine Trail. Instead, he has refocused his winery’s energy on three fronts: a Waconia Wine Country partnership with nearby wineries Schram and Sovereign; Libation Destination West, a coalition with those three wineries, four breweries and a distillery in Waconia, Excelsior and Victoria, and as part of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association’s Winery Passport program.
The latter should be of interest to consumers statewide, as it encompasses 48 wineries; for $25, customers get free tasting at 10 wineries.
“We probably get five to 10 passport holder visits per weekend,” Zeller said. “When we started out, the wine trail was very successful. We introduced a lot of people to the winery. Since then, each winery has found its own niche and marketing strategy.”
At a more isolated winery, Carlos Creek, Tami Bredeson forged another kind of coalition: The Skål Crawl comprises her winery, the Panther Distillery and the Copper Trail Brewery, all in Alexandria. For $15, members get a T-shirt, multipurpose glass (“creating that was a challenge,” she said) and $2 off their first visits to each stop, where they then can get discount cards for their next visit.
Launched June 1, the Skål Crawl has been a runaway success, Bredeson said. “We ordered 500 T-shirts and glasses, and we had to make an emergency order in order to have some for the 4th of July.
“People love that we’re being collaborative, not competitive.”