Drew Horton, winemaker at the newly opened Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery in Kasota, Minn., had been working in the wine industry in California for 18 years before a grape lured him to Minnesota: the Marquette, one of many cold-hardy hybrids introduced by the University of Minnesota in recent years.
"God created Pinot Noir and the Romans brought it to France 2,000 years ago, and not much had changed since then," Horton said. "It's very exciting. They are literally changing the landscape of worldwide winemaking. It's a question of latitude. They have moved winemaking 500 miles north."
Chankaska will feature Horton's big, bold Marquette Reserve, among other of their wines, on Wednesday at the latest in the Wine Academy series from Lakeville Liquors and the Lakeville Area Arts Center. It's the first Minnesota-focused event in the series.
The event is 7 p.m. at the Lakeville Area Arts Center. The cost is $20. Registration is required; see www.startribune.com/a2120 or call 952-985-4640.
The event also samples wines from Cannon River Winery in Cannon Falls, beer from Lucid Brewing in Minnetonka and a variety of liqueurs from local producer Crosby Lake Spirits.
The Wine Academy has been hosting events for four years, and Brenda Visnovec, liquor operations director for the city of Lakeville, said part of the inspiration for the Minnesota-focused event came from recent success of Minnesota wines at the annual Taste of Lakeville. In 2011, she said, Cannon River's Winter Ice took home the People's Choice award (favorite wine in all categories), and judges awarded them first place in the domestic white category in competition against California wines.
"That really tells you the wine has come a long, long way," she said. "Minnesota wines are doing so well. They've really improved in quality."
That's partly due to the development of great hybrids — "They've done just a great job bringing up the level of the juice," Visnovec said — and partly to practice. "Over the years, people are getting better at making wines," said Cheri Anderson of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association. "We're in the midst of developing best practices."
Minnesota beer and wine is in its boom time. In the past two years, the number of Minnesota breweries has more than doubled to 60. The state's first winery — Alexis Bailly in Hastings—opened in 1978, and now 41 are open to the public.
"Ten years ago, I could name all the Minnesota wineries on one hand," Visnovec said.
"I can assure you," Horton added, "that in ten years, we're going to have 100."
At the Lakeville event, Chankaska, which opened its doors in May, will serve, along with the Marquette Reserve, an ice wine, a crisp white wine blend called "Petite Colline," and "Kasota Rose," a fruity, sweet rosé.
Cannon River winemaker Vincent Negret, who comes from a line of winemakers in South America, will pour and talk about the winery's citrusy St. Pepin, its smoky, peppery, dry Mancini's Levee Red, and its two Winter Carnival wines — the white-gold Winter Ice and the new Vulcans' Revenge, a robust semi-dry red.
Jon Messier, co-owner of Lucid Brewing in Minnetonka, said it will feature its three core beers. He said business has exploded for the brewery, which opened in November 2011. "It's going too good," he said. "We don't get to sleep anymore. It's great."
Things have been busy, too, for Horton, as he experiments with blending Minnesota grapes, which tend to be lower in tannins and higher in acidity. "But that means I'm never bored. I'm being allowed to innovate," he said.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.