Mark Hedin imports oak barrels from France and the Carolinas and relies on techniques from California and parts of Europe to make his Minnesota wines.
His mission is to produce vintages that satisfy even the most discerning wine connoisseur.
Hedin, who started White Rabbit Vineyards & Winery near his Andover home in 2007, has now opened Two Rivers Vineyard & Winery in Ramsey.
The Ramsey winery on Hwy. 10 has a sleek new tasting room, meeting space, regular tasting hours each week and more production space.
It also already has award ribbons on its walls.
In Two Rivers’ first year of operation, four of its wines were medal winners at the annual International Cold Climate Wine competition — its Apple, St. Pepin, Frontenac Gris and Granny’s Favorite varieties. And Granny’s Favorite — a robust red dessert wine made with 100 percent Minnesotan-grown grapes — took home a gold.
Two Rivers Vineyard and Winery competed against more than 280 wines from 59 wineries in 11 states.
“We want to be the best,” said Hedin, stressing his passion for quality.
There are currently 14 wines available for tasting, include a sparkling wine made with the “méthode champenoise,” the oldest and most traditional way of making sparkling wine, developed by a 17th-century French monk.
“The wine is fermented in each individual bottle,” explained Hedin, who emphasizes traditional winemaking techniques.
Wines range from fanciful raspberry and apple wines to more complex, like a syrah and Marquette.
Hedin said he’ll no longer be producing wine at the White Rabbit location in Andover, though he’ll still harvest grapes from the small vineyard there and other sites he farms in Minnesota. The wine is now made and bottled in Ramsey.
“Most of our wines are made from Minnesota fruit,” Hedin said.
He said Ramsey was more business friendly.
In his new location, Hedin lost the view of the vineyard, but he gained visibility with thousands of people driving Hwy. 10 each day. The winery has already become a popular stop for people driving Up North, he said.
“We are on the way to everyone’s cabin,” said tasting room manager Erica Kapus.
Hedin has gone from 300 square feet to nearly 4,500 square feet of production and entertaining space.
Hedin, a full-time financial adviser who also is a winemaker, relies heavily on volunteers who do everything from tending the vineyards to bottling the finished product:
Bill Thompson joins Hedin in winemaking. Thompson’s wife, Chris, oversees the bottling and labeling operations. Dave Gustafson heads up the vineyard division, and his wife, Patt Gustafson, oversees the wine club. Kapus, the tasting room manager, leads wine-tasting courses.
Hedin said the goal is to eventually hire a staff of 12 to run the winery.
A tour of a Wisconsin winery in 1988 whetted Hedin’s appetite for winemaking. During that tour, he bought a “Make Your Own Wine in Six Weeks!” kit. Hedin admits the initial results were putrid.
“I couldn’t swallow it. It was terrible, terrible stuff.” he said.
He decided to invest a bit in his new hobby. He planted some vines at his former home in Coon Rapids and let friends sample his wines.
He and his wife moved to Andover. When friends started requesting his wines, Hedin launched White Rabbit. which produced about 400 cases of wine a year, or a little less than 5,000 bottles. He wanted to expand and decided to open Two Rivers — named after the Rum and the Mississippi rivers.
The new winery produced 600 cases in its first year. Hedin hopes to double that this year.
Hedin grows some of his own grapes and buys grapes, raspberries, rhubarb and apple juice from other Minnesota farmers.
He’s also purchasing grapes from California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys to make an even higher-quality wine.
Invited to follow along
Customers can buy into a barrel and then visit the winery throughout the production and aging process.
“We’re giving them an opportunity to follow their grapes from the farm to the bottle,” Kapus said. “They’re invited to join us along the way.”
Wineries remain a novelty in Anoka County. There are three.
This is an industry where competition isn’t a bad thing, Hedin said. He welcomes newcomers to the region. A cluster of wineries and high-end eateries creates a destination.
Hedin sells wines from other Minnesota vineyards in his tasting room.
He said it’s about promoting the Minnesota wine industry.