Vineyard, winery has successful first year
New wines, special events make 2013 look promising
Monday, January 28, 2013 7:31 AM
The appreciation of a glass of wine from Four Daughters' Vineyard and Winery is enhanced when an understanding of the process behind winemaking is presented. As southeastern Minnesota's rural winery celebrates its first anniversary, Justin Osborne of Rochester shares his insights of working in the winemaking profession as a vintner.
Justin Osborne, the winemaker at Four Daughters' Vineyard and Winery, finds validation in the success the wine has achieved in several competitions this past year. Yet, at the same time, his main concern continues to be that the customers like and appreciate the wines.
Process of growing grapes continues through winter
Four Daughters' Vineyard and Winery manager Patrick Sween, explains that growing grapes is more like farming an orchard than farming row crops, since the vines live more or less indefinitely.
He shared that the Four Daughters vineyard consists of a total of 3,049 grape vines, including six main varieties, six experimental varieties and one table grape variety.
"Our first acre was planted in 2010 and included 200 vines each of Brianna, St. Croix and Frontenac Gris," Sveen explained. "We added about 2,400 vines on five acres in 2011, adding an additional 572 vines each of Brianna, Edelweiss, Frontenac and Marquette."
He added that all of these varieties were developed and commercialized by the Horticulture Research Center at the University of Minnesota.
"We also added a row of traditional European grape varieties to experiment with, including Chardonnay, Reisling, Gewurtztraminer, Aligote, Gruner Veltliner and two types of Muscat," Sveen explained.
Grapes in the Midwest are usually planted as seedlings rooted from cuttings, ensuring that each vine will produce predictable growth and fruit quality.
"The varieties we have are all 'own rooted,' which means they are not grafted onto different rootstocks," Sveen stated. "In other, older grape growing regions, it is common to graft the preferred grapevine onto rootstock of another variety to provide disease resistance and healthier growth. It takes about three years for a vine to get mature enough to produce a crop, so our vines are just now getting to that point."
Sveen continued to explain the process by saying, "Vines are trained onto wire trellises to support them and allow them to grow in a way that maximizes fruit quality and quantity. Vines are trained during the first and second growing seasons and then maintained for the life of the vine, which can potentially be hundreds of years. Vines are pruned in late winter or early spring, when the vines are dormant."
He said pruning allows the staff to manage the growth of the vine for the following season and control the amount and potential quality of the harvest.
"We do what's called spur pruning, meaning we leave a trunk and two or four permanent arms called cordons," Sveen said. "The spurs are the stubs left on the cordons with buds on them. Each bud will send up a new shoot in the spring, called a cane. Each cane will then produce two to three clusters of grapes and enough leaves to ripen those clusters. By counting the buds we leave on a vine, we can roughly predict how big the harvest will be and keep the vine from producing too much or too little fruit."
Over- or under-cropping can hurt the quality of the grapes and the health of the vine, Sveen continued.
"This whole vineyard management process has some similarities to crop farming, but I think more differences," he concluded. "It's a lot more hand labor - everything is trained, pruned and harvested by hand. We also have to be concerned about how the vines handle the winter, which a row crop farmer doesn't need to worry about."
Raised in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, Justin accepted the responsibilities most oldest children do when their family has a business and entered the University of Minnesota, seeking an education in construction management.
In 2010, he was admitted to the Vesta Program through the University of Missouri State for Enology. The ability to enroll as a college student through an online program allowed Justin to continue working full-time in his family's business.
Justin's connection with southeastern Minnesota began in May of 2002 when, through a friend, he met Kristin Vogt, a woman from a farming family near Grand Meadow.
"Kristin went to college with a friend of mine and I visited that friend every weekend in May trying to get her attention," Justin admitted. Since May is the time for college finals, his grades suffered. However, his romantic investments paid off as soon Kristin did turn her gaze his way.
The seed to becoming a winemaker was planted in 2004 when Justin and Kristin studied abroad in Italy. A wedding in Sonoma, Calif., in 2006 may have subconsciously nurtured Justin's eventual desire to tend vines and make wine, but no indication of that future was visible.
"My family has a few successful businesses, so that's what I was doing, and what I thought I would always do," Justin said. "I spent the most time as a construction manager and did a little product management at our sporting goods company."
He continued, "Construction is a tough business, and the economy downturn made it even tougher. My dad is a very successful businessman, but the amount of stress he deals with on a daily basis is more than I want."
Even though there is a pronounced difference in the financial outcome of working in commercial construction, compared to that of winemaking, Justin and Kristin were examining "quality of life issues" when they made the decision to change Justin's occupation.
"The decision to switch was definitely a family decision, but I'm sure you could guess that my wife was all for moving back close to her family," Justin said.
Kristin agreed, adding, "This has been a really amazing ride over the past few years for all of our family. When we started talking about it, I was pregnant with our oldest son. We now have two small boys. It's amazing how much things have changed in just a few years. Our newest son has been visiting the tasting room since he was born!"
Life as "country boys" will open for Henry and Evan, ages 3 and 8 months, respectively, as they are able to help in the vineyard.
Advantages of working in a rural area as a winemaker are obvious on a day-to-day basis as Justin is able to make his own schedule.
"I have some flexibility so I'm not gone from 8 to 5 every day. My wife works from home, so I watch the kids sometimes during the week while she works," stated Justin. "Because winemaking is agricultural, I do have busy times, like at harvest, where I'll have to work until 4 a.m. in the fall. And in the world of wine, most of it is consumed on Friday and Saturday nights, so I'll go in and chat with the customers when I'm able. Even with the late nights and weekends, I do like this schedule better than having a strict 8 to 5, Monday through Friday schedule. One thing that is interesting about being a winemaker is that it is a thankful job, not a thankless job. People seem so appreciative when you can provide them with a good bottle of wine."
Justin explained how important thoughtful planning is for a successful vineyard, "The variables in winemaking are as numerous as the variables in cooking. Variables start once you plant your vines, where did you plant them, what's the soil and micro climate there and what trellis system did you use? The weather plays a big part, and when to pick is another big variable. Picking the same grapes one week apart will have a noticeable impact on the wine."
After the grapes are picked, there are a number of ways to crush, press, pump or settle the grapes and juice.
"There are also a number of additives, such as enzymes or clarification agents, that can be added when you are pressing grapes," Justin continued. "Fermentation temperature is a huge variable, one that I think is one of the most important."
Also hundreds of yeasts and bacteria are available, which offer various outcomes in a wine's clarity and taste.
"My personal philosophy is to not get too specific with what I want a wine to be. I'll certainly have a direction in mind because there's a lot of planning to do before the grape harvest, but grapes never come in just the way you thought they would," Justin explained. "When grapes come in, they may have flavors or a chemistry that suits a particular wine style, and I'll usually go with the flow and adjust my plans to fit what the grapes want to do. I can adjust the grape chemistry to suit what I want, but I'd prefer to not do that. There's a saying that 'Heavy handed wine making, leads to mediocre wines' and I believe it. Wine was invented by God, not man. It's a naturally occurring process. So like many things, less intervention is best, which may be a tough concept because it takes lots of science and skill and art to make a good wine. Things don't always go as planned, and half the time you're a wine doctor instead of a wine maker. All in all, I just try and make the best wine possible with whatever grapes I get."
Those who study enology believe the old techniques are the best and Justin has no desire to break any rules as he creates interesting wines.
"Our big boy blend is dry and 17 percent alcohol," Justin pointed out. "Usually a wine like that would be quite sweet, but it worked for us and it's been a big hit. Another unusual wine we've come out with is sparkling Pinot Noir. It's not unheard of, but most people haven't had one, and it's been our biggest seller the past few months. We used to say our wine was some of the best in the state. Right now, I feel like the 2012 wines we've been releasing may be some of the best in the Midwest. The wine is not only good, but it's also diverse - something for everyone. Most people like every wine they try, but my goal is that each person love one of the wines."
Four Daughters' Winery will be releasing a flurry of wines in the next few months. By Valentine's Day, the extremely popular Marquette (Minnesota Red) and Sparkling Moscato will be back on the shelves, as well as Frontenac Rose. By the end of February, 2011's bestseller, Frontenac Gris, is expected to be out and a new wine named Nude Etude will be available.
Reflecting on their first year in the wine business, Four Daughters' Winery is honored to be the recipient of several awards. Entering 22 individual wines into various competitions, this winery was awarded 20 medals.
"The big one was the Governor's Cup, which was for the single best wine in the state," said Justin. "We also won a double gold medal at one of the largest competitions in the U.S. The double gold winner was our Sparkling Moscato and this year's Moscato is even better than last year's. And we also won 'best off dry white' in the Midwest."
Winning awards is important for a winery because of the validation it gives to those who believe they are producing a great wine. An award is a tangible recognition that others think their wines are superb, plus it is a good marketing tool for a product that is new.
"For me, receiving awards was validation. When our Sparkling Moscato got a double gold (of the 3,500 wines entered, only 141 double golds were awarded), I looked to see who else got a double gold in sparkling wines and I saw Gloria Ferrer on there, which is where Kristin and I actually had our groom's dinner," Justin recalled. "It's a legendary winery with a global presence and beautiful winery that had to cost several $10s-of-millions to build. Their wine isn't cheap either. To be considered in the same league with them in that competition was truly an honor."
Although Justin enjoys the success Four Daughters' Vineyard and Winery has enjoyed in competitions he said, "What is more important than any award is 'Does the customer like it?' I make wine to our customers' tastes."
He explained, "When the La Crescent won the Governor's Cup last year, that was like hitting a grand slam. I may or may not hit another grand slam this year, but I know I'll hit more homers this year than last year. The 2012 vintage is better than 2011."
Justin continued, "We are not a high brow place, we're more 'all brow.' In our tasting room we've had cowboys and suits and tank tops and jeans. Never once has anyone looked out of place. If you don't know about wine, come on in and learn, we'd love to teach you."
The winery is planning a special dinner for Valentine's Day, but also offers movie nights where movies are projected on a huge screen and chefs prepare foods that are featured in the movie. There are also several other upcoming activities like spa or tango night, but one is always welcome to take a tour of the winery. For more information on any of these activities, contact Four Daughters' Vineyard and Winery at (507) 346-7300 or visit their website www.fourdaughtersvineyard.com.
The ability to enjoy interesting culinary delights and wines created by those one may encounter while at Four Daughters' Winery allows for an experience of uniqueness in both the professional or personal realm.
"When you consider a first impression, I think those entering find Four Daughters' to be a cool and modern place first and foremost," Justin concluded. "First impressions are everything and the building architecture really impacts people. We could easily operate in Napa, probably the wine hub of the U.S., as well as being a major culinary destination. But we aren't in Napa, we're in southeast Minnesota, and we are a different option for the people here. Our food is so good and interesting, I really like the term 'peculiar gourmet.' Our chefs do a great job of staying in peoples' comfort zones while doing something just a little bit different."
The family hopes everyone from the area makes the drive to visit this new local attraction, which has just celebrated its first anniversary. They built the business with the intention of bringing something fun and unique to southeastern Minnesota and are excited that both locals and visitors from all over the country have embraced Four Daughters' Winery and the special experiences they offer.