Much like my previous post about the Northeast Brewery Tour, I was recently invited to a winery tour in the cozy, 11,000 person hamlet of Waconia.
This is easily undertaken in a solid afternoon as it only includes three stops (in the order I went) - Parley Lakes, Schram, Sovereign Estates. Each winery is distinctly different:
Parley Lakes - this one seemed the most family/destination oriented to me. Part of that is due to the bucolic setting and farm buildings, but also because you can also go apple picking on site. You can also purchase apples, cider, art work, gifts, foods, sweets, even food truck pizza out of an old fire truck. They even have a free portrait station and live animals, no joke. In total, it does seem a bit commercialized to me, but it gives families many options. One odd note was an older gentleman working a pouring station that refused repeatedly to recommend our next taste. He wouldn't tell us what we should try or what his favorite wine was. Yeah, I didn't understand his job then either. However, overall I give the winery a solid 3/5 glasses rating.
Schram - the newest and smallest of the three, it's only been open about a year (from what I heard), but don't let that stop you. They brung it! (or "bung", get it?!) Amenities include bocce ball courts and a distinct quaintness the other two places just don't have. The owners live on the property and not only can you speak directly to them about wine, but you may also meet their small children. Plus, the tasting area is perfectly situated to enjoy sunsets against the rolling hills. I give the winery a hearty 4/5 glasses rating...I could have been happy sitting here most of the afternoon.
Sovereign Estates - I will state from the outset that we arrived here after dark and at the end of our tasting. This seemed even more commercialized than Parley Lakes, and hosts weddings, has a good-sized gift store and a very slick feel to the tasting area. They also seemed to be understaffed and at least one of the staff members serving us was totally worn out. He needed a night off. In spite of that, the wine is good. I give the winery a 2.75/5 glasses rating.
What these wineries have in common is that you just show up and taste for a nominal fee (yes, they hope you buy some to take home too). You can pick from 3-5, 1oz. pours or 10-12, 1oz. pours at each place. If you're going to hit all three at once, I'd suggest the lower number of tastes per stop. You can also usually get water and a snack at each spot. The wines were all very drinkable. They even have an award bestowing organizing, the ICCWC...the International Cold Climate Winery something. They use these awards liberally on their menus.
|See that quilt-like pattern? There's a whole barn/farm tour centered around finding those too... maybe next fall|
|Not too many people, and enough things to check out to keep it feeling fun|
|Get your wristband here at Parley Lakes first, then walk in and start boozin it up|
|Streetzza! They have a 3500lb wood-burning oven in the back of this fire truck. You can see the embers in the pic, though we did not try the 'za|
|"Honey, did you bring our crucifix money?"..."Well, how am I going to pay the $7,000 for this one?!"... "How many times have I said, 'Bring the crucifix money when we go wine-tasting'?!... "Honestly! I mean, he did turn water into wine!!!"|
|Beat that Schram view!!! Oh, wait, are those bocce ball courts below... later|
|You see lots of this kind of kitsch, be prepared|
|This place, bathed in black/white and some bright shade of pink, seemed to scream only one thing, "BUY MY WINE!", and to only one customer group, older women who spend boatloads of money on wine... I'm not sure I can fault their demographic study either|
|If you saw the smile on this kids face, you would also know definitively that his parents made him sit there for a portrait and that he had to smile, or else!|