Have a 'grape' experience with 'green' wine
If you’ve been searching for locally produced organic wine to accompany your grass-fed beef, your wish may soon be fulfilled.
You can look forward to the time when you decant wine made from grapes grown by Peter Shortridge and Amy Nankivil on 20 acres near Winona. The couple began their vineyard three years ago on Nankivil’s family farm. They plan to apply for organic certification this winter and take the first crop off next year.
"We have 9,200 vines," Shortridge said. "The land was my wife’s family’s farm, partly a horse farm and partly in the Conservation Reserve Program. Because no chemicals were used for 25 years, not even on the pasture, reconversion was not necessary."
Both Shortridge and Nankivil have experience with organic food. They own and operate Northland Organic Food Corporation in Winona and St. Paul, which produces and trades organic grains and specialty commodities. Their Northland Seed and Grain Corporation exports conventional and specialty grain, including high food value soybeans.
The vineyard is their new long-term project, which Shortridge described as "a labor of love."
"We have 15 varieties of grapes, mostly University of Minnesota winter-hardy, plus several varieties from Cornell University in New York State," he said.
The list reads like a regional geography book: St. Pepin, La Crosse, La Crescent, Frontenac, Marquette, King of the North, etc. The Cornell varieties, such as Foch, Millot and Elvira, are less familiar. In a few years, they’ll all be ready to pour.
"We plan to learn about the art of wine-making and then hire a wine-maker," Shortridge said. "Before that, we probably will try distilling our grapes into a type of brandy."
By definition, organic wines are wines processed only from grapes grown without the use of synthetic fungicides or fertilizers. The grapevines grow in a "living soil," one that is home to worms and bacteria. The vines draw a maximum level of minerals from the soil and have good disease resistance.
Wine processed from organically grown grapes is labeled and sealed as "organic" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are several levels of "organic" to consider when making your wine choice.
• 100 percent organic. Produced with 100 percent organically grown grapes, without the use of synthetic fungicides or fertilizers, and containing no added sulfites. Look for the USDA seal.
• Organic. Contains at least 95 percent of ingredients from USDA-certified sources.
• Made with organic ingredients. Having at least 70 percent organically grown grapes; may contain sulfites.
• Containing some organic ingredients.
Some vineyards are not certified as organic, but practice sustainable agriculture when possible. At the Cannon River Winery in Cannon Falls, winemaker Vincent Negret said, "The philosophy here is to keep it as organic as possible, except when a disease attacks the grapes and no organic method will work. Some years we are 100 percent organic, although not certified."
The winery, owned by John and Marie Maloney, produces 21 varieties of wine, with the long-term goal being to use only Minnesota-grown grapes.
At Salem Glen Vineyard and Winery southwest of Rochester, owner and winemaker Dustin Ebert also relies on natural growing processes unless the grape crop is threatened.
"We try to be as sustainable as possible, with minimal spraying rather than blanket spraying," he said. "When there’s an organic alternative, I do use it, but we rely on the crop year after year — for seven years now — and profitability is a factor. We may eventually consider the possibility of becoming organic when we’re better established."