Vasa vineyard plans met with opposition
By Dawn Schuett
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
VASA TOWNSHIP — Drake Anderson’s search for land to grow grapes and build a winery took him from St. Paul to Arizona before he ended up along a road in Goodhue County.
Driving between Cannon Falls and Red Wing one day, Anderson’s eye caught a "for sale" sign advertising 30 acres of farmland in Vasa Township.
Although he can see the potential of the fertile soil for a vineyard and the scenic location for the winery where he could process grapes and welcome visitors, township residents worry some aspects of Anderson’s plan will disrupt the solitude of their rural lifestyle. Similar conflict already exists between residents of Goodhue County’s Warsaw Township and the owners of Cannon River Winery.
Vasa Vineyard and Winery, Anderson said, would be ideally situated to become part of the Three Rivers Wine Trail of Minnesota. The trail is the first of its kind in the state and includes six wineries in the St. Croix, Mississippi and Cannon river valleys. Vasa Vineyard and Winery would be between the Cannon River Winery in Cannon Falls and the Falconer Vineyards in Red Wing.
Anderson’s plan is to begin by planting four acres of grape vines next spring and construct a $780,000 winery building in 2009 on property near the intersection of Minnesota 19 and Goodhue County Road 7. He would plant more vines in the following years and aim for full production in five years to process a maximum of 15,000 gallons of wine a year.
Anderson, a St. Paul resident who has worked in the automobile industry since 1970, said he’d like the winery to accommodate visitors to the site, including researchers from the University of Minnesota studying the varieties of grapes grown at the vineyard, and those who want to tour the site, taste the wines and make off-sale purchases of wine.
Rick Samuelson, chairman of the Vasa Township Board of Supervisors, said neighbors who opposed the plan "didn’t want people coming and going."
Neighbor Beth Slocum, who owns Sheep Sorrel Farm, said she’s "very much in favor" of the plan for growing grapes and making wine but questions what the impact will be on residents if the winery is open to the public.
"We’re concerned about what kind of public activity would take place there," Slocum said.
Public access to the winery would likely mean more traffic and noise, she said. One family in the area is considering moving because of the project.
Residents also are worried about the possible consumption of wine at the site.
To address the issue, the township board approved a conditional-use permit for the vineyard and winery that prohibits the sale of wine on site. Internet sales would be allowed. The Goodhue County Board of Commissioners this month approved a conditional-use permit for the vineyard and winery without placing restrictions on wine sales since those would be regulated by the Farm Winery License issued by the state. The township has the authority to place greater restrictions on wine sales than what is allowed by the state.
Anderson said a ban by the township on all retail sales at the winery "doesn’t make sense from my perspective."
The winery would not be "some kind of entertainment center like a bar in downtown Red Wing" where people would party until 1 a.m., Anderson said. "It doesn’t present any threat of changing the personality of the neighborhood."
Slocum said the plan seems too grand for Vasa, where there hasn’t been commercial activity since the creamery closed at least 50 years ago.
Despite the differences in opinion, Slocum said talks between Anderson and residents have been cordial.
"All of us really want to keep talking with Drake and to be good neighbors," she said, adding that the mindset is "Let’s figure it out and make it work well for everybody."