Minnesota Meritage – seriously!

We had a fun day visiting our first ever winery in Minnesota; a great little gem of a place in Cannon Falls called Cannon River Winery.  I must admit that I was hesitant as to what we would find of wine in Minnesota, but it was a pleasent surprise.


I will be writing a series of posts on the wine industry in Minnesota.  Cannon River Winery is owned by friends of my parents and (I) having just written a wine book, my parents wanted me to visit their friend’s winery.  Cannon River Winery is only about a 40 minute drive out of the Twin Cities, mostly south on US 52.  Cannon Falls is a quaint small Midwestern town with a lot of character and the winery and cellar door right in the heart of the city with the vineyards being outside.

We learned a great deal today about the challenges of making wine in Minnesoata.  It would appear Minnesota would be similar to a lot of cold wine growing regions, but it is not.  I always knew that the Twin Cities had the highest variation of temperature from coldest to warmest seasonally, but I also found out that the daily variations can be extremely large.  Therefore, they needed to craft grapes that could deal with the local climate and both extreme hot and cold temperatures.  There is a vitaculture unit associated with the University of Minnesota that has been working for the last 30 years to create cross-bred varietals to deal with the extreme temperature fluctuations.  Therefore, there exist a number of unique grape varietals specific to the region and growers need to be approved by a state industry association.  These local grapes all start with the ‘MN’ designation.


The Minnesota winemakers need to be gifted blending several varietals into a pleasent drinking wine to provide the right balance and integration of flavors and textures.  This is no easy feat when trying to use only local grapes!  Sometimes using a bit of Shiraz or some other grape from another region can be the final piece in the puzzle to making a drinkable wine.

We tried about 15 different wines, including dry and sweet reds and whites, dessert wines and an apple wine and honey wine, and ended up buying four bottles to take along and share with our friends over the next few days.  The winemaker also spent an hour with us tasting the wines direct from the vats containing the recently harvested grapes.  These wines are still cloudy since they are unfiltered, but showed great promise and will be better than last year’s vintage.  Some of the wines were still on skins.

So there is a Minnesota Meritage which is a blend of several different grapes and quite different from Hermitage or Australian Shiraz; however, it is a very drinkable blend with a slightly sweeter taste.

I was not expecting much from Minnesota wines, but was positively surprised and going to try some more.  While not on par with the best Europe, Napa or Australia has to offer, they are very drinkable and at very reasonable prices.  If you want a great day out from the Twin Cities, you should definitely try Cannon River Winery!

I need to do some further research, but will be discussing the Minnesota varietals and the history of Minnesota wine making in the next several posts.

Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, available now!
© 2014. Steve Shipley. All rights reserved.

Update on Vino DeCanto wine preserver

During the last month, I have written my assessment, mostly negative, about the newly launched Vino DeCanto wine preserver.  But through the benefits of social media (the founder and designer was alerted to my blog posts on the product) and the credit of the company, the founder reached out to me to try to really understand my experiences and how to improve them.  In fact, he spent two hours driving each way today to visit me and several more to review the experiences I have had with the product.  We used my Vino DeCanto, tested it and compared it to new newer models he brought with him.  I learned a lot about the process of making the Vino DeCanto, a number of the engineering and manufacturing challenges they have faced and what they are doing about them.  Most importantly, I learned a lot about the character of the company and how far they are willing to attend to, invest in, and address customer concerns to be able to deliver a high-quality product.

As I stated earlier, the product works and does an exceptional job preserving wine, even when I tried it on a fragile wine.  My concerns were more around the operational aspects of the Vino DeCanto, such as filling the glass, moving the container, cleaning the container, the drip factor and so on.  This product is still being worked on and improvements have been noted and in progress.  Five key ones I found out about today include:

  1. using a different process to manufacture the glass container to provide far greater consistency in diameter and perfect circumference (by using an expensive mold instead of the previous glass tube cutting process).  Even slight variations created significant impact on the ease of dispensing wine with ease or difficulty dispensing wine and these variations will be greatly reduced, if not removed entirely
  2. offering a stand to solidify and ease filling and dispensing wine
  3. altering the size and weight of the sealing ball to better control pressure while dispensing wine and reducing drip lag time
  4. slightly modified use of O-ring placement for better movement and wine preservation
  5. different texturing of the material in some parts to improve wine preservation with minimal potential for defect

All five of these known improvements will significantly improve the use of the device and continue to improve wine durability.  I also learned about five tricks for more easily using and cleaning the device.  Vino DeCanto has now created a one-page Tips and Operational Guide where none existed before and also is in the process of making a YouTube video to show others these suggestions for easier use.  Looking back, it might be easy to say the company should have waited another six months to work through these improvements, but it has really been through the device’s use in wine bars and through a few select early-on customers such as myself that they have been able to quickly identify and make the improvements necessary.  They were almost too close to the problems to identify them as being potential issues for others.

Vino DeCanto newThey replaced my earlier device with a newer one and also provided another new one to continue to test and help them work through ongoing areas for improvement.  We are going to put both devices through their paces over the next month and continue  help provide further suggestions on how to make the Vino DeCanto better. Tonight, I have poured a bottle of 1995 Leasingham Classic Clare Shiraz into the Vino DeCanto and dispensed a glass.  The new device I received today worked far better than my previous one in terms of the consistent dispensing of the wine and to just the amount I intended in the glass.  Now the wine will sit for a month to really test out how well it is preserved.  At least I have been able to verify one of my previous major operational issues was resolved.

The company reached out, in fact, went out of their way to listen to what I had to say, took my and other customer’s suggestions on board and rectified the previous product by replacing it for me.  I learned a lot about the character and the passion behind the man who made this device and the company he is building and it is all good.  I am going to give this device another chance and continue to work with them to help make sure this is a quality product for those who need wine preservation, but are not interested or willing to go with the argon gas method.

Well done and thank you to Vino DeCanto for listening to your customers and persistently continuing to improve your product.

Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, available now!
© 2014.  Steve Shipley. All rights reserved.
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