23 Oct Joining the Fall Grape Harvest at Cannon River Winery
Fall was rapidly approaching and I figured it would be the perfect time to see if I could find any local wineries that offered tours of their vineyards. I didn’t have much luck in finding a vineyard tour, but what I did find was something exponentially better: a chance to join the fall harvest crew at Cannon River Winery! At first glance, this may sound like work and not exactly enticing, but bear with me for a moment, and let me explain.
The day starts out with a lesson in viticulture and the history of the winery before heading out to the vineyard to pick grapes by hand in the scenic hills of the Sogn Valley. After a couple of hours collecting grapes and chatting with your fellow harvesters, the day wraps up with alfresco dining and wine tasting with gorgeous views of the vineyard. Also, depending on the schedule you may even have a chance to see the grapes you just picked be de-stemmed and crushed at the winery in town. And last but not least, by participating in the harvest, you will be invited to an exclusive tank tasting the following March so you can literally taste the fruits of your labor. I don’t know about you, but to me this sounded like a perfect event consisting of some of my favorite things, and I couldn’t wait to participate.
Cannon River Winery is located about 40 minutes south of St. Paul and our drive was filled with rolling hills and trees that were just starting to show their fall colors. Initially, we started heading to the actual winery in town, but soon realized that we entered the wrong address into our GPS. After a quick recalculation, we found our way and pulled up the hill to the vineyard ready to start our day.
We joined in on the morning harvest, and unfortunately, it happened to be a pretty chilly day—luckily we had some extra layers in the trunk, so we quickly threw them on and made our way to the timber frame barn to check in. We warmed ourselves up with some steamy hot apple cider as we waited for everyone to arrive.
Our first line of business was learning a bit about the winery and how it got its start. Cannon River Winery is owned by John and Maureen Maloney—John has a degree in horticulture, so he knew a thing or two about selecting land that was perfect for growing their grapes. After a great amount of searching, they settled on the hills of the Sogn Valley. This 20 acre vineyard is situated along the same latitude as some of the best vineyards in France and Italy; the only difference is that Minnesota’s winters are much more harsh so the vines have to be heartier to withstand the deep freeze of winter. John and Maureen planted their first vines over 10 years ago and there are now over 9,000 vines on the property. The grape varieties include St. Pepin, Marquette, Foch, Frontenac, LaCrescent and more. Cannon River’s wines have won numerous awards competing with wines from around the world.
We also learned how to properly harvest the grapes and what to look for when in the field. After we received our cutter, it was time to head out into the sunshine of the vineyard and start picking. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love picking fruit and the connection it creates with nature. We all made our way up and down multiple rows of vines filing our bins full of deliciously ripe grapes. Time flew by and before I knew it, we stopped for a break and a chat overlooking the hills. Our minds were once again filled with stories and any questions we had were answered in a great conversation about wine and any other topic that came up.
As it was soon time for lunch, we picked our way through a couple more rows and made the short walk back to the barn. Lunch from the grill was waiting for us when we arrived, and it consisted of burgers, brats, beans, mac & cheese and all the fixings. It was pretty delicious and the perfect way to warm up after all our hard work. And, of course there was ample wine to go around—it is a winery after all!
Once we had our fill, we had to beeline back to Minneapolis for an evening photo job of Micah’s, but we did have a chance to make a quick stop at the winery in Cannon Falls. Our grapes hadn’t made it to the winery yet, but we got to take a peek at the machines that they run through—one of the employees was kind enough to show us how it worked and what the processes entailed.
Tickets for the event are $20 per person and the harvest runs for a few weekends every fall. We received a 20% off coupon for the winery as a thanks for our help with the harvest, so we will have to stop back again soon to use it. And, I can’t wait to head back next March for our exclusive barrel tasting—it will be great to see the fruits of our labor mature into a beautiful wine!
Would you or have you ever joined in on a harvest?