Story last updated at 4/10/2013 - 6:22 pm
Spring is nipping at us here in Southeast, and the smells of the earth churning back to life remind me of home.
This kind of weather reminds me of going home to visit my mother, and finding massive piles of grape vine clippings piled in the yard. Minnesota seems to be more finicky than Southeast Alaska in deciding whether it's really spring or if, in fact, it will be eliminated by an elongated winter.
Whether that comes in April or May is anyone's guess. But either way, it is the season for preparing the vines.
When I was almost done with college my mother had a grand idea to start a vineyard. In Minnesota. She has a lot of ideas. A lot of hobbies she dabbles in. Except this one involved a lot of heavy lifting and tedious work. I spent the first summer that these went in standing in the field with what seemed like a mile of garden hose. Watering. Watering. At least it was quiet.
Some of you may be scratching your heads about the concept of vineyards and wineries in Minnesota. I did. That's for warmer climates. You're never going to get Chardonnay to work here (well, actually, some did).
The Minnesota State University has been developing cold-hearty grapes that can withstand Minnesota's -30 degree winters (give or take 10 degrees depending on the year). The early vineyards in Minnesota had the farmers pulling the vines down off the trellises before winter and burying them in the dirt, then reattaching them in the spring. Talk about dedication.
Now, thanks to years of research and plant breeding there are about a dozen different varieties. Four are licensed to the university.
According to the Minnesota Grape Growers Association, the Minnesota wine industry is growing by 28 percent each year, with an estimated production of 150,000 gallons by 2014. The association states that in 2009, 93,000 gallons of wine were produced in the state. Sure, it's just a drop in the barrel compared to what Napa Valley puts out, but it's not bad growth for a state that largely produces corn and soybeans.
Summer gets to be more interesting with our little vineyard. Watching the grapes grow, seeing the colors change, the trellises get weighed down with the weight of the vines ever growing.
Then, when the chemistry is just right, we take bright yellow bins and line the rows of vines and start clipping off bundles of grapes, to be transported to a winery in the state.
It's a bit of a process - maintaining the vines, watching for disease, making sure weeds stay out, getting the birds to stay away. Sometimes I wonder how she keeps up with it all year after year - especially since she's pretty much the only one doing the work at her vineyard. There must be something about the grapes.
Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.