With September just around the corner, local vineyards are laden with juicy La Crescent, Prairie Star, Marquette and other cold-hardy grapes ripening in the late-summer sun. If your clients happen to be oenophiles, invite them to spend a day swirling, sipping and spitting on the Great River Road Wine Trail (greatriverroadwinetrail.org), a pair of scenic highways on both sides of the Mississippi River. Dotted with 11 wineries, this picturesque pilgrimage winds through the Upper Mississippi River Valley, a unique American Viticultural Area with steep, sloping hills and ancient glacial soil that creates the valley’s distinctive terroir. —Melinda Nelson
Cannon River Winery | Kick off the tour at Cannon River Winery, (cannonriverwinery.com), less than an hour’s drive from Minneapolis. Tour the lush vineyards, nestled on south-facing slopes in the Sogn Valley, and then head over to the winery in downtown Cannon Falls. As you sample an array of red, white and rosÃ©, amaze your clients with the fact that Nirvana recorded In Utero at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls. Before you leave, buy a couple bottles of Gunflint red and Boreas Royal Reserve as souvenirs.
Falconer Vineyards Winery & Bistro | From Cannon Falls, it’s an easy 30-minute drive through rolling farmland to Falconer Vineyards, (falconervineyards.com), just west of Red Wing. Opened in 2003 by John Falconer, former owner of Red Wing Pottery, the property includes nearly seven acres where Falconer grows Prairie Star, La Crescent, Marquette and other cold-hardy grapes. After a stroll through the vineyards and flower gardens, relax on the deck with a cool glass of award-wining Frontenac rosÃ© and a wood-fired pizza with sausage, red grapes and jalapeÃ±os.
Flower Valley Vineyard & Winery | Flower Valley (flowervalleyvineyard.com) is only 10 miles from Falconer Vineyards, so take a spin through Red Wing, home of Red Wing Shoes. Continue to Flower Valley, just north of the million-plus-acre Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest. Walk the vineyards and admire the famous red 1872 E.J. Fryck barn. Visit the tasting room and chat with owners Mary and Dave Mohn as you sample Marechal Foch, Prairie Bloom, Delaware and other wines. If the signature Blue Bell grape jelly is available, add a couple of jars to your stash.
Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery | Cross the Mississippi River at Red Wing and head down the Wisconsin Great River Road to Maiden Rock Winery (maidenrockwinerycidery.com) in Stockholm, a breathtaking 30-minute drive. Meet owners Herdie and Carol Wiersma and walk the apple orchards laden with ripe fruit. Slake your thirst in the tasting room with samples of Honeycrisp Hard, and other English-style hard ciders, plus red, white and fruit wines.
Villa Bellezza | For a true change of pace, this Tuscan estate of a winery rises on the north side of Lake Pepin, a naturally occurring lake in the Mississippi. Stroll the seven acres of vineyards, planted with 4,000 vines of St. Pepin, Frontenac Blanc and Frontenac Gris, Marquette and other cold-hardy grapes. Conclude your tour in the tasting room with samples of Cotes du Pepin, Pepin Nouveau, Marquette Reserve and other award-winning wines (villabellezza.com) before traveling to the river’s edge to the justly famous Harbor View Cafe (harborviewpepin.com) for dinner.