What’s their secret? “Number one, the ownership group has set us up with the ability to make great wine,” Drash explains. “I joke that besides it being 10-below sometimes, I feel like I’m back in California. We have the exact same tools, tanks, filters, and crushers that I used there. We also have a really talented young man who’s our vineyard manager, he’s only 21-years-old but he’s been working with grapes since he was 10. He knows how to grow grapes for making wine, as opposed to someone who knows how to grow grapes—and there’s a big difference. And Josie could run any winery in the Midwest if she wanted to. And for me, it’s my 25th harvest, and I’ve picked up a few things along the way. The goal here is to get recognized beyond Minnesota, and beyond the Midwest.”
That’s no small feat, even to get recognized for making great wine within the state. “The Midwest is more of a beer drinking culture,” Boyle says. “We’re such a young industry, and there have been a lot of bad wines made in the past. But now, going into the future, our wines are going to be way better.”
Hopefully the red wines at Chankaska are a harbinger of things to come state-wide. The promise is especially evident their wines made with Marquette, the preeminent cold-hardy red grape in the state.
“Marquette can be really astringent and bitter,” Drash explains. “With our Marquette, we did some egg white fining to soften that up. That was important—when you have high acids, it can have some funky astringency and bitterness too, which we try to avoid.”
He’s especially fond of what they were able to achieve with their 2015 Marquettes. “2015 was absolutely amazing,” Drash says. “Lots of fruit, good quality, good ripening windows, and I think it shows in the wine.” They’ll produce three different versions from the 2015 vintage, including two single-estate versions that are currently resting in barrels alongside Boyle’s racks of sparkling wine.
Chankaska’s Marquette is, indeed, one of the finest in the state. It’s balanced, supple, and velvety, with a purity of fruit that’s only enhanced by the oak flavor. It’s a testament to grapes well grown, and to the winemakers’ expertise.
Drash and Boyle think Minnesota wine is well-positioned to come in to its own, just as consumer tastes are leaning away from the California fruit-bomb wines of the last few decades. “There was this movement, about ’95 to 2005, in California, where people were making super-ripe, high alcohol wines,” Drash says. “Now, it’s swung back the other way—low alcohol wines with high acidity, which is what we’re making here.”
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Photos by Kevin Kramer, The Growler
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