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A taste of wine: Local vineyard gives French feel to local food during event

Outside, snow was falling, quickly coating the grounds and the roads with the first notable snowfall of the season. The weather, however, didn't stop visitors from traveling a couple miles off the beaten path to the Alexis Bailly Vineyard. Inside, the sounds of bottles and glasses clinked under the noise of conversation while people meandered through the Hastings vineyard's tasting room and store Saturday.

Eight stations were set up on rustic wooden tables and wine barrels decorated with roses were displaying several bottles of local wines with cheese, summer sausage, chutney and chocolate. At each station, a vineyard volunteer poured wine and shared their passion for flavors - a passion they share with the master winemaker, Nan Bailly.

It was one of the vineyard's semiannual wine pairing tasting events, at which several wines are brought out and offered in sample amounts to visitors. They're paired with a certain type of food, selected for its ability to change and complement the flavors in the wines. As visitors sample the pairings, volunteers tell them about both the wine and the food it is paired with, and why they make a good match.

Cecilia Gagner and Patrick Wilson came from Minneapolis for a short getaway and found the tasting as they were searching for something to do. Neither knew much about wine before arriving, they said. But even before they'd made it to all eight stations they had gained some insight on how to match wine with food.

"It's nice to see how the flavor of one thing can affect the wine," Gagner said.

Jeff and Michelle Waldvogel drove about two and a half hours from Little Falls for the event. It was one of a few wine tastings scheduled for the weekend, Jeff Waldvogel said, and the couple was taking the tour with friends. Michelle Waldvogel said she's tried making her own wine, and learned why her wines don't turn out as well as she'd like. She also said that the pairings have shown her a different way to enjoy wine.

"You can't just grab a bottle of wine and drink it," she said.

The pairings also showed her that a wine she'd never try on its own, when paired with food, tastes good.

The Alexis Bailly Vineyard has a 35-year history, begun when David Bailly aimed to produce a great Minnesota wine. Upon his death in 1990, his daughter Nan Bailly took over the vineyard.

Events like the wine pairing tasting are meant to educate people about wine, Nan Bailly said.

"It's all about education, but it's fun education," she said.

The pairing tastings highlight combinations Bailly and her staff have discovered, so visitors don't have to wonder how to serve their wine or what to eat along with it.

"We do all the work for you," she said.

She showed a bottle of Seyval Blanc, a very dry white wine that was paired with a Marieke Gold gouda cheese for the day.

"Most cheeses make this wine taste like metal," Bailly said. But this particular cheese, made by a small family farm in Wisconsin, matches it perfectly, she said.

Bailly spent some time making wine in France before her father died. Part of her goal with the Alexis Bailly Vineyard, she said, is to give people a local opportunity to enjoy all wine can offer.

"It's about saying you don't have to go to France to enjoy food and wine," she said.

While it's difficult to do so now, with temperatures dipping low and snow gathering, the vineyard encourages visitors to bring a picnic when they come, and enjoy their wine on the Alexis Bailly grounds. They host jazz concerts and have a sculpture garden as well. The whole environment often makes visitors say they don't feel like they're in Minnesota anymore, said Mark Linne, a volunteer who has known the Bailly family since the 1980s. Some even said the vineyard has an atmosphere as close to that of a French vineyard as one could get.

For more about the vineyard, go to or call 651-437-1413.