New winery opens in Denmark Township
Cynthia and Neil Bahr didn’t know anything about raising grapes when they bought their farm back in 2008. What they did know is that they wanted to develop a sustainable lifestyle. The solution was what is now Vinmark Estates, a new local vineyard and winery.
The couple lived in Cottage Grove for 14 years before moving to rural Denmark Township. Neil Bahr worked for a purchasing and supply chain, and Cynthia Bahr had a corporate career. With their children now grown, they figured it was time to find a new activity that could keep them active, but wouldn’t be too much work after they retire, Cyntha Bahr said.
They both still have other professional goals, so being close to the Twin Cities was a necessity. They found a little farm off 80th Street that fit the bill.
“It’s almost like having your cabin in the city,” Bahr said.
At first, their farm only had a house on it; the rest was farmland, but it hadn’t been profitable for farming, she said. They had to find a way to make it economically viable.
“What can the property do that can pay for itself?” she said.
The answer was grapes. Although the land hadn’t been good for traditional farming, grapes often tend to thrive where other crops won’t, and the same has proven to be true for the Bahr’s land. They did considerable research, taking advantage of the work already done by the University of Minnesota and visiting other local vineyards and wineries to see what they liked and what wouldn’t require too much fussing over. They ultimately picked two varieties, the Marquette (red) and Frontenac Gris (white), developed by the University of Minnesota to tolerate Minnesota winters. They planted their vineyard in 2010 and as of this year have had three successful harvests.
They quickly found that there was potential for much more. Last year, the Bahrs started work on a winery building. They did more research. They took several trips to Napa Valley in California to examine working wineries’ business models. They hired a winemaker to help them develop their own wines.
“It’s been a great learning experience,” Bahr said.
The end result is a new winery that will be open on weekends by appointment. It’s a unique business model in this area, Bahr said, but it’s perfect for them. They can keep the operation small enough to be managed by just two people and retain the farm’s rural feel.
From their two varieties of grapes, the Bahrs produce seven styles of wine. The vast majority of the work is done by just the two of them, although they do get a lot of help around harvest time from friends and family, Bahr said.
Part of the goal at Vinmark Estates is to pass along the vast information that the Bahrs have acquired in the years since they’ve started their venture.
“There’s so much about wine that makes people uncomfortable,” Bahr said, and she’s aiming to change that.
They welcome questions about the grapes, the wine and the whole process. Their hope, Bahr said, is that visitors will be able to get as much information as they want or need to make wine more approachable.
What Bahr said she finds particularly interesting is understanding what makes wine taste different to some people. While one person might taste overtones of several fruits in one wine, another person might not taste any. Taste is based on experience, she said, and as winemakers, they have to let people determine for themselves what they taste in each wine.
“You have to let people discover that for themselves,” she said.
Vinmark Estates is a work in progress, Bahr said, and there’s no telling exactly how the winery will develop in the coming years.
But there are some other features on the grounds that could impact the winery in coming years. In their attempt to live sustainably, the Bahrs have created several raised gardens and also raise chickens, rabbits and bees. Whether those become part of the winery experience in the future has yet to be seen. At the very least, however, Bahr sees it as proof that anyone can be successful at sustainable living.
She’s originally from New York, she said, and didn’t even know much about insects before coming to Minnesota. Yet she’s still able to gather many of her dinner ingredients from her backyard as well as grow a successful vineyard and produce her own wine. If she can do it, anyone can, she said.
“I’m trying to make it so I know where everything came from,” she said, “... and people can come out here and see that it can be done, even with two people.”
Vinmark Estates is located at 13310 80th Street Court S., Hastings. For more about Vinmark Estates, go to www.vinmarkestates.com or call 651-436-8401.