Winter Wine Fest: MN Grapes Interview with Sommelier Leslee Miller

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This week while promoting the Winter Wine Fest, as a new board member to the Minnesota Grape Growers Association, I had fun with a little morning interview with local blogger, Paige Latham.  A beer enthusiast by trade and owner of the Alcohol by Volume Blog, Paige also shares quite an interest in the local wine scene.  Check out our conversation!

2016 Winter Wine Fest this Friday

February 10, 2016
By: Paige Latham
winter wine

This Friday marks the 40th anniversary of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association, an organization that was formed to “heighten public awareness of the Minnesota grape and wine industry.” To celebrate this milestone, the organization is hosting the 2016 Winter Wine Fest this Friday at the Hyatt downtown.

As a former U of M student, I’ve known for many years that Minnesota is unprecedented in their research of cold climate grapes. Visits to any Midwestern winery will reveal how critical those cold-loving grapes are. Names like Marquette and Frontenac are indispensable to winemakers this far away from the equator. Although my expertise lies in other alcoholic beverages, I continue to be amazed by our rising local winemakers.

This week I spoke with Leslee Miller, Sommelier and board member for the MN Grape Growers Association about what makes the Winter Wine Fest worth attending. (For my more beer-exclusive readers, Miller’s name may sound familiar due to her joint events with Micheal Agnew and her genuine, well-rounded interest in beer). As with beer festivals, there are many excellent events to choose from, so why the 2016 Winter Wine Fest?

Miller emphasizes the proximity to the grapes themselves, as well as the sheer number of Minnesota wineries involved. Guests will have the opportunity to taste wine made from grapes exclusive to Minnesota. Rather than hunting for wine produced far and wide across Minnesota, multiple wineries will be showcasing their signature products in one place.

tessas officeIf that sounds scary – maybe it conjures up suppressed memories of bad local wine of years past –  you aren’t alone. Until quite recently, international or West Coast wines were far superior in quality to anything happened upon while day-tripping across our state. But science (along with experience, advocacy, and dedication) has changed things for the better. Modern cold climate grapes are very different from other strains in that they arise from an entirely different root stalk, resulting in many varieties that can withstand temperatures of 30 below zero, according to Miller.

I asked Miller about local or national trends and her response was immediate: “people are branching out.” She went on to explain that lesser-known regions, from a wine perspective, are picking up steam. Places like Austria and Croatia are in demand, perhaps for the first time in history. This viewpoint was corroborated by Tessa Leung, owner of Tessa’s Office in Rochester, a beautifully curated wine boutique. Leung has seen a recent interest in wines from Hungary, some of which she has greatly enjoyed.

This circles back to the idea that Minnesota wine, as a lesser-valued region, may be approaching the spotlight. But for now, cold-climate wine will benefit from the fact that drinkers are becoming more adventurous, taking risks to discover something new.

And although the Grape Growers Association has been around for 40 years, attendees will no doubt find many new things to enjoy. Look out for the Governor’s Cup winner, Three Oak Winery of Albert Lea, plus 10 local food purveyors.

Tickets available here.

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  • I truly can’t say enough about the lovely wine tasting we did for our company at Café Ena with Leslee.
    It was a perfect evening feeding all of our senses with food, wine, and great company. I will remember every taste.
    Our clients had a truly memorable evening and we have received many wonderful comments from our event.
    Leslee’s ability to share your knowledge in a way that is educational, exciting and great fun is extraordinary.

    Thanks for making me look so good!
    Cynthia A. Nahas-Yachik
    Client Service Manager
    Biekkola & Associates
    Edina, MN