March 19, 2007

Delano winemaker has high hopes for a successful season

Presentation, wine tasting at Three Crows Friday night

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

Delano winemaker Mike Dickerman has high hopes. 

His red wine won third place at the Minnesota State Fair last year, but this year, he thinks two of his other wines – the rhubarb and the edelweiss – stand a good chance of doing even better.

Dickerman owns Woodland Hill Winery, with its seven-acre vineyard, just west of Delano on Wright County Road 30, where he’s been making wine for the past several years. 

Dickerman, along with his wife, Katie, cultivate eight varieties of grapes, two of which come from a University of Minnesota’s program that develops cold hardy varieties, and several from the eminent grape breeder, Elmer Swenson.

A wine sampling event will take place with Woodland Hill wines Friday, March 23 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Three Crows on River Street in Delano. 

The event is a local wine and cheese tasting, sponsored by the Crow River Sustainable Farming Association, a non-profit organization that supports family farms and local foods – the same group that produces the Minnesota Garlic Festival and a host of farm-related events.

The cost is $10 for Sustainable Farming Association members, and $15 for non-members.

Three Crows Coffeehouse, which also presents a concert series, is well-known for its menu and gourmet coffees, and will have non-alcoholic beverages available as well.

The Dickermans started their vineyard west of Delano in May 2005.

“It is three years before you can harvest your first crop, so we are going to harvest this fall, starting in September,” Mike said. “We will open the winery in the spring of ‘08.”

Dickerman said he has enjoyed making beer and wine for a long time, and it seemed like he and his wife always gravitated to touring wineries while on vacation.

“We had talked about how great it would be to have our vineyard and be able to make wine,” Mike said. “We talked about how the people in Minnesota were missing out on such a fun experience and none of the wineries in Minnesota or Wisconsin offered a place to come and enjoy both a vineyard and a winery.”

While on a trip to Canada, the two toured about 20 different wineries, and kept discussing the need for something like that locally.

“On the long drive home from Canada, we both looked at each other, and said ‘we can do this’ and made the decision to sell our home and other possessions, find the right piece of land, and go for it,” Mike said.

They looked at farms around the metro area for more than two years until they found what they consider an ideal location four miles west of Delano.

The Dickermans have 6.5 acres of grapes planted, two red varieties, with a third going in this year and four white varieties.

“We have just completed our winery production facility, and are working on our tasting room and grounds,” Mike said. “We will control the wine-making process from start to finish. We will also have a place for people to come and bring a picnic lunch, buy a bottle of wine, and enjoy not only our vineyard, but the Delano countryside.”

They are planning to specialize in wines made from Minnesota grapes, and fruit wines from apples, rhubarb and strawberries.

The Dickermans took third place at the Minnesota State Fair last year for their red wine.

The red wine that placed at the State Fair “ . . . we call Minnesota Montage, which is a blend of several varieties grown here in Minnesota,” Mike said.

The wine making process, from start to finish

With whites at harvest, they bring the grapes into the winery, where they de-stem and crush the grapes to remove the juice.

From there, they further press the grapes to extract as much juice as possible. Once they have the juice, they measure its sugar level, PH, and total acid content, and make adjustments as necessary based on the style of wine.

“Once we have the juice, or ‘must,’ where we want it, we add the yeast that starts the fermentation process (which is the conversion of sugar to CO2 and alcohol),” Mike explained, adding that the fermentation process takes about two weeks.

From there, they have to cold stabilize the wine, and clarify and age it. These steps take about four to six months, and then, they put it in the bottle to be enjoyed.

With red wine, the process is very similar, but with their red wines, they don’t press the grapes until they have had four to seven days of contact with the “must.”

“This process is where we get the color of the wine, and many of the flavors,” Mike said. “The aging process for reds is much longer – it takes a minimum of eight months to a maximum of two years before you can bottle it.”

At Three Crows on River Street, Mike is going to talk about what’s involved in growing grapes in Minnesota, the varieties of Minnesota grapes, the basics of wine making, and the styles of wines his grapes are best suited for.

“I am also going to touch on fruit wines,” he said. “Lastly, we are going to have a tasting of several of our wines and other wines produced here in Minnesota.”

Living in Delano since October 2004, Mike and Katie both grew up in Mankato, and graduated from Loyola High School.

Katie went to cosmetology school in St. Paul, while Mike graduated from University of Wisconisn – Stout. They have a daughter, Alana, who is in third grade at Delano Elementary.

In addition to the vineyard, Katie works part-time at Spalon Montage in Eden Prairie, and Mike is the vice president of sales for Hutchinson Manufacturing in Hutchinson.

For more information, e-mail woodlandhillwinery@frontiernet.net, and look in the future for their web site, www.woodlandhillwinery.com, which is still being developed.

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