‘Super’ Appellations: A View from Minnesota
Here’s the second installment of our series looking at the idea of ‘super’ appellations in the Midwest. We’re bouncing around the idea of uniting parts of our region under a bigger appellation category according to grape variety, rather than terroir, and with strict quality controls. The aim is to help market the best Midwest wines in our region.
See related story: ‘Super’ Appellations: A View from Stone Hill Winery
For a view from the north or our region, Irv Geary, President Minnesota Grape Growers Association (MGGA) and owner of Wild River Vineyards, bravely agreed to answer our questions. Geary’s responses are his alone and don’t represent the view of all members of the MGGA.
In answer to the general idea of ‘super’ appellations and if they might help the Midwest wine industry, Geary said:
‘Minnesota is already in the Mississippi River Valley AVA and also has the Alexandria Lakes AVA. To that extent, I don’t know that either of these help sell any of their wines.”
He added, ‘Most people in Minnesota, and the Midwest for that matter, don’t know or care about AVA’s. The wine experts that do don’t take many of our wines seriously anyway.”
The MGGA President thinks that as the Minnesota industry matures, AVAs will have more value, but not multi-region AVAs. ‘I do think they need to be specific to geographic areas like the St. Croix River Valley or the Mississippi Blufflands,” he said.
However, Geary is tempted by the idea of requiring specific grapes for wines from a certain region.
‘I am split on this,” he mused. ‘I would like us to develop a regional flavor or style of wine, so to that extent, I would say, yes, let’s use only certain grapes. However, our industry is so new and so fragile that I don’t think we can hang our hat on these grapes yet.”
He said the higher likelihood of disastrous weather wiping out vines in wine states like his own, compared to California or Oregon, means the industry shouldn’t be locked into specific grapes — yet.
Our next question observed that most small wineries in the Midwest sell the majority of their wine in their tasting rooms (rather than retail or in restaurants). So we asked whether being part of a ‘super’ appellation could help overcome this distribution issue? Also, a related question: for Minnesota (and the same applies to wine industries in other states across the Midwest), you can only find Minnesota wines in retail stores in Minnesota, and even in these stores, usually the selection of Minnesota wines is small — would a ‘super’ appellation help here too?
Geary said, ‘You are correct most wineries are selling most of their product in their own tasting rooms. However, I don’t see that being long term sustainable. If we want to build a legitimate industry that has region wide recognition, we need to have a stronger presence in the retail liquor stores.”
He continued, ‘The struggle with getting into retail is two prong. One being getting distributors to take you on and two trying to get quality shelf space at liquor stores.”
Geary said that while some stores provide a good display of Minnestoa wine and are quite successful at selling it, others relegate their small display of local wine to a poor location and then rationalize that the wines don’t sell.
‘This is why I would like to develop a state driven wine association that would market our industry for us and help get all liquor stores promoting MN wines,” he said.