Justin Osborne, winemaker at the newly opened Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery, used to be a construction manager. He was conscripted into the winemaker role by his mother-in-law, owner Vicky Vogt, and after a stint at the VESTA program, he’s off and running with a successful opening vintage.
Four Daughters sits at a lonely intersection of two county roads a few miles south of Rochester. There are some vines outside the winery — Frontenac, Marquette, Brianna, and Edelweiss — but they’re too young to have yielded much functional wine fruit. The tasting room is a large, warm, and modern space that seems designed with large dinners and event receptions in mind.
To make a decent product right away is rather notable for local wineries. It wouldn’t be constructive to advise people to go out and drink all the locally made wine they can get their hands on. Even someone like this author, who has an unabashed love for the industry, must admit that a significant portion of it is some pretty awful stuff.
“What I’ve seen with start-up wineries in Minnesota,” writes U of M Enology Project Leader Katie Cook, “ …most of them are coming from other industries and are learning about the wine industry as they go. It’s exciting to see that sort of enthusiasm, but the problem is that it’s easy to make mistakes while you’re learning.”
It seems that Osborne is on the right side of the learning curve. Tasting Four Daughters’ full flight would be a good primer for those not familiar with local wine. Their 2011 vintage is very representative of the quality that can be achieved with the best local grape varieties. Osborne says the majority of their grapes are sourced from four growers no more than 50 miles away (which he supplements with small amounts of juice from California and Washington). Sure, a few aren’t up to snuff, but no Minnesota winery is batting 1.000.
But if you’re just interested in knocking a few back over some food, Four Daughters has a chef on site turning out sophisticated, approachable cuisine. “Once they’ve had the wines,” Osborne says, “what’s going to bring them back?” That responsibility falls to Erik Kleven. A former sous-chef at Chester’s Kitchen & Bar, Kleven is putting out an agreeable assortment of snacks perfect for sharing over a few sips.
Osborne says the pizzas are the hot item right out of the gate, and it’s easy to see why. The crusts have a substantial flatbread consistency to them. Opt for the Shaved Asparagus — a lovely and indulgent mix of fresh asparagus and salty pancetta sprinkled around nicely set runny-yolk eggs and creamy parma grana. The winery has already begun a series of ambitious dinners on Thursday nights and special holidays, as well as Sunday brunch.
Another fun addition to the lineup is their Cider. Only available on draft at the winery, the apples are sourced from Wescott Orchards in Elgin, MN. Osborne nicknames it Barely Legal Cider because, at 6.9% ABV, it’s just under the 7% cut-off where it must be considered an apple wine. It’s tart with a hint of yeast-derived smoothness, and goes down altogether too easily.
“The wineries that have been around since the 90’s have had a number of vintages to get their ducks in a row, and most of them have worked through the trial and error stage of getting started in the business,” Cook continues. “Consumers are starting to recognize ‘top’ Minnesota wines and wineries, and are now able to differentiate between a good Minnesota wine and one that isn’t up to par.”
Four Daughters is most certainly still in the trial and error stage, but so far, consider them up to par. Osborne is currently experimenting with all kinds of barrel aging, even with whites where the current best practices call to avoid oak at all costs. “With a deft hand, a barrel will make anything better,” he claims. We’ll be sure to revisit that when the reserve whites are released down the road.
Here’s a quick tasting-note rundown of their 2011 Vintage (from best to worst in this author’s humble opinion), which is currently available for sale only on site. If you can’t make it down to Rochester anytime soon, they’ll be pouring and sampling food at the upcoming North Coast Nosh IV this April 14 at the Peace Coffee roastery (details on the event to be released in the coming weeks).
Frontenac Rose: Pleasantly fruity, with lots of cranberries and sweetness throughout the sip. Grapes grown in Decorah, IA. Light-bodied, clean and fresh. It’s very much akin to the Indian Island Frontenac Rose that won the Governors Cup at the 2011 International Cold Climate Wine Competition. “I’ve never had a Frontenac that I’ve liked that wasn’t either a Port or a Rosé” says Osborne. This author is in full agreement.
La Crescent: In league with the better La Crescents in the state. A huge hit of grapefruit citrus on the nose. White-grape sweetness is the base note of the sip just peaking through the steely and acidic backbone. Serve very cold.
Sparkling Frontenac Gris: Like a Moscato with character. Made with a Charmat tank, it’s tart with nice green apple flavors and a creamy texture to the sip. Serve extremely cold (it could stand a quick stint in the freezer) so the CO₂ is well absorbed into solution.
Marquette: The sole red in the lineup. Grown in Minnesota, and aged in Minnesota grown and coopered oak, it’s balanced, earthy, and silky. A couple different yeasts contribute to a complex black fruit flavor.
Frontenac Gris: The winery’s top seller. Composed of about 80 percent Frontenac Gris, with 10 percent barrel-fermented Prairie Star, and the balance is Riesling from Washington state. Rounded, peachy, sweet body with a mellow finish. A little sweet for my personal liking, but very compelling.
Brianna: A banana-like character on the nose, which comes from a shorter, intense fermentation period. Tropical flavors lead in to a sip that feels more substantial than many from this variety. But the bubble-gum like sweetness that seems to be characteristic of the grape will turn off some drinkers. Not great, but the grape itself isn’t top notch to begin with.
Edelweiss: Blech. This grape needs to be stopped in its tracks. That distinctive foxy musk that haunts Vitis Labrusca grape wines overwhelms this one. Pass. But this author is a big fan of four of the seven. For an opening vintage, that’s pretty good.
Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery
78757 State Highway 63
Spring Valley, MN 55975