On September 1st, I joined my extended family, friends and folks from a small Lutheran Church to pick grapes on Sundstrom’s Lone Oak Farm near Vernon Center, Minnesota. My in-laws operate a large soybean and corn farm but also keep a small vineyard between thier homestead’s windbreak and miles of flat grain fields. This is not Napa Valley, the Catawba Islands, Italy or France; it is Minnesota smack dab in the middle of Blue Earth County where the farms are large and small town lucnh counters define a gourmet offering as a glass of whole milk and a dinner plate with a “commercial” – buttered white bread slices smothered in dark beef gravy and slices of steak.
My brothers-in-low Ken and Dave raise mostly hardy hybrid Marquette and Frontenac grapes developed here in Minnesota. The Lone Oak Vinyard is a labor-intensive hobby throughout the year that requires the help of family and neighbors to harvest the crop just as the grapes ripen on the vine for local, commercial winemakers.
This picking season I brought my video camera to record the colors, sounds and people engaged in an enterprise that requires knowledge of grapes, chemistry, hard work, teamwork, luck, family, neighbors and a commercial winery. The harvest this year was comparatively small to previous years: heavy spring rains and hard frosts were followed by very hot and dry mid-summer conditions.
The payoff, for those of us who are urban bound, comes from an opportunity to re-connect to our agrarian past in a hands-on fashion, to enjoy the quiet of the plowed prairie, to feel the wind and, of course, taste some of Lone Oak’s own, non-commercial wine – which has been winning ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair for the past four years. Enjoy the video.