Ginger, one of the farm’s resident dogs, proudly presents a stick – wagging her tail wildly. A rooster crows. Peacocks strut the grounds. And mere yards away people are clinking wine glasses and sharing laughter. Children are huddled together, coloring in books on a bench as their parents mill through the front part of the cottage retail area, where public tastings are also held.
Visitors to 70-acre Goose Lake Farm and Winery never know what they’re in for when they step onto the picturesque landscape of Anoka County’s first winery.
Goose Lake Farm and Winery, located at 6760 13th Ave NW in Nowthen, celebrated the fall season with its fifth annual harvest festival on October 24. Visitors got to explore the farm, orchard and vineyard while listening to the sounds of the Tommy Bentz Band.
The festival began originally as a rhubarb festival. But after the second year in a row of the winery running out of its popular rhubarb wine, the farm opted to make it a “harvest” event in order to showcase multiple varietals made from orchard fruit. This year, Goose Lake co-owner, Cindy Ohman proudly uncorked the first bottles of their 2008 grape harvest for the festival’s sampling.
Other featured wines included an Orange Dessert Wine, White Dessert Wine and a Dry Red. The latter two wines are made from grapes grown on the Anoka county property. The dry red, from St. Croix grapes, is lightly oaked. The white dessert wine is made from the LaCrescent grape, with the additions of chocolate, caramel, and brandy to sweeten and provide more body.
Meanwhile, children’s activities included scarecrow building, hayrides and pumpkin carving.
“Every year, things are a little different here,” Ohman says, gazing down from an outdoor second floor deck into the lush orchard area that was once a cornfield. Now, the grounds are laden with assorted grape vines, summer berries and fruit trees — apple, cherry, peach, apricot, pear and plum.
Having picked the farm’s first currant crop, Cindy struggles momentarily in conversation with what to do with the fruits. Of course, she will make wine. But will the wine replace a current offering on their tasting menu, or not? Repeat customers ask for what they like. Everyone has a favorite and she does not want to disappoint.
“Wine making is so much fun,” she says. “Most wineries only offer seven to ten selections. I find the process is so creative it’s hard to stop once you get started.”
Goose Lake’s current menu numbers more than thirty different varieties for tasting and bottle purchase. Uncommon wines, made of seasonal vegetables such as rhubarb and beets, are available for sample as well as more traditional dry and semi-sweet whites and reds, made from LaCrescent and St. Croix grapes, respectively.
Land production determines the yearly shelf selection for availability of 1,000 gallons of wine a year. With the exception of Wisconsin cranberries, all of the fruits and vegetables used in their wines are grown on the Anoka county property.
“Some things are more difficult to grow so we sell out more quickly,” Cindy says. “We don’t have any one wine that’s more popular than another. Some things are just easier to grow in this climate so we are able to make larger quantities of wines that include plentiful crops that come from apples and cherries.”
Although grapes have been harvested in the state as early as pioneer days, the wine industry has grown since the founding of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association in 1976.
Cindy has been making wine for more than 15 years. She and her husband, Leon, opened Goose Lake to the public in 2004, but began plans for the winery a decade ago. The couple had toured a number of Minnesota wineries and felt that the winery concept would serve double duty, provide a successful business venture that would mesh Cindy’s expertise in horticultural landscaping and estate design with Leon’s experience in construction and building.
“We have been able to do all this ourselves,” she says. “It works out really well for us.”
The couple chips away, doing a little bit every year, to grow the farm and winery.
“We just keep building on and planting more and more things,” Cindy said. “It’s evolved.”
In the coming years, she expressed interest in offering locals a pick your own option, but for now all the fruits grown on the property go right into wine and herbs grown on the land are turned into herbal vinegars. There are also plans over the next year to add a retaining wall and outdoor patio beside the tasting cottage, jutting towards the greenhouse.
When they’re not hosting festivals and public tastings, Goose Lake serves as a special event facility, offering an unusual locale for weddings, reunions and other functions. Wine making classes, fundraisers, and theatrical productions also take place on a regular basis.
Upcoming events include a special Wine Tasting on October 31 and an encore presentation of racy comedy show entitled Women Who Drink on December 4.
For more information, visit www.gooselakefarm.com or call 763-753-9632.