Friday I had the distinct pleasure and opportunity to train a winery in my own backyard. Well, not exactly my own backyard, but when you’re from Minnesota, an hours drive feels like something from your neighborhood.
Crow River Winery, a Minnesota Winery, located just one hour west of the Twin Cities is an outstanding one day get-away tour for those in the metro looking to escape the daily grind of the city. A winery that sits within the Crow River Watershed, an area defined by the 15,000 yr old Des Moines Glacier. Full of glacial til and gravel, the region leaves a well-drained stony, clay soil perfect for growing the region’s most popular grapes: La Crescent, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac and Marquette. All grapes from which some of the winery’s flagship wines are made from.
The winery is owned by a very lovely and exceptionally gracious couple, Mike & Val McBrady, both who are local to the region and its people. Although quite new to the wine industry, the duo has managed to gracefully build one of the largest winery spaces the state has known.
The facility, is unlike any other MN winery I’ve visited. With a unique road-side sign (a structure that originally came with the property), the winery and all its grandeur is quite hard to miss. At one point, McBrady tells me, the state actually wanted to charge him for the space of an actual highway billboard due to the size of his facility’s entrance sign. Hard to miss. When you visit, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Of course, I had done my homework before heading out, yet something told me that the drawn outlines of the winery space online were going to be much more than I had expected. The winery, with plans to host a 400 person event hall equipped with an outdoor amphitheater, fountains, gorgeous outdoor patio for tasting, olive oil/balsamic bar, pizza oven parlor and serpentine shaped tasting bar – all honestly, sounded too good to be true. In Minnesota? Had I just landed in Napa? I honestly had to give myself a pinch and remind myself that I was, in fact, standing just outside of Hutchinson, Minnesota standing in awe. A facility, yes, fit for Napa.
The winery space, which opened in August last year, has spent every day since, adding/building and maximizing every square inch that their Minnesota property has given them. To give you an idea as to just how far this couple has gone to ensure that the proper service expectations and etiquette of their staff match the gorgeous facility that they’ve spent their waking hours building, they hired an insider of the industry to help them shape the knowledge of their crew. With a background in 5 star restaurants and exclusive winery training – I felt privileged to be that person sharing my knowledge and experience with the young staff of this Minnesota built winery as their ‘insider’.
Tasting through the wines just two weeks before gave me a refresher course on Minnesota grown grapes, yet the number of fruit wines that the portfolio produced were all new to me. Ranging from Apricot, Strawberry/Rhubarb, Honey-crisp Apple/Cranberry to more – the couple shared that their award-winning Honey-crisp Apple/Cranberry wine still ranks highest with many who visit the winery. And, indeed it is a winner. Fresh, with brite notes of honey-crisp apple and yes, cranberry – the wine, I’ve described to many, as an amazing starter to any dinner event.
With a number of varietaly correct Minnesota wines, and a staff just about as ‘Minnesota Nice’ as one can get – I’ll admit, I’m Crow River Winery’s new biggest fan.
It’s not often that wineries, especially in the Midwest, reach out and ask for ‘winery’ training – leaving their departments of customer service, wine service and wine education up to fate. At the same time, it was not surprising the second I walked into the facility and met the owners, that they were striving for ‘best in category’ when it came to all sections of their winery. A couple, whom by day, owns a successful data software company was complete with local history, enthusiasm and professionalism regarding the properties on which they farmed, managed and produced. Committed to sustainability, their industry and obviously, their community, it was clear that Hutchinson was lucky to have the McBradys in their own back yard. With a portfolio that holds everything from fruit wines, Minnesota grapes, port wines to a selection of garlic cooking wines – they have your beverage selections covered from kitchen prep to dessert course.
My time, needless to say, was an experience that I will tell many about as I am amongst the public. Funny, as it was I, who was hired to drive home the idea of customer ‘experience’ with the staff. Little did they know that it was them – gifting me with a story that I would later tell others. After all, isn’t it the ‘experience’ that ends up telling the story of the wine and creates the relationship for many of us? Think about it.
If wine is 90% experience – who you’re with, how it was served and the story it shared – why wouldn’t every winery strive to give their guest the best experience they could?
So really, don’t you need a day to escape the city life? Jump in the car, head west one hour on highway 7 and look up just a couple miles east of the city limits of Hutchinson. You’ll see the sign and you’ll certainly see the facility. Walk inside and enjoy a day tasting and enjoying a number of Minnesota wines with the McBradys and their winery family. The Crow River Winery staff is shiny-faced, enthusiastic and ready to educate, entertain and shower you with 5 star customer service – I can pretty much guarantee it!
By the way, looking for something fun to do on the eve of Valentine’s Day? Crow River has a styl-y Valentine’s Day Dinner lined out just for you! Romanticly set up with flowers, candle-lite, delicious food and wine – the gang at the winery still has room with a few more seats for you, a date or a group of pals.
Sign up today!
Thank you to my new friends at Crow River Winery – your hospitality was very much appreciated.