by Janie Franz
What partners Paul and Sharon Shuster and John Wildmo are doing in northern Minnesota is unique. It isn't that they are making wine there, but they are doing it without grapes. They are making fine, dry wines from the hardy berries and fruits that survive the rugged winters of the region.
Not only are they producing respectable whole fruit wines, they are creating a sustainable agricultural community within the region with distribution locally and in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and soon in Europe. Rhubarb, chokecherries, raspberries, and plums are plucked from the 40-acre winery grounds. Strawberries, juneberries, and black currants are bought from area farmers who are glad to find a local market for their crops. These fruits are hand-picked at the peak of their flavor and brought directly to the winepress, where they are crafted in small batches into a product that is has rich color, clarity, and complex flavors.
Ever since Forestedge Winery opened in 2000, the Shusters and Wildmo have been refining the operation. The equipment is Italian made, including the wine press and the barrels. They added two large stainless steel vats which had to be shipped in from Italy. US steel vats were just too large, designed for big scale production. The wine is aged in a section of the winery and bottled directly from the barrels and vats. The physical layout of the winery was expanded, adding a large bottling room and creating more space for the vats and barrel storage.
Currently, the winery produces 35,000 bottles a year. Though some of the wines take a year and a half to age before they are sold, many of them sell out fast, especially their Rhubarb, which is their best seller, and their Chokecherry. These are usually consumed immediately. It is not known whether these fruit wines will store longterm or if they should be.
What is certain is that these wines are becoming widely known. Forestedge wines debuted at the prestigious wine show, ProWein 2002, in Dusseldorf, Germany, and last year placed in three international competitions, once taking a silver medal.
The Forestedge Rhubarb is a youthfully crisp wine with pale peach color and tart mineral aromas. Flavors of apricot and citrus end in a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness, and it is a well balanced wine with a clean finish. For a parallel musical experience, Ben Harper's album "Burn To Shine" is as unexpected as this dry crisp wine. Harper's usual fare is more roots based with his sumptuous voice rising above acoustic guitar and drums. Many tracks on this album start with either a folky, world acoustic, or experimental techno percussion intro and then morph into straight up rock or edgy. "Two Hands of a Prayer," "The Woman in You," and "Beloved One," however, are softer inclusions in the mix and are more keeping with the soulful artistry we have come to revere in Harper's music.
Forestedge wines will not overpower the flavors of food, and will even clear the palate. And though Ben Harper's music is fresh and edgy, it compliments a mellow, casual ambience and is not overpowering.