Painted Prairie Vineyard adds tasting room; producing variety of wines
CURRIE — Nestled on a gravel road a little northwest of Dovray is the Painted Prairie Vineyard — the perfect name for an idyllic rural setting where grapevines grow in rows, waterfowl frolic in the nearby marsh and harvest means churning plump red and green grapes into wines.
In late December, Painted Prairie Vineyard opened its new tasting room, kitchen and production space, all under one roof. The tasting room features seating for up to 125 guests and offers a beautiful setting for wedding receptions, parties and gatherings.
“The shell went up in the spring of 2017, but for close to a year this was a dirt floor shed,” said Krista Kopperud, who — along with her husband, Andy — have owned the vineyard since 2015. “In June 2018, we started with full-on construction to finish the inside. That took about six months from start to finish.”
The vineyard was closed for 14 months during the construction project, which meant no wine could be served on site.
“We have the wine from that season that we just started selling now,” Krista shared.
While the building is completed, the work isn’t finished. The Kopperuds plan to begin work on an outdoor patio, which will double the capacity of their business. A large fire pit area is already in place.
The tasting room has been a great new addition to the vineyard, but the Kopperuds are equally excited about their new work space for processing their grapes into wine.
“Up until this point, all of the winemaking was in our garage,” Krista said. The new processing room is large enough to accommodate the winemaking, bottling and storage needs.
While the 2018 grape crop is still in its fermentation process, the Kopperuds will soon begin bottling it.
“The normal fermentation period starts the day of harvest,” Krista said. “Grapes are harvested in September and it will go until … usually April or May.”
She’s quick to note that she and her husband are still learning all there is to know about growing grapes and making wine. They are the second owners of the vineyard, established by Ben and Kim Hause in 2006.
“They had this beautiful vision of taking this old barn used for pigs, cows and dairy and making it into this incredible space,” Krista said, adding that Painted Prairie Vineyard opened in 2011.
When the Hauses opted to relocate to Kansas City for work, the vineyard went up for sale.
“We had been looking to move out into the country after living in Westbrook,” Krista said, adding that friends had encouraged them to see the site.
“We came out and fell in love, and the rest is history,” she said.
The Kopperuds moved to the acreage in July 2014 and began caring for the 1.5-acre vineyard that grows LaCrescent, Frontenac and Marquette — all cold-hardy grape varieties developed by the University of Minnesota.
It took a full year before they completed all of the paperwork and received their license to open a winery.
“Both of us were working full time and trying to navigate (the process),” Krista said. She worked in health care for 17 years before recently leaving to manage the winery full-time. Andy, meanwhile, is a physician in Westbrook.
Not long after their licensure was finalized, Krista said they learned of changes being made in state rules regarding winery inspection. The changes meant they would need to do major renovations to the barn they’d been using as their tasting room in order to stay in business.
“That began a new conversation,” she said. “Here we were, we jumped into the wine industry. You put a lot of time, energy and resources into it and neither of us had the heart to walk away. We thought there was so much opportunity in the region — we thought this was a way to support small business.
“We made the jump and decided to put up a new building,” she added. “This is a whole new learning curve for us.”
The Kopperuds consider themselves “newbies” in the winemaking business, and Krista said their learning will never quit. They are still learning how to grow grapes better, and they’re continually trying new things in the winemaking process.
Andy is the “wine guru” of the operation, and Krista said they often joke that his biochemistry knowledge from medical school is paying off, as winemaking is basically “a huge chemistry project.”
“The grapes are going to change every year depending on the weather,” Krista said. “You can perfect the recipe, but how it tastes in the end will be a little bit different.
“If you go into a winery and find a bottle that you love, you have to buy a case, because if you come back next year, it will just be different.”
Painted Prairie Vineyard offers a variety of dry and sweet wines, as well as some fruit wines and a hard apple cider.
Their wine list features 2017 Frontenac and Frontenac Reserve, Marquette, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Rosé, Prairie Plum, Painted Apple and Prairie Apple; as well as 2016 Frontenac Gris. Their Painted Apple and Prairie Apple wines, as well as Kopper Cider, are created with locally grown apples from Stonegate Orchard in Slayton.
The Marquette and Frontenac wines are made from Painted Prairie Vineyard grapes, while the Frontenac Blanc grapes came from a vineyard near Storden and the Frontenac Gris grapes from the Hinterland Vineyard near Clara City.
“We’re expanding the amount of wine we’re producing and purchased from five grape orchards last year, plus Stonegate Orchard in Slayton,” Krista said. “We’re producing about 7,500 bottles of wine, and we hope to grow it up to 10,000 bottles. For a small winery that started with 3,000 to 4,000 bottles, it sounds crazy.”
As awareness of the vineyard expands and more special events are hosted at the new facility, the goal is to sustain the winery at 10,000 bottles produced annually.
While weddings and wedding receptions are already being booked into 2020, the Kopperuds are also booking birthday parties and other events. The vineyard hosted a chamber event and wine and fashion event earlier this month. It will also host a handmade, vintage and wine event July 20 to include vendors from across the region with their handmade items for sale. The event will include live music and food.
“We’re doing a lot of really cool stuff,” Krista said. “We’re focusing on the summer and trying to come up with some creative things for people to come up and check out.”
While the new facility includes a kitchen, Krista said there aren’t plans to have a full restaurant.
“We’re set up as a catering kitchen, so we can do some food prep,” she said. “Having a food truck and partnering with local places to provide food is definitely in the future.”
For now, the Kopperuds offer their wines, as well as a selection of meat sticks from a grass-fed farm near Canby, cheese trays and cheese cake from a Lakefield business. They also have craft beer on tap, including selections from Brau Brothers of Marshall, Take 16 at Luverne, the Mankato Brewery and Castle Danger at Duluth.
Painted Prairie Vineyard’s tasting room is open from 6 to 10 p.m. Fridays, 4 to 9 p.m. Saturdays and 4 to 6 p.m. Sundays. It anticipates expanding the hours open each day — and possibly adding Thursday hours — this summer.
“We both wanted to ease in a little bit and see how it goes,” Krista said, noting that while she and her husband lead the tastings, they hired three part-time staff in early January to help with special events. They also get a lot of support from family and friends.
“We couldn't do this without so many incredible supporters,” Krista said. “As we venture into this, they're important as a support system for us. We're very lucky.”
The Kopperuds, who are raising three daughters, are considering an expansion of their vineyard within the next couple of years. They may add up to another half-acre of grape vines, but Krista said they likely won’t grow in size beyond that.
“We would rather have the grape growers grow good grapes and then we can focus on the wine and the winemaking,” she said.
Wine tastings are conducted during the hours the tasting room is open, and a tasting session includes four samples from their list of offerings.
Krista is just starting to meet with liquor stores across southwest Minnesota in hopes of adding Painted Prairie wines to their displays.