CUSHING — The old red barn acting as the backdrop to 700 vines of grapes gives Scandia Valley Vineyards its rustic charm. But those wanting to relax at the picnic tables while enjoying samples of the Minnesota-made wine don’t have much longer to do so.
Labor Day 2021 will be the last day Jon McClain welcomes visitors to his vineyard just north of Cushing to sample his wine on site.
“COVID was kind of the start of it. And last year would have been my last year, had it been a normal year,” McClain said Thursday, July 8, while standing among his grapevines. “... We were down about 33% in revenue, and so we carried over a lot of wine. So I said, ‘Let’s go one more year, and let’s make that our final year.’”
But the wine itself, nor the five varieties of grapes, aren’t going anywhere.
Having turned 66 this year, McClain decided it was time to slow down and start enjoying life more, rather than working four jobs. So he plans to stop making his own wine after this summer but will continue selling the stock he has and will keep cultivating his more than 2 acres of grapes, which will go to other Minnesota wineries.
With the COVID-19 pandemic seeming to wind down and hot weather that’s great for grape growing, Scandia Valley Vineyards has seen a much better summer so far this year compared to last. Visitors often bring the whole family and their own picnic lunch to sit outside with and enjoy while taking in the vineyard’s beauty and fruitful harvest.
“They just come out and jump on one of the picnic tables or up on the deck under an umbrella, and they’ll stay for hours,” McClain said.
Visitors can choose up to six wines to sample at time, with options ranging from the tropical white Chase Cat to the sweet Classic Red Barn and the red Sabrevois aged in American whiskey barrel oak to the unique Don’t Worry — Be Hoppy featuring the aroma and finish of an India pale ale beer with all the taste of a crisp white wine.
Two of McClain’s 14 varieties have already sold out, with the hops wine and the ever-popular La Crescent, a citrusy white wine, not far behind.
After buying an old dairy farm in 2005 and transforming it into Scandia Valley Vineyards by 2013, McClain has enjoyed nine summers of operations. But he isn’t the only Minnesota vintner calling it quits in recent years.
“There are a few new ones popping up,” he said of wineries around the state, “but for every one that opens up, there’s one that’s closing. There have been several that, when COVID came, they said, ‘We’re done.’”
Breweries and distilleries seem to be the more popular endeavors in the beverage industry as of late, but Minnesota still boasts dozens of wineries, including L’Etoile du Nord Vineyard in Parkers Prairie, where McClain will now send his grapes. There’s always demand for the cold climate hybrids, designed to withstand the cold Minnesota winters — for the most part — but also able to thrive in the hot summers.
McClain’s grapes are in the third year of their comeback after freezing and dying off completely during an especially harsh winter when Brainerd saw 59 consecutive days with below-zero temperatures. But looking at the lush green vines covered in grapes today, practically the only signs of damage are the tiny little trunks at the bottom of the plants, showing where the old ones once grew.
And the new growth will continue.
While ceasing his wine production and cutting back on hours in the financial services industry will give McClain more time to travel as he wants, he’ll still be plenty busy with his new endeavor — Scandia Valley Firearms — and selling off the last of his wine and balsamic vinegars and oils. Those who want to purchase any products should visit svvwine.com or Scandia Valley Vineyards LLC on Facebook, or call 218-575-2336 to set up a time.
The vineyard will be open for tastings on the weekends through Labor Day. Visit svvwine.com for a schedule.