Sweeping sceneries of France, rolling hills of California — these are the pictures that come to mind when we think of wineries. But tucked in a cozy corner, currently framed by branches of white, is a Minnesota winery here in Pine County: Northern Hollow Winery, located in between Grasston and Pine City.
Northern Hollow Winery is family-owned, sprung up from a Christmas gift given to Jim Truehart by his wife, Deanna. About 16 years ago, Deanna gave Jim a wine-making kit. It consisted of a plastic bucket and a six-gallon carboy. As Truehart states in the Northern Hollow pamphlet, the first batch of raspberry wine was “not drinkable.”
After a lot of research and more equipment, his wines “started to improve.” After another Christmas gift of a grape press, Truehart’s endeavors grew. He started learning about cold hardy grapevines. He entered his wines into amateur wine-making contests, the biggest in the world, and — lo and behold — he won awards, golds and silvers.
Jim and Deanna Truehart, along with Deanna’s parents, Ray and Barb Dreyer, maintain six acres of cold hardy vines, “a large undertaking,” on the Dreyer’s property. There, they also built a wine-tasting room and opened for business in 2014.
At the beginning, the family operation turned out 700 to 750 gallons of wine. Now they produce about 4,000 gallons and supply wine to 70 different stores across the state — a number that continues to grow.
Over the past two years, Northern Hollow Winery has won some 16 awards at various competitions. In 2017, they won the biggest award in the state. The Governor’s Cup, as it is called, went to their La Crescent wine, “an aromatic white with vibrant flavors of pear and citrus,” according to Northern Hollow’s website.
While in terms of production, things have been going well, Truehart confessed there have been some challenges along the way. Simple ones, really, or so it would seem at first glance.
Its location is best described as between Grasston and Pine City, on the border of Royalton and Pokegama townships. Truehart described its location as the “middle of nowhere,” which, of course, has its charms but doesn’t come without its challenges either.
The winery has had troubles with putting up signs — a rather straightforward task. But they have been met with opposition from ordinances and city officials who, for one reason or another, aren’t interested in having the winery’s signs up over the weekend.
Such signs would make its presence known, which is an essential part to any business. While the winery is considered a tourist destination, and, in theory, brings in five dollars to the local town for every dollar spent at the winery, it doesn’t qualify for the MN/DOT signage. Truehart explained that to qualify for the blue signs, which would be positioned on Interstate-35 and through the countryside leading up to the winery, the business would have to be open for 40 hours a week, have a restaurant on the premises and/or offer daily tours.
While those stipulations probably won’t be fulfilled any time too soon, visitors from across the world manage to find their way to the idyllic Northern Hollow. Truehart said people from Australia, Europe and South America have stopped by, though wine produced from cold hardy vines seems to appeal to a certain demographic.
Truehart explained that while California reds are deep and dark — Minnesota reds are a bit sweeter, which is a taste this region tends to prefer. Comparatively, Minnesota reds may not be where California reds are, but Truehart boasted, “I truly believe our whites are superior to California’s.”
Red wines may not be far behind in quality though, Truehart said. New varieties of vines are coming on the market that “in the future, could be very competitive” to California-quality.
That’s part of the reward, Truehart said: “hearing from the customers how great the wine is.” Awards have their place and are great recognition, but sharing his passion with people from all walks of life is a greater reward. Passion can burn out quickly if it’s not shared, but Truehart gets to share his passion not only with those who come to the winery, but with each person who decides to pick their wine from the shelf at a local liquor store.
For the past two years, Northern Hollow has also hosted Art Fest, which showcases local artists and their handcrafted wares. The event is coordinated by Barb, who is an artist herself, having over 20 years experience with pottery. Her work is on display in the wine tasting room — another passion shared.
This year will be the third year of the Art Fest being held at the winery. All the artists are hand-picked by the Trueharts and Dreyers. They are currently accepting applications from artists, which can be found on their website, http://www.northernhollowwinery.com. Art Fest takes place August 11 and 12.
The winery is open through the winter and is also available to those who wish to host an event in their wine tasting room. On February 8, they will be in Mora for the inaugural Taste of Vasaloppet, which will showcase several local breweries and wineries. During the summer, the winery features live music every other week.
Northern Hollow Winery has a website with a calendar of events at http://www.northernhollowwinery.com. They also have a Facebook page and an app you can download for your phone.