By Jordan Gerard
Editor, The Caledonia Argus
Overlooking the Mississippi River and Lake Onalaska sits a picturesque winery with a river view.
River View Winery in La Crescent has focused on offering locally made wines since 2011, and in the midst of a pandemic, they continue on.
Owner Brad Helstad said the winery is compliant with the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19, including masks during wine tastings and the winery’s open hours, an outdoor patio with six-foot spacing and asking guests to make reservations before coming.
Hours at the winery are Thursday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Guests can call or text the winery to make a reservation.
River View Winery has been growing grapes since 2003 and recently opened the winery in 2011 with several different wines including the popular guest choice Brianna and the La Crosse, both white wines. For red wines, the Marquette and the Frontenac are guest favorites, usually more toward the fall season, Helstad said.
“We have the University of Minnesota, cold, hardy varieties. We started with 64 vines in 2003 and added a couple hundred more in 2005,” he said. “We added another 300 in 2007 and more in 2009.”
Vines mature after about four to five years and provides a good crop, but they don’t really get good until about 8-10 years after Helstad and his father planted them, so the wine-making waited until about 2011.
White grapes are usually picked, de-stemmed and crushed on Labor Day weekend while red grapes are usually processed by the end of September. The timing of the harvest season also depends on how hot or cold or wet the summer has been.
After the grapes are ready for the wine-making to begin, the sugar is measured, the yeast is added and the wine is barreled and eventually ready to pour. That’s Helstad’s favorite part of managing a winery: harvesting the grapes and making them into wine.
“The aroma and tasting the grapes while you’re picking. The processing part smells like perfume,” he said.
He enjoys the more natural process of wine-making versus other beverages, such as brewing and distilling, where more cooking is involved. River View Winery has a variety of reds, whites and blushes available for tasting and purchasing.
The winery has the capacity to produce 13,000 bottles of wine, but right now Helstad bottles about 7,000 to 8,000 per year and the wine is currently only available at the winery.
Helstad got his start with the vineyard after he was laid off from American Airlines. His parents owned the rolling, hilly land the vineyard currently sits on and when the University of Minnesota developed hardy wine grapes, it seemed like an opportunity Helstad and his father couldn’t pass up.
He adds it was a team effort and they planted the vineyard before opening the wineries, but a few other wineries open the opposite way: buy the grapes and make wine, then plant the vineyard. Either way, wineries have gained a foothold across the Driftless Region, whereas a group has come together and formed the “Great River Road Wine Trail.”
From Marquette, Iowa to Cannon Falls, Minnesota, about 10 different wineries can be found on both sides of the river. The group usually hosts two events a year, one in the spring and fall, but those are put on hold until next year, due to COVID-19.
To make a reservation at the winery, call or text 608-385-1209 or check out their website at http://www.riverviewwinery.com.