The night Ashley Schram met her future husband, he told her his dream was to own his own winery.
Ashley Schram was working in public relations at the time and she would turn to a glass of wine to relax or for a night out. She had no idea how to make it.
Aaron Schram did. He’d been doing it for years as a hobby throughout college. He wanted a partner to build a home and a business with.
Two years after that first meeting, Aaron and Ashley Schram bought the property that became that home and the home of Schram Vineyards Winery and Brewery.
“It sounded very romantic,” Ashley Schram said. “I always say, I liked wine, I had no idea what this was really going to involve.”
She soon found out it required lots of manual labor, patience and hours of planting and harvesting grapes.
According to Ashley Schram, the majority of the nearly 10 varieties of the grapes they grow are released from the University of Minnesota and are specialized to grow in cold Minnesota weather.
“The majority are going to be the Marquette, which is kind of the premier red grape,” Ashley Schram said. “Then we’ve got a lot of Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, Sabrevois. So, some can sustain as a single varietal and others we kind of use just for blending.”
These grapes aren’t great for snacking on, so the family has a small amount of table grapes they grow as well to munch on while they wait for the wine to ready. The process of getting those into the bottle differs for each variety of wine.
“Basically we pick the grapes, they’re brought in and they go through a crusher, destemer, then we press the wine,” Ashley Schram said. “Depending on reds and whites and the styles, they might sit in these big macrobins which extract the flavors, and the colors, out of the skins. Then we go through, press it and then they go either into their tanks or barrels.”
Schram Vineyards does this 15 times a year to help create 15 unique kinds of wine. It took years of growing and experimenting to get any wine at all, but in 2013, Schram Vineyards officially opened to the public.
Aaron Schram was still working at his day job back then. He said he remembers that day as 13 years of planning and dreaming of becoming a professional wine maker coming to fruition.
“There was the excitement of opening the doors for the first time,” Aaron Schram said. “You’re kind of worrying about the public, what they’re going to say about your wine.”
As it turned out, he should have been more worried about how much they’d like it.
“Looking back, I should have made a heck of a lot more wine that year,” Aaron Schram said. “It was a good issue to have, but we sold out of wine that first year.”
“It’s funny to think about it because we were just in that outdoor pavillion,” Ashley Schram said. “We didn’t have anything to open up, there was no building and we had outhouses for our bathrooms. I remember kind of standing behind the bar and going, ‘Oh, oh there’s a car! A customer!’”
Today, that same pavilion stills stands, but there’s also a big, wooden barn that holds a spacious tasting room with a view of the vineyard and nearby lake, as well as the barrel room downstairs. There’s lots of seating outside near the vineyard. There are bocce ball courts, which are home to bocce leagues in the summer, as well as a smaller white building which has been repurposed as a grolwer room.
The growler room was an original building on the site, and starting in 2014, became the home of the Ashley and Aaron Schram’s beer venture.
“We have a friend who’s in the industry, who is familiar with both beer and wine making and said, ‘You know a lot of this is really good for brewing beer,’” Ashley Schram said. “So we thought, well, let’s do it.”
That meant hoops to jump through and red tape to circumvent. At the time, there were no craft winery-breweries in the state of Minnesota. Today, there is one.
“The brewery came about as a plan for growth, before we event opened the winery,” Ashley Schram said. “It’s made this place a destination.”
And the Schram’s realize not everyone is both a beer and wine person, so starting this spring, people not only get their choice of beverage, but of venue to drink that beverage at.
“The purpose of the growler shop is to kind of define the wine and beer that we have,” Ashley Schram said. “It’s going to make it more convenient for people to just come grab a growler and then give them a space that’s a little more beer-oriented experience than the tasting and tap room that we have here.”
Schram Vineyard Winery and Brewery has six flagship beers and a rotating list of seasonal options. They even have an option for children.
It’s called Wingman Root Beer. It is, clearly, non-alcoholic and it’s biggest fans are probably the Schram’s two young children.
“They like playing outside in the yard, which sometime means talking to customers,” Ashley Schram said. “Then they’ll come run into the tasting room for a glass of root beer. It’s really fun for them, and for us.”
Their kids are meeting more and more people each year as Schram Vineyard Winery and Brewery continues to draw in new customers from all over the state. As one of four wineries and breweries in the Waconia area, Ashley Schram said she sees the other local beer and wine ventures as a way to access more customers.
“I think the nice thing with the industry is that for the most part we don’t really see each other as competition,” she said. “It makes us all step up our game and make sure we’re furthering our development with wine making and brewing, but also maintaining something that makes us unique. I think we’re all in this together and all being in Waconia helps us all because we’re marketing ourselves as a destination.”