'There’s no one growing grapes this far north'
Northeast Minnesota couple perseveres to pursue vineyard dream
Terry Heggemeier spent the afternoon of Tuesday, April 2, like he has many spring afternoons over the past 10 years — he was pruning grapevines in his vineyard in northeast Minnesota.
Terry and his wife, Cheryl, own an 80-acre vineyard in Carlton County and are one of the only vineyards in Minnesota north of the Twin Cities. After retiring, they planted grapes in 2009 and began selling wine from Blackhoof Estate Vineyards and Winery in 2015.
“There’s no one growing grapes this far north,” Terry boasts.
In reality, Terry said there are others trying to raise grapes in Grand Rapids and Virginia, but those growers are using greenhouses to shoulder the colder months in Minnesota. The 10 versions of grapes grown in his vineyard are left outside during the winter and trimmed back to promote new growth each spring.
Terry spent his career in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard — including 20 years in Duluth with the 148th Fighter Wing. As he began looking at retirement, he wanted to do something that allowed him to use his college degree in biology and got him outdoors most days. He said he and Cheryl had never thought about a vineyard or winemaking until a visit to the doctor opened his eyes to the possibility.
“I was in a doctor’s office, and I read an article about people growing grapes in North Dakota,” Terry said.
Growing grapes in the upper Midwest has always been a challenge, but there is a history in Minnesota. In 1900, Minnesota farms produced almost 600,000 pounds of grapes, according to Terry. Most of those were the Concord or Catawba varieties, which are good for juices, jellies and jams, but not wine.
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