Exclusive offer: 8/26/2022 – Wine on a Stick

This offer is available from Friday, August 26th at 3:00 pm to Sunday, August 28th at 3:00 pm.

You’ll see the order form at the bottom of this page if the offer is still on. Completed forms are sent to Solo Vino Wine Shop in St. Paul, MN, for final fulfillment (local delivery and/or shipping is available).

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Hi everyone –

This week’s offer is small and quick, and meant to push you a little bit. Those of you that buy the wines are in for a treat, guaranteed.

And get ready for next week: we’ll be doing a HUGE Barolo and Barbaresco offer with some amazing wines at great prices. Are you going out of town for Labor Day weekend? Or just not checking your email? No worries — we are carrying next week’s offer through the Wednesday after Labor Day. With so many wines to choose from, we wanted to make sure everyone got a shot at them.

Onward to this week’s small but important offer …

Now is the time to broaden your horizons

We can never discover new music if we don’t take the time to hover on a song on the radio or show up early for a show and listen to the opening acts. (Tomorrow, the German heavy metal band Rammstein is playing at US Bank Stadium, with a classical piano act opening for them.)

We will never discover a new author if we stubbornly refuse to read her new novel, instead falling back into Hemingway and Twain. JK Rowling would have had no chance if it wasn’t for those wanting to take a chance, after she was rejected by a dozen publishers who thought they knew better.

We will never experience the flavors of India, Afghanistan, China, or even the flavors of Native America if we only eat hamburgers with a side of fries. That we have the James Beard Award winner for Best New Restaurant in the country, here in Minneapolis, is soooooooo fantastic! Go, Owamni!

All the examples above have a common theme: creators’ bravery and consumers’ curiosity led to success and a redefining of what we seek.

A challenge to you

It’s time to look at wines from the Upper Midwest through new eyes.

Many of you experienced Minnesota wine for the first time about ten or fifteen years ago. You tried. You gave it your best. And you walked away … and I don’t blame you.

The Minnesota wine industry was an infant fifteen years ago. And like any infant, you really don’t know what they’re going to turn into, but you hope for the best. The problem we were doing as consumers fifteen years ago was walking up to that infant and asking tough questions. The baby didn’t know how to answer, and we walked away.

I’m trying to say, without going into too much verbose detail, that the game has changed. That baby has grown up. And we’re learning from it.

An article to read

WineSearcher came out with a feature article which, while about sparkling wine in particular, showcases how some of the new cold-climate hybrids are finding love in the world of wine beyond the Upper Midwest: https://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2022/05/hybrid-wine-finds-its-format

Don’t lose sight of the fact that grapes developed by the University of Minnesota are now planted across the country (including in Willamette Valley) and are getting some seriously good attention from the national sommelier community. (I point this out because our humble nature in Minnesota sometimes doesn’t allow us to recognize things like this … the “oh, heck, we’re just from Minnesota” attitude kicks in. I think you know what I mean. Part of our Minnesota character is being a bit too humble sometimes.)

Spencer Kallsen and Steve Zellar marking out Itasca plantings, June 2017, Parley Lake Winery

Another way to look at this

The white wine in this offer is made with a grape that literally didn’t exist twenty years ago. And was only created, isolated, and propagated ten years ago. And on top of all of that WASN’T AVAILABLE AT ALL to wineries until five years ago. Only 60 months!

This is part of the new frontier of wine.

Back to our analogies

How many people can say they saw Florence and the Machine at the Minnesota Zoo before Florence Welch blew up in popularity, won many awards, and started singing in gigantic venues? Who’s going to the show in September at the Xcel Energy Center?

How many people can say they bought the first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from a bookstore just because of the enthusiasm of the person that worked there? (And note how much it’s worth today.)

How many people can say they took a cooking class in 2016 at their local co-op with future James Beard award-winning chef Sean Sherman?

Somebody has got to go first.

Angela striking the pose at AxeBridge Wine Co. in the North Loop
Jason in the production area at AxeBridge

The producer

AxeBridge Wine Company is the first winery to open in downtown Minneapolis, on Washington Avenue right next to the railroad bridge. It’s a complete production facility, and the tasting room and back patio are one of the hidden gems in the North Loop.

You walk down the steps into the winery and see and smell the barrels, and suddenly you’re transported to Sonoma or Willamette. The space is larger than you expect. You step onto the back patio with a charcuterie board in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, watching the commuter rail cars go by, and if you squint and blur your eyes, suddenly, you might feel like you’re in Europe. Seriously. I know from experience. The view, the train, the wine, the food.

Aaron and Ashley Schram. Photo from the Mill City Times which did a nice interview with them on the AxeBridge project.

AxeBridge was founded by Aaron and Ashley Schram just ahead of the pandemic, which obviously delayed their urban winery opening. Their main winery, Schram Vineyards in Waconia, is one of my favorites (along with Parley Lake and Sovereign Estates, making the “Waconia Winery Trifecta”) and one you should visit if you have not yet been there.

In my opinion, Aaron, Ashley, and their team specialize in two wonderful things:

1) Making “true” wines, by which I mean varietally correct, balanced, and chemically stable wines. So when I pop a wine from Schram or AxeBridge, I know I’m getting honesty from the glass.

2: They specialize in experimenting. Nobody in the Minnesota wine scene experiments more than Aaron Schram. (Heck, the AxeBridge winery itself could be seen as an experiment with it’s location in the heart of Downtown Minneapolis.) Aaron’s experiments are very important in the context of these two wines because we’re dealing with brand new grape varieties that don’t have hundreds of years, or even decades, behind them for the winemaker to know what to do.

Does the grape like cooler fermentation or warmer? What about yeast strains? How about oak? How long in oak? New or used barrels? What’s the wine like with a little racking? Or lees stirring?

All of these things need to be worked out before the wine is ready to be sold, and for a wine like the white in today’s offer, which is one of the first commercially available Itasca wines IN THE WORLD, it’s a bit of a roll of the dice. And they nailed it.

The white wine: AxeBrdige Wine Company Itasca 2021

13% ABV
100% Itasca

The Itasca grape is the newest release from the University of Minnesota and is one of the most anticipated of the new grape varieties. It’s cold-hardy down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit (as confirmed in the polar vortex of 2019), and has the ability to make complex, dry, aromatically-driven wines that hint at places such as northern Italy, Alsace, Rias Baixas, and Austria.

See Minnesota Uncorks article: From Vine to Wine, the Making of Minnesota’s Itasca

Tasting notes in the video below.

The red wine: AxeBridge Wine Company Mill City Red

13% ABV
Blend: Marquette, Frontenac, and Crimson Pearl
, plus a wee touch of Cabernet Sauvignon

Let’s break down this blend:

MARQUETTE is the belle of the ball for the red wine grapes developed at the U of M. It contains a hefty amount of Pinot Noir DNA, resulting in a light to medium-bodied, spicy, lower acid wine. Some of the best cool climate wines I’ve ever had are made with Marquette, and the supply-and-demand curve led to a few moments in the last four harvests where Marquette from Minnesota was worth more than Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley.

FRONTENAC was released by the U of M in 1996 and kicked off the ‘new varieties’ program. It’s a sturdy, dark, brooding variety with one fault: crazy high acid levels. As a result, Frontenac either needs a careful touch by a winemaker to tame down the acids or (as we see here) used as a blending component to boost body and acidity in a very nifty way.

CRIMSON PEARL is not a U of M variety but was instead developed by a private grape breeder in Hugo named Tom Plocher. It’s an exceptional grape that delivers complexity and balance to the final wine, especially when played off the Marquette in the blend. Here’s more info on Tom Plocher’s business and this particular grape, plus an overview article on the developments he has made for the cool climate wine industry.

Tasting notes

If you’ve made it this far, we know you’re curious (and, therefore, AWESOME!). Here’s a video for you:


This week’s offer is about challenging you to, as they said in Star Trek, boldly go when your palate has never gone before (paraphrased 🙂

It’s about trusting me on this.

It’s about expanding your horizons.

I suggest buying one bottle of each, trying out the wine in the context of food pairings that we talk about in the video, and giving me feedback in the comments below. And if you like it, buy more!

If you don’t buy either of these wines, that is totally okay as long as you promise me the next time you’re in the North Loop, you swing through AxeBridge and enjoy a glass, squint your eyes, watch the trains go by, dream of Europe, and realize that the wine in your glass and the winery that you’re sitting in would not have been possible even just a few years ago.

Google map to AxeBridge

Visit the AxeBridge website

Thank you, everyone!

Jason Kallsen
Sommelier, founder of Twin Cities Wine Education

This offer has closed. Thank you for your interest.

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