Monday, August 18, 2014

Schram Vineyard & Brewery Update

Not long ago I posted a teaser about the upcoming brewing capabilities of the new Schram Vineyard & Brewery in Waconia HERE.  Aaron Schram and his brew team headed by Nick Smith and Phil Peterson have now been brewing up a storm on their tiny1.5 barrel system and are currently serving beers on site!  I finally had a chance to get out to see the progress they have made on construction (slowed down quite a bit by torrential rains this spring) and try out the beers.

Located down Airport Road, after it turns from pavement to washboard dirt, the Vineyard is easy to find and parking is plentiful.  My wife and I wandered into the open air tasting area to a scene of bustling chaos!  A large local party was finishing up an event when we arrive:  a couple had apparently just finished renewing their vows and everyone was dressed in hip 1970's fashion to commemorate the original union.  Awesome long tan leather jackets, wide lapels, polyester suits, long hippy gowns--all assaulted the eyes as we entered!  Another large group of younger folks were happily smoking cigars and drinking wine down the hill near the bocce courts.  Several other smaller groups were up in the shade of the tasting area, trying wines and beers to their delight. 

Aaron and Ashley Schram were sweating and serving, helped out by Stacy and two other servers, but still struggling to keep up with the busy crowd.  Apparently there had already been a couple of Bachelorette parties that day and things were just staying crazy all day since.  I suspect that is a good place to be for a relatively new winery!  Despite their hustle and bustle, both of them took some time out to let us try their beers and discuss plans for the future. 

Aaron told me that they are still dialing in their brewery and tap system a bit, but are zeroing in on things.  In fact they are already having a difficult time keeping up with demand!  Aaron hopes to expand to a larger brew system when possible, but keep the small system for R&D.

I went into my beer tasting with an open mind, and was pleasantly surprised.  We started with the Blonde Ale (pictured above in wine glasses) and this was a refreshing and easy to drink blonde.  I caught a hint of buttery note in it, but not unpleasant.  Certainly this was a better example of the style than several of the other local higher gravity over-hopped versions I've had. 

We moved on to sample a Saison that could have used a bit more time in primary, and a pretty good and cloudy Hefe.  Aaron said that this version of the Hefe was not as good as the last, but I think they are doing pretty good on that front.  The porter was very good, but the carbonation was a little low that day. 

The favorite for both Sj and myself was the coffee infused brown ale made in collaboration with Jon Schmidt from Waconia's own Mocha Monkey coffee house.  This was a light bodied brown ale with a hint of sweetness and a strong but not overpowering aroma and flavor of coffee.  I'm used to drinking coffee stouts and porters, but the balance on this lighter ale was very good.  I would certainly go back just for a full pint of this beer! 

I think these guys still have a bit to learn about their brew system and serving set-up but they are already putting out better beer than some other Minnesota breweries that I won't mention here. 

While we sampled the beers, Sj and I wandered the grounds and took in the humid and slightly overcast late afternoon.  Watching the '70's crew frolicking around amongst the grape vines on the hill was a sight to see!  Bocce courts lay just below the hill that hosts the current tap room, empty of action when we were there, but crying out for future fun.  Landscaped terraces on the hill contain rose bushes, hops plants, and other decorative greenery along with accessory serving stations and seating.

Dusk falls upon the vineyard...


An arty view of the pavilion roof...

Right now all the serving is from the open air pavilion, but that will change when the main building is finished.  Aaron gave a quick tour of the future indoor tasting room and wine cellar, built Hobbit-like into the side of the hill.  This was just a mud spattered hole in the ground when I was here last, but is now a fully formed high ceiling structure that will host a large exterior balcony overlooking the beautiful vineyard.  Inside was all taped and mudded, but much work is yet to be done.  They hope to have this open by the end of the season, then spend some to the slower winter months renovating and expanding the tasting room.  I have high hopes based on the current look of the place! 

We had a great time hanging out at the vineyard and checking everything out.  This is a laid back type of winery (and brewery) that I'm very happy is within a bike ride of my home.  I had actually meant to sample some of the wines and meads and comment on them, but by the time we finished our tour and beer samples they were already closing down for the day.  That is fine, since now I have a good excuse to visit soon again before they close down for the season.  I'm impressed with the progress that the Schrams have made since my visit there under two months ago!  They have more to do, but even now have a great destination that is worth a visit.  I look forward to checking back in to see how they continue to experiment with brews as well.  Aaron and his brew crew have really embraced Jack Of All Brews Homebrew Club by allowing one of our award winning homebrews to be scaled up on their professional system.  I can't wait to try that with other members of the club!

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