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Kimball winery gets 'Best of Show' award

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 10/03/2013 4:34 PM

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KIMBALL, Minn. — Millner Heritage Vineyard and Winery doesn't enter many competitions.

However, after the Kimball winery's win in the 2013 International Cold climate wine competition last month, the family owned operation may reconsider.

Millner received the Governor's Cup as the "Best of Show" of Minnesota gold-winning wines for its 2012 Little Iza wine. The Millners previously entered in the cold climate competition held at the University of Minnesota and have received gold metals before.

Millner Heritage has entered wines in the competition in the past, but the top gold-winning wine was a first.

The winning wine is a light-bodied, sweet wine with apple and pineapple tones, said Jon Millner, vintner at the winery. It is made from LaCrescent grapes.

The competition included nearly 300 wines from commercial wineries in 12 states and Canada. The wineries in the contest are located in northern climates from Minnesota and Wisconsin to New York and Quebec, Canada.

"When you come to a competition like this, you are comparing apples to apples," Millner said.

Awards were based on blind tastings by 21 judges who were wine writers, restauranteurs, retailers and wine educators. The top scoring "Best of Show" wines are evaluated by a seven-judge panel and all 21 judges.

Little Iza is one of those once in 15 years kind of wines, Vintner said.

In 2012, the vineyard experienced a late frost before the vines started budding out and growing. The different growing conditions created sugar levels Millner said he hadn't seen before.

"It's the kind of year you wish you would have every year," he said.

Temperatures ranged in the 70s and 80s with a couple of weeks in the 90s in August this year, he said.

The vines handle droughty conditions fairly well, he said. The roots can go 15 feet to 20 feet deep.

The family has been making fine, flavorful wines for five generations, he said.

His great-grandfather, Matt, came to the United States with his parents and siblings from Niehaus, Bohemia, in 1880. Matt married Theresea Gruber and, with her brother, Matt began making wine and brandy.

Fruit wines were the most common wines produced by Jon's great-grandfather and grandfather. His father, Don, started growing grapes for wine. Don, a dentist, had always had an interest in wine-making and grape production. He started the winery about eight years ago.

The winery's production steadily has increased each year. They made 14,000 bottles of wine the first year. Five years after they started the winery, they'd sealed 21,000 bottles. They look forward to making 30,000 bottles.

The competition is open to commercial wineries meeting the criteria for cold-hardy grapes or fruit content, he said. In 2013, a total of 15 gold, 55 silver and 93 bronze medals were awarded.

The winery will celebrate its Oktoberfest and Grape Stomp Oct. 5-6.