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Growing grapes: A Nelson family affair

By Staff | Mar 23, 2014

The tradition of farming is often passed down from generation to generation.

A?family farm near Bass Lake fits that description and its owners are trying to continue the tradition for many generations to come.

Rob Nelson, the owner of Glenmassan Vineyard, his wife Lori and children Alexandra, Elisabeth and Isabella have come together and started a third crop on a farm which is already 150 years old that crop is grapes.

“The whole genesis of this vineyard and adding a third crop was sustainability,” Nelson says. “Not everyone can be a farmer but this vineyard is something which can be passed down.”

So, that’s just what he did he started a vineyard.

Now, 10 years later, he continues to sell the grapes to both commercial wineries and amateur wine makers.

“We have four varieties of wine grapes growing on eight acres of land,”?Nelson adds.

And like many other crops, the grapes need to be tended to in the spring and then harvested in the fall.

“In a couple of weeks, we will go out and start pruning and tying up the vines,”?he explains.

They tend to the vines all season long by mowing, weeding and keeping an eye on the fruits.

Nelson’s mother, Janet Nelson, is also a big contributor to the vineyard including mowing all eight acres.

“Grapes are very susceptible to molds,”?Nelson says.

Then around the second week of September they pick the grapes.

“To harvest the fruit we have a very small window of time,”?he explains. “We want to pick at the optimum time.”

Nelson monitors the grapes acidity and sugar as harvest time approaches. He emails that info to the wineries so they can chose the best time to pick their grapes for the best use.

Once the prime harvest time hits, it’s all hands on deck at Glenmassan Vineyards.

“We handpick all our grapes,”?Nelson says. “And since we are a family operation, even the kids help out.”

In fact, the Nelsons make harvest a very fun time at the vineyard. Enlisting the help of local volunteers, picking grapes becomes somewhat of a celebration.

“We will have a big lunch, then go out and pick some. Then we will have a big supper and pick some more,”?Nelson says. “After a day of picking we will have a bonfire and drink some of the wine we have on hand.”

Nelson says harvesting with the volunteers has been related to the old days of barn building when everyone would come together to help each other out.

“There are machines and equipment out there we could use,”?Nelson adds. “But I’m just not sure we’re ready to go that way.”

By sticking to the old fashioned approach of handpicking all their grapes they are able to be more selective of the grape clusters they harvest and are able to be more delicate than a machine would be.

As for making wine of their own, Nelson decided to stick with the growing side of the business.

“Wine making really is an art,” he says. “We are dedicated to the quality of the grapes we grow.”

So early on in the process Nelson made many connections with wineries, some of whom they still work with today.

“We have people come from wineries all over; Minneapolis down to Iowa,”?he adds.

Then they have some who purchase the grapes and head home to make their own batches of wine.

“Like I said before, making wine is an art, but some of the best wines have been made by people who buy our grapes and then use grandma’s old wine recipe,”?Nelson adds.

For anyone starting out wine-making as a hobby, Nelson suggests entering the Faribault County Fair wine contest.

“This contest has been going on at the fair for about five years and I?have been judging it,”?he says.

Nelson adds this is a great way to get some feedback on wine recipes and learn how to improve.

Although Nelson now has quite an invested interests in the wine and grape industry, it wasn’t always so.

In fact, he wasn’t much of a wine drinker before starting the vineyard.

“We didn’t just jump on board when we opened the vineyard,”?he says.

The family knew they wanted to add a third crop to the farmstead but explored a couple different options in addition to growing grapes.

“We looked into Christmas trees, livestock and growing grapes,” he says. “We found there could be a lot of opportunity in a vineyard.”

So, a lot of research began, including Nelson becoming a member of the Grape Growers Association.

“You have to think of it as what it is a business,”?he says.

Plans had to include where the rows would be placed, the distance between rows, making sure they would be south-facing and much more.

Then they had to decide on the name Glenmassan.

“It is Glenmassan Vineyards, named after the region in Scotland where our ancestor who homesteaded the farm, Thomas Blair, came from,” Nelson explains.

The 150 year old farm is steeped in tradition, and now a vineyard with an ancestral namesake attached, the farm is sure to continue for many generations to come.