What if, instead of strolling among bucolic vines and sipping in a tasting room over looking a fog-kissed valley, you imagine your winery visit as a stroll into a lower level warehouse off of Washington Ave in the North Loop?
Because Axebridge Wine Co. is all about breaking your expectations and offering you something different. One of a handful of wineries in the metro area, and the only one actually making wine in the downtown Minneapolis North Loop neighborhood, Axebridge is the mission of the family behind Schram Vineyard & Brewery in Waconia, and Schram Haus Brewery in Chaska.
Aaron Schram has been making wine since he was 19 years old, and instead of carting himself off to CA to create a life making coastal wine, he’s dedicated himself to Minnesota wine. He knows that our local wine industry is young, and still figuring things out, but part of that process is getting wine into the mouths of Minnesota drinkers. What better place to do that than in the North Loop.
“We really want to highlight the growers, we’re putting up profiles of our growers on one of the back walls,” Schram told me. “We are at about 70% Minnesota grapes this year. I know there’s some feelings about using all local grapes, but the polar vortex taught me that we just can’t go full in. You know I have wine friends in Temecula, CA and when it gets to 116 degrees in June, they go to Lodi for their grapes. We don’t have a Lodi, but that same distance would put us in Iowa. I never want to take away from our local growers and I’ll always do as much Minnesota as possible.”
Schram signed the deal for this winery in 2020, and got his permits just days before the shutdown last year. “It was a bummer, but in a way it gave us time to really figure out what we wanted to bring. And it allowed us to build most of it ourselves. We had lots of time to work in our garage on tables!”
Even though it’s below street level, there’s a warm and inviting vibe. Small seating areas are placed around the room, barrels and real vines from the vineyard provide backdrop. You can buy whole bottles of wine for the sipping (or the leaving) or you can explore by the glass. There are flight options that they will walk you through, and you will be able to book guided tasting experiences starting next week. There is a kitchen, which will start with meat and cheese boards.
Please note the Champagne Room in the back. Schram laughed, “We know we can’t call our sparklers Champagne, we actually tried to get them to allow us to call it schrampagne, but that was a no-go.” The sparking wine game is a big part of how they want to evolve, and in that room is a fresh batch of sparking doing its first phase thing in the bottles. They plan to do small lots of sparkling, about 300 bottles at a time, releasing one a month. The next one to be released will be made with the Itasca grape, currently the darling of the MN wine world.
All of this is happening on-site, as it isn’t just a wine bar, it’s a full production winery. “Wine bars have it so much easier, they just get to buy and bring in whatever they want. We don’t even have all of our tanks here, because once we started building out we realized that they were going to be too heavy for the floor. But everything here in in full use, all the barrels have wine that we’ll eventually bottle.”
Schram’s biggest mission is to open people’s minds through their mouths. “In some other wineries, when the guests walk through the door, the taster asks ‘Well what do you like? Pinot Noir?’ and then they match them with the Marquette grape. That is already setting them up to lose because Marquette is so different from Pinot Noir. If you were to walk into a winery in Burgundy and say ‘I want a California Pinot Noir’ they’re going to tell you to get on a plane. We don’t want to be the other wines, we want to be our wines. It’s going to take time, and we know we’re young at this, but we need to set people up with a different perspective. And we really hope being here and doing this helps that.”
The name Axebridge, by the way, is a few things. It’s about chopping down notions of Minnesota wine, and then building a bridge to the future of the industry. It’s a nod to the lumber companies which once shaped our cities and the bridges built, one visible from their back patio. And it’s a merging of names for the Schram family kids: Axel and Bridget.
Go have a sip and see for yourself, the bar is open with walk-in availability softly tonight and grandly tomorrow.
Food and Dining editor Stephanie March writes and edits Mpls.St.Paul Magazine’s Eat + Drink section. She can also be heard Saturdays on her myTalk107.1 radio show, Weekly Dish, where she talks about the Twin Cities food scene.
March 26, 2021