Rolling Grape: Big hills and robust flavours, on the family farm
260 County Rd 2, Balieboro
“We always talk about farm to table,” says Jon Drew. “But there’s not many farms where you can actually sit at the table.” But that’s the routine at Rolling Grape Vineyard, although Drew, a second-generation farmer, isn’t serving up your typical crop. “I wanted more—I wasn’t very excited to grow corn,” he remembers. And because the surrounding family farm grows a cash crop, soybeans and wheat in addition to the corn, which is harvested and shipped away, Drew adds that he wasn’t able to enjoy the fruits of their labour. “The only time I saw it was later, in corn flakes,” he laughs.
So, on these picturesque, rolling hills, he began planting grapes. Drew started with a series of test crops about a decade ago but, with no other vineyards in the area, he wasn’t sure what would work. “When I was planting, people would pull up in their cars and tell me, ‘You know that grapes don’t grow here, right?,’” he says. “I was like, ‘I’m going to show you that they do.’”
And, in fact, they do grow—quite nicely, actually. Rolling Grape now has about 12 acres under vine. The key, Drew says, was finding the right ones to grow—including three types of Frontenac, Baco Noir, Vidal, Petite Pearl, and Marquette. “I grow hardy, cold-weather plants,” he says, Marquette, which forms the biggest part of his harvest, doesn’t freeze until the mercury drops to minus forty. Merlot, by comparison, freezes at minus ten. The terroir helps, too, with heat coming up from the waters of nearby Rice Lake, and those namesake hills splitting up storms rolling in from the west.
Rolling Grape pairs the wines with a charcuterie board using as much local meat and cheese as possible, and will soon start serving pizzas from a outdoor, wood-fired brick oven. And when they offered long-table dinners, the meat came from just up the road at Traynor Farms, and the vegetables from Brown’s Farm, just a little further afield. “Staying local, it’s all about supporting one another,” he says.
And you won’t find any wine snobbery here—rather, the friendliness of a family farm. Visitors are welcome to take a little tour amongst the vines, with staff, and often Drew himself, pointing out the different types of grapes. Take a walk, then settle in to enjoy a glass, or a bottle, at the sleek, blue tasting room settled into a glacier-carved, green valley, with a sprawling patio off the side and back. A perfect place to order a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, the citrus of their unique orange wine, or even, if you’re lucky, some of their bourbon barrel chardonnay. (A limited edition, they only made 24 cases of this white, which was aged for 14 months in Buffalo Trace barrels.) Sip under the sun, surrounded by the farm.