A smashing good time

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Little Swan Lake Winery celebrates grape harvest with festival

A bottle of wine can be a relaxing way to launch Labor Day weekend.

But Little Swan Lake Winery owners Scott and Diane Benjamin can offer a bit of active fun for the upcoming weekend as well.

As part of the winery's inaugural "Grape Stompede," visitors can purple their feet as part of the wine-making process. The harvest festival includes buffalo chip throws and a meal featuring buffalo burgers as well. Grape Stompede hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1.

"We decided we needed to have a harvest festival," Scott Benjamin said. "It's going to be a big outdoor party. You never really know when the harvest will actually come, so we just decided to choose Labor Day weekend."

Included with the grape stomping is a grape spitting contest, a buffalo chip toss, free live music, homemade buffalo burgers and beautiful views. All ages are welcome to participate in the various festivities throughout the day.

And the best part of it all, nearly the entire event is free with the exception of a minimal fee for the wine and buffalo burgers.

When the celebration gets rolling on Saturday, the various guests in attendance will remove their socks and shoes and step into the buckets filled with grapes.

"The stomp is a really fun thing to watch," Benjamin said. "People really go at it, it's hard to get them to stop."

Typically, Benjamin said he'd like to use the Little Swan Lake vineyard's own grapes for the stomp, but -- like many crops -- the harvest suffered from the summer conditions. Friends and colleagues have stepped up and donated a few of their grapes for the festival this year.

And for those worried about germs getting into the grapes, Benjamin said there's no need for concern. They have big buckets of sanitizer to clean your feet before and after stomping.

Grape stomping was and is used -- long before machines -- as a way to separate the grapes from the stems, as well as to break down the grapes to allow the yeast easier access. Benjamin said it really is something to try.

"You need to wear shorts when you do it because your legs will be purple to your knee," he said. "It's a whole different experience."

Benjamin has encountered his share of visitors who want to side step the feeling of stomped grapes between their bare toes at first. After taking a few minutes to watch others participate in the festivities, Benjamin said many of the winery's reluctant guests find their way to a grape-filled bucket.

"If you stand and watch, you will see how much fun the people are having," he said. "That's all you have to do and you'll want to do it too. They really have a ball. There's no risk and it's a different sensation."

The grape spitting contest will be a test of accuracy and distance. Participants will aim for a coffee can placed a significant distance away. For the buffalo chip toss, the Benjamins will go out back behind the winery where their buffalo graze and grab a few buffalo "creations" for guests to throw. Anyone is allowed to give the competitions a whirl.

As for the live entertainment, a band out of Mankato, Minn. -- CJ's in a Funk -- will be performing from 1-3 p.m. on the deck outside of the winery. The Benjamins discovered the rock group while making a stop up north. The band is a group of music majors from Minnesota State University.

"They are quite good," Scott said. "They have excitement, motion and animation."

From 4-6 p.m., Ceolmhor, a group from Hartley, will be performing as well.

"It's just a good, fun, relaxed and low-key event," Benjamin said. "It's what this whole place is about -- to enjoy good food, wine, fun and entertainment."

Benjamin said they are expecting at least a few hundred people to come out to their farm Saturday.

He encourages those who are attending to bring their lawn chairs, as the deck will most likely not be able to fit everyone.

ABOUT the winery

Little Swan Lake Winery is a family-owned and operated business. It is located north, and within 2 miles of, Superior. In May of 2002 the doors opened to the public. The tasting room -- a remodeled 1920s barn -- features 25 different wines all produced on site, a selection of gourmet cheeses, and buffalo meat from their own herd, which roams nearby. The vineyard consists of two acres of northern cold hardy grapes. The gift shop features clothing and wine-related items.

Hours for the winery are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week June through Labor Day. On Thursday nights, the winery is open until 8 p.m. From Labor Day to December hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. And January through March the winery is open by appointment only.

The winery is also home to a family-operated bed and breakfast located inside an old grain elevator adjacent to the winery. The B&B will be celebrating its one-year anniversary over the weekend. It is open year round. Check-in is at 3 p.m. and check out is at 11 a.m.

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