The Call of the Soil – How one mother’s dream led to a family vineyard and winery

0005Opening the doors of Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery in Spring Valley in December 2011, was a dream come true for Vicky Vogt and her family, including her four daughters, Shawn, Erin, Kristin and Justine, for whom the vineyard is named.

Years in the Making

The dream of owning a vineyard and tools to make it come true came from years filled with a variety of experiences, from staying home to raise four daughters, to several in-home businesses, including furniture upholstery and custom sewing.

    When Vicky got married, she quit college because “that was the thing to do” then. She and her husband, Gary, both from southeastern Minnesota, raised their girls one mile down the road from Gary’s family’s farm in Spring Valley. They have farmed the land, where the winery now sits, for the last 20 years. Today, two of Vicky’s daughters and their husbands are actively involved in the six-acre vineyard and winery near Highway 63 and 16 in Mower County.

Risk Taking

None of the Vogt women recall one big turning point in the unfolding of the business. Vicky’s daughter, Kristin, describes the vineyard’s evolution as, “little pieces building on top of each other.” They tried growing grapes. They attended conferences. “Little things stacked on top of each other until they made sense,” says Kristin.

    Daughter Shawn adds that for each decision along the way there were pros and cons: “As a family we would sit down and discuss the risks. Our various perspectives, brought to the table, were invaluable as the project moved ahead.”

    One of the first major decisions was choosing a site for the proposed vineyard. Soil analyses determined that a plot Gary already owned was best suited to grape growing. “When Dad made the commitment to have this land changed over to planting vines that was a major development,” notes Kristin.

Complementing Strengths

Each daughter played a role in the vineyard’s development. Shawn, the oldest and a lawyer, kept everyone on task and kept things orderly. She is often at the winery with her husband, who now serves as vineyard manager.

    Erin, an optometrist, lives furthest away now, but her direction and attention to detail proved invaluable as the business plan unfolded. She went back to Spring Valley to plant the very first grapes and was there to work at the first big event at Four Daughters Winery.

     Kristin resides in Rochester. She remains actively involved in marketing the winery and is often there with her husband who manages wine production. Vicky adds that Kristin “approaches everything with a smile and has lots of fun creative ideas.”

    Vicky characterizes her youngest daughter, Justine, as the creative thinker. “Anytime there was a design question, she was my girl,”
recalls Vicky.

    The winery also honors Vicky’s late father, Bob Waltman, who served in the Minnesota legislature from 1983-1994 and helped draft a bill that originally funded the University of Minnesota’s enology program. Kristin says the winery “honors what you can do on farmland.”

    Ultimately, though, all four daughters credit Vicky as the driving force in establishing the business plan, getting permits and having the perseverance to see it through. Erin emphasizes the amazing job Vicky did working with the architect to create an impressive building for the winery which “has a different feeling, very upscale, compared to other buildings in the area,” says Erin.

Six Months Underway

Today, with the winery well underway, Vicky is content to leave the winemaking to Kristin’s husband, Justin, and the vineyard management to Erin’s husband, Patrick, while kitchen operations are managed by two professional chefs. Vicky spends her time ordering supplies, handling the accounting and overseeing the tasting room, which currently has a staff of around 15 employees.

    Vicky recalls the four years it took to develop the winery as “a huge fun learning curve.” Though there were days she thought her brain might be full, she now firmly states that she enjoyed all aspects of launching the business.

    “The most fun was the night we actually opened our doors for the first night for our contractor party,” recalls Vicky. “Opening those doors so we could allow people into our world was a better feeling than any of us could even have imagined.”

Margo Stich is food editor for Rochester Women magazine.