Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Another chapter in the book of Minnesota wineries June 30, 2015

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WHEN VISITING A WINERY, it’s as much about the setting and experience as about the wine.

Rows of grape vines grow alongside the barn at Next Chapter Winery, 16945 320th Street, rural New Prague.

Rows of grape vines grow alongside the barn at Next Chapter Winery, 16945 320th Street, rural New Prague.

On Sunday, my husband and I discovered yet another delightful southern Minnesota winery, Next Chapter Winery, just southwest of New Prague.

This inviting canopied gravel driveway leads wine lovers to Next Chapter Winery. The house is a private residence, not the tasting room as I initially thought.

This inviting canopied gravel driveway leads wine lovers to Next Chapter Winery. The house is a private residence, not the tasting room as I initially thought.

Randy parked our car to the right out of this photo, next to the house.

Randy parked our car to the right out of this photo, next to the house. There’s plenty of parking behind the shed and barn.

The barn quilt adds an artistic touch to this vintage barn.

The barn quilt adds an artistic touch to the vintage barn.

Even the barn doors hold rustic charm.

Even the barn doors hold rustic charm.

From the time we turned onto the rural tree-lined driveway that tunnels toward a lovely home in a subtle buttery hue, parked our car in the shade of the yard near an aged red barn adorned with a barn quilt and entered the pole shed style winery, I felt comfortably at home. It was as if I had arrived at the farm of a favorite aunt and uncle for a Sunday summer afternoon visit. And wine.

A sign directs visitors to the tasting room.

A sign directs visitors to the tasting room.

The tasting room.

The tasting room.

Love the ambiance of the chandeliers in the tasting room.

Love the ambiance the chandeliers create in the tasting room.

Inside a rather non-descript white metal shed, where chandeliers add unexpected elegance and stacked wooden wine barrels line walls, Randy and I settled in at the bar to sample eight wines ranging from a fruity/black cherry Merlot to the semi-sweet white Muzungu to the refreshing fruity MN Blushing Bride to the winery’s specialty Cranberry Burst, sweet and tart with a burst of fizz and crafted from Wisconsin cranberries.

Sampling Next Chapter wine.

Sampling Next Chapter wine.

For $6 you can sample six of eight wines. The fee is waived with each bottle purchased. We shared two of the wines so we could each try all eight.

The wine is aged only in wooden barrels.

The wine is aged only in wooden barrels.

There wasn’t a single wine on the sampling list that I didn’t enjoy. That’s unusual since I typically find at least a wine or two I don’t like upon tasting at a winery. Maybe it’s the time-honored, authentic aging of wine in wooden barrels (no plastic used here) or the land or the grapes or the crafters or even the comfortableness of this place that resulted in my appreciating every wine.

The grapes are still small and growing.

The grapes are still small and growing.

The attentive and friendly service of Laura, who poured the wines and also offered a brief history of Next Chapter, certainly added to a truly wonderful personalized experience. The winery, she said, is the dream of Timothy and Therese Tulloch, who met in the early 1980s when Therese served with the Peace Corps in the Congo and met Timothy, a native of South Africa. They fell in love, became engaged and planned then to someday own a vineyard.

Rows of grape vines stretch around the property.

Rows of grape vines stretch along the property.

Last July, Next Chapter Winery, with eight varieties of grapes growing on 3,700 vines on six acres, opened to the public.

Musicians

Musicians perform Sunday afternoons in the tasting room.

There's even a piano inside the reception tent.

A piano inside the reception tent.

That's a tasting tent to the left of the barn.

To the left of the barn is a tasting tent.

But this winery is about more than just the wine. It’s about a sense of place, an embracing of rural Minnesota, of creating an experience, of celebrating life and good wine and special occasions and summer Sunday afternoons. Couples can marry here. From 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sundays, musicians perform. Tours are offered from noon to 1 p.m. Saturdays. On Wednesday evenings you can paint and sip wine. In the winter, you can catch the occasional theatrical performance.

Across the pond is the tasting room deck. To the left is the tent permanently set up during the warm months for wedding and other celebrations.

Across the pond is the tasting room deck. To the left is the tent permanently set up during the warm months for wedding and other celebrations.

For couples like us, Next Chapter offers a brief respite, a place to snug up to the bar for some great Minnesota wines while chatting with new friends, Gary and Cindy from Prior Lake. Or, if we had been so inclined, we could have kicked back in Adirondack chairs or sipped wine on the deck overlooking a small pond spraying a fountain of water.

At home with a bottle of Cranberry Burst.

At home with a bottle of Cranberry Burst.

While Randy purchased bottles of Muzungu and Cranberry Burst, I headed outdoors with my camera, following the rows of grapes, stopping to photograph, extraordinarily pleased that we found this lovely rural Minnesota winery between New Prague and Montgomery.

Our second purchase, Muzungu, Swahili for "white guy."

Our second purchase, Muzungu, Swahili for “white guy.”

FYI: Wine tasting hours are from 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. Wednesday – Sunday. Be aware that, on weekends, the winery may host the occasional wedding and thus be closed to the public. I’d advise calling ahead at 612.756.3012 if you are driving from a distance. Click here to reach the Next Chapter Wintery website.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Memorable Geneva, Minnesota June 29, 2015

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RECENTLY I STOPPED in Geneva. That would be in Minnesota, not Switzerland, population hovering around 555. Or, if you have a sense of humor, 100,000. Someone scrawled that number onto a sign marking entry to this Freeborn County community just off Interstate 35 north of Albert Lea.

My only knowledge of Geneva comes from radio spots and the personal endorsement (from my friend Howard) for George’s of Geneva. The restaurant is known for its prime and barbecued ribs. So when my husband and I pulled into town on our meandering way home from an overnight get-away to Clear Lake, Iowa, I was scouting for George’s.

But a few other sites caught my attention first…

 

Geneva, crayon fence

 

…like a crayon fence

 

Geneva, post office

 

and the post office.

 

Geneva, George's of Geneva

 

Then I nearly missed George’s. I was watching for an impressive building with bold signage. Instead, this dining place is housed in a rather unassuming low-slung white building with understated signage. I wish we’d taken time to step inside. But it was the middle of the afternoon and we weren’t hungry.

 

I'm pretty certain my husband was coveting one of these vintage pick-up trucks. Me too.

I’m pretty certain my husband was coveting one of these vintage pick-up trucks. Me too.

Set in the heart of southern Minnesota farmland, Geneva is definitively rural.

Set in the heart of southern Minnesota farmland, Geneva is definitively rural.

Refrigerators/freezers are corralled outside Sovenson's Appliance.

Refrigerators/freezers are corralled outside Sorenson’s Appliance.

 

We continued our brief tour, driving along several residential and commercial streets.

 

Geneva, fenced garden

 

Geneva gives an impression that residents care. Not all small towns show that, meaning yards are unkempt and properties have fallen into disrepair.

 

Geneva, bear on bench

 

I’ll also remember the quirky side of Geneva, beginning with that population notation and crayon fence and then a carnival-sized teddy bear spotted lounging on a bench.

As we turned north out of town toward Blooming Prairie, I knew I would remember Geneva.

TELL ME, WHAT WOULD visitors remember if they drove into your community for a brief tour? Just in and out, what would be their impressions, positive and/or negative? Does your town need to work on improving its image?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: A church basement gentleman June 26, 2015

Portrait #29: George Derscheid

As a life-long Minnesotan, I appreciate the church basement ladies. You know, the women who labor in service to the Lord by brewing coffee, buttering buns for ham sandwiches, stirring together a hamburger-noodle-cream soup based hotdish for a funeral and more to feed the hungry.

These women are held in such high esteem in our state that musical comedies have been performed about them at the noted Plymouth Playhouse. Devoted followers have delighted in plays such as “The Church Basement Ladies in A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement” and “The Church Basement Ladies in The Last (Potluck) Supper.”

But what about the men?

They, too, hold roles of importance in Lutheran and other church basements. I’ve attended a lot of church dinners in southeastern Minnesota in recent years and noticed many a man quietly volunteering his time in service to the Lord.

 

Portrait 29, George Derscheid, Moland Lutheran Strawberry Fest 2013

 

Take George Derscheid. I photographed the retired Kenyon area farmer two years ago as he tallied the number of people attending the annual Moland Lutheran Church Strawberry Festival. While on the surface his job may not seem as important as working in the kitchen, it certainly is. Numbers are necessary in food planning. Plus, Lutherans like their stats and reports.

George was more than the numbers guy, though. He was also a smiling face, an unofficial greeter, an engaging man whose whole persona exudes optimism. He simply looks happy. And every Lutheran church basement needs a Lutheran who breaks the mold of stoic and unemotional.

FYI: Moland Lutheran Church, 7618 N.E. 84th Ave., rural Kenyon, celebrates its annual Strawberry Festival from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. this Sunday, June 28. It’s a must-attend event with the following foods available for purchase: pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, chocolate cake, angel food cake and fresh strawberries, ice cream, coffee and fruit flavored drinks. There’s also a bake sale.

The country church is located southwest of Kenyon or east of Medford or northeast of Owatonna.

Click here to read my June 2013 post about the Strawberry Festival. I highly recommend it for the food, the people and the beautiful old church in a rural setting.

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Minnesota Faces is part of a series featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Follow-up: When a camera dies June 25, 2015

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Three of the cameras from a vintage collection of cameras once used by my parents and me.

Three of the cameras from my collection of cameras once used by my parents and/or me.

IF PHOTOGRAPHERS never embraced change, they would still shoot with an old Brownie or a Polaroid or some other camera long ago obsolete.

That said, here’s how I handled the recent death of my Canon EOS 20D. I wrote about the unexpected demise of my DSLR in a late February post. That story generated great discussion and input, some of you encouraging me to challenge myself with a much-upgraded camera. Others suggested I stick with what I knew.

In the end, after trying a Canon 7D and much stress and agonizing over its operation, I purchased a Canon 20D from my friend Lee. It’s exactly like my old one except for the telephoto lens that came with this used camera. Lee was happy to get his unused 20D out of basement storage, thus solving my problem.

I can almost hear the uproar, the outcry, the “Oh, she could take much better photos with a better camera.” True? Perhaps from a technically perfect perspective.

Too much camera for me. For now.

Too much camera for me. For now.

But the bottom line is this: Focusing on the operations of the camera—worrying about f-stops and ISO and shutter speeds—stressed me and took the joy out of my photography. I lost my passion and artistry. Rather, I thought mostly about settings that would assure I had enough light or correct depth of field, or whatever I needed to even take a decent photo. I admire photographers who can handle all of that without flinching.

I suppose in time, I would have learned. You can argue that. I already had the basics down from my days of shooting with film. Just trying to operate the newer 7D, I learned more about the manual options on my 20D. That is the good that came out of this.

I used this camera as a teenage.

I used this camera as a teenage.

But the single thing that this Death of a Camera reinforced for me is that it’s not always about the camera. It’s about how you take photos (perspectives and angles and composition, etc.) and the subjects of your photography and lighting that create memorable images.

Like a writer, a photographer has a voice.

What is my voice? It is, like my writing, down-to-earth detailed and about a sense of place. Rural and small town Minnesota (mostly). Close-up. From a distance. The people who live in this place. I strive to photograph that which others pass but don’t truly see. I strive to connect you, via my photos, to this place I love. To the ordinary, which is often the extraordinary.

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© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
My photos are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission. If you are interested in purchasing rights to use my images, please check my “About” page for contact information. I am grateful to the individuals, ad agencies, authors, charities, magazines and others who have found value in my photos and purchased rights to use selected images that meet their needs. 

Most of all, I am grateful to you, my readers, for appreciating my photography.

 

A quick tour of Rochester shows me its artsy side June 24, 2015

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The southbound exit off U.S. Highway 52 which took us to the Rochester Civic Center Theater.

The southbound exit off U.S. Highway 52 which took us to the Rochester Civic Center Theater.

FIFTEEN MINUTES. That’s all the time I had to view downtown Rochester before I needed to be at the Civic Center Theater for a weekday evening Poetry Bash.

Almost to the theater, left.

Almost to the theater, left.

So my husband parked the car across the street from the theater. I grabbed my camera and we headed the opposite direction toward the heart of downtown.

A great idea for turning an otherwise mundane utility box into a work of art.

A great idea: Turning an otherwise mundane utility box into a work of art.

We’d made it only half a block, almost to the railroad tracks, when I noticed art painted on a utility box. First photo snapped.

My first glimpse of the music themed mural.

My first glimpse of the music themed mural.

Across the tracks, more art—this time a music themed mural on a building next to a vacant, fenced lot—distracted me. Focus, snap, focus, snap, focus, snap, focus, snap. Until I’d lost count, so intrigued was I by the mural fronting a dramatic high rise backdrop.

 

Rochester, mural 2

 

Rochester, mural 5

 

Rochester, mural 4

 

Rochester, mural 3

 

“Are you photographing the tall building?” a passerby inquired. I was and I wasn’t. It was the art that interested me more than the structure. I chatted a bit with the man from Chicago who was in town for treatment of his skin cancer at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic which centers this southeast Minnesota city’s downtown.

Kahler Hotel

The historic Kahler Grant Hotel in the heart of downtown has been around for 80 years and offers 660 rooms and suites.

Next I photographed the Kahler Grand Hotel’s iconic sign, a work of art, too.

A skyline snapshot shows a mix of old and new.

A skyline snapshot shows a mix of old and new.

A glance at my watch told me there was no time to wander any farther. The muses were calling.

But I am determined to return to Rochester and explore this city which we always bypass on our hurried way to somewhere. Its artsy vibe appeals to me. And I’d really like a closer look at the Mayo Clinic, only glimpsed as we swung through downtown after the Poetry Bash. By then darkness had descended. I couldn’t help but think of all the people from all over the world who would sleep this night in Rochester, perhaps restlessly, and rise in the morning to meet with medical professionals and undergo tests and receive diagnosis. Does the art distract them as it distracted me?

BONUS PHOTOS:

Waiting at a stoplight along Civic Center Drive, I spotted this artwork.

Waiting at a stoplight along Civic Center Drive, I spotted this artwork.

Downtown: the Rosa Parks Pavilion. I have no idea what is housed here.

Downtown: the Rosa Parks Pavilion, a Mayo Clinic administration building and a former Dayton’s Department Store. The building was named in 2008 after Parks, well-known in the Civil Rights movement for refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

Another scene in downtown Rochester.

Another scene in downtown Rochester.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What makes a great park, in my opinion June 23, 2015

IN THE PAST FEW DAYS, after visiting Bridge Square in Northfield and Morehouse Park in Owatonna, I’ve thought about what makes a great community gathering place. When considering a spot for a picnic or simply a place to relax, what do I seek?

A view of the Straight River from the pedestrian bridge in Morehouse Park.

A view of the Straight River from the pedestrian bridge in Morehouse Park.

Water. Whether a river or a fountain or a lake, water tops my list. There’s something about water that soothes, that eases life’s worries. I’m not a water sports person. But I love the sound of rushing water like that of the Straight River roaring over the dam in Morehouse Park or the fountain spraying in Bridge Square, just across the street from the Cannon River.

Water roars over rocks in the Straight River at Moreshouse Park.

Water roars over rocks in the Straight River at Morehouse Park.

A trail of geese in the tranquil part of the Straight River.

A trail of geese in the tranquil part of the Straight River.

On a beautiful summer afternoon, a woman fishes the Straight River.

On a beautiful summer afternoon, a woman fishes the Straight River.

Water offers a place to wish, to think or not, to fish, to canoe, to observe nature. Still as geese gliding. Hopeful as pennies tossed into a fountain. Turbulent water tumbling over rocks as calming as white noise.

A recreational trail slices through Morehouse Park, bridging the Straight River.

A recreational trail slices through Morehouse Park, bridging the Straight River.

I also want a park that’s aesthetically pleasing, clean, green, obviously cared for and appreciated.

Gorgeous flower baskets hang along the recreational bridge.

Gorgeous flower baskets hang along the recreational bridge.

In Morehouse Park, generous baskets of petunias suspended from a pedestrian bridge make a statement that says this community cares. The park is a busy place with a trail winding through that draws bikers, skaters, walkers and photographers like me.

At Bridge Square, the fountain entices all ages to perch beside the water, to rest on benches, to purchase popcorn from the popcorn wagon.

Morehouse Park includes a playground, tennis court and horseshoe pits along with other amenities.

Morehouse Park includes a playground, tennis court and horseshoe pits along with other amenities.

In both parks I feel a sense of community, of closeness in appreciating a beautiful spot in the heart of a city. There’s a certain vibrancy, a rhythm, a definitive weaving of people and place.

Ducks and geese overrun Morehouse Park. So watch for droppings. Everywhere.

Ducks and geese overrun Morehouse Park. So watch for droppings. Everywhere.

And that is what I seek in a park. Not just a picnic table under a tree. But a certain sense of belonging, of connecting with nature and community on a Minnesota summer day.

BONUS PHOTOS from Sunday afternoon at Morehouse Park:

A sign next to the bridge reads: "When we preserve a historic place, we preserve a part of who we are."

A sign next to the bridge reads: “When we preserve a historic place, we preserve a part of who we are.”

A robin hops along the bank of the Straight River in the dappled sunlight of a June afternoon.

A robin hops along the bank of the Straight River in the dappled sunlight of a June afternoon.

Waterfowl aplenty populate sections of the park.

Waterfowl aplenty populate sections of the park.

Geese hug the riverbank.

Geese hug the riverbank.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Father’s Day portrait June 21, 2015

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Randy napping on Father's Day.

 

AFTER A ROAD TRIP to Owatonna for a Father’s Day picnic at beautiful Morehouse Park, my husband kicked back in the backyard with the paper. It wasn’t long before he was sleeping, getting a much-needed nap on a glorious day.

To all of you father’s out there, I hope you had a fabulous celebration with those you love. We love and appreciate you.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling