Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Wine, wheat & unwinding at a Wanamingo area winery September 25, 2019

Heritage Wheat Demonstration Day at Aspelund Winery.

 

VISIT ASPELUND WINERY and Peony Gardens between Kenyon and Wanamingo, and you’ll discover a place of peace. I love this country spot. For its quiet setting. Its beauty. The genuine friendliness of owners Bruce and Dawn Rohl. And the wine.

 

So many lovely peonies in multitudes of colors, shapes and scents. The Rohls hybridize, grow and sell peony plants. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, June 2016.

 

In the spring, I delight in the peony fields bursting with color and fragrance.

 

A pile of wheat awaits threshing.

 

In autumn, the changing hues of the surrounding farmland delight me as I sip wine on the tasting room deck.

 

Separating the wheat with a treadle-powered threshing machine.

 

This past Sunday afternoon brought a new experience as I watched the threshing of wheat, then grinding into flour. The winery hosted Heritage Wheat Demonstration Day, part of the Cannon Falls Area Historical Society’s Heritage Wheat Project.

 

First, threshing the wheat.

 

Grinding and regrinding the wheat into fine flour.

 

Bruce Rohl grinds the wheat into flour.

 

After observing that process, I held a deeper appreciation for the early farmers who worked hard to grow, harvest, separate and grind wheat into flour. What a job.

 

 

But, oh, the delicious result—the grainy textured bread…

 

 

I didn’t just watch this demo, though. I wandered through the vineyard, already harvested. Photographed a golden apple.

 

Rows of flint corn border the driveway into the winery.

 

The Rohls grind this flint corn into corn meal for cornbread. They also grow popcorn, offered for sale and also for complementary tasting with their wines.

 

Examined the towering flint corn the Rohls grow and grind into corn meal.

 

 

 

I paused, too, to photograph a homemade (I think) vehicle parked on the grounds.

 

A mug of mulled Lady Cara-Mel wine from Aspelund Winery.

 

And, of course, no visit here is complete without wine, this time mulled and sipped from a mug. Perfect for an autumn afternoon on the deck overlooking the ever-changing Minnesota countryside.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In rural southern Minnesota: Peonies & wine June 19, 2019

 

UNDER INTERMITTENT GREY SKIES, fragrant blossoms of pink, burgundy, coral, rose and more popped brilliant color into the landscape at a rural Minnesota winery which doubles as a peony business.

 

 

On the deck at Aspelund Winery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

Within miles of the winery, the beautiful landscape of southern Minnesota.

 

If you love the showy and elegant peony, appreciate good wine and delight in the quiet of a countryside location, Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens (outside Aspelund and to the northwest of Wanamingo) is a must-visit. Randy and I met friends there Sunday afternoon to view the peony fields and to sip raspberry and apple wines.

 

 

 

 

 

It was exactly what I needed—to relax in a beautiful natural setting accented by peonies. There’s still time to tour the farm between noon and 5 p.m. on Saturday or Sunday to see the peonies before their brief blooming season ends. (Check Facebook for updates.)

 

Co-owner Dawn Rohl wears a peacock pin on her denim jacket. The peacock is the winery symbol/mascot.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

 

 

Co-owners Bruce and Dawn Rohl greet visitors to their hilltop location with the welcoming warmth of long-time friends. They are a salt-of-the-earth and knowledgeable couple who work hard to grow magnificent peonies and craft tasty wine. I recommend Rascal Red, a raspberry wine. Below the tasting room, the Rohls develop their wines, the newest an in-progress asparagus wine made from asparagus grown near the vineyard.

 

 

The list of peonies available for purchase.

 

 

During our visit, flower lovers meandered among the peonies, some selecting bushes to buy and pick up to plant in the fall. Soon Bruce will sell his hybridized peonies lining the entry to the tasting room.

 

 

 

 

Whether you’re serious about peonies or wine, or simply appreciate both, this rural Goodhue County winery and peony gardens rate as a unique, enjoyable and ideal way to spend an afternoon in a stunning rural setting among friends. Be sure to pet Rascal, the family dog who can open the door to the tasting room.

FYI: The winery is located at 9204 425th Street, rural Wanamingo (just outside Aspelund). If you take Minnesota State Highway 60 between Kenyon and Wanamingo, you will see a sign directing you to Aspelund, which is basically a church, a town hall and a farm site. Click here to read previous posts I’ve written on the winery and gardens.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In a Minnesota cemetery: Oh, sweet baby, who were you? June 16, 2016

 

Emmanuel Cemetery, Aspelund 169 baby grave marker

 

I’VE TOURED MANY RURAL CEMETERIES. But never have I seen a grave marker that so saddened me as the one I spotted on the edge of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church Cemetery in Aspelund on Sunday afternoon.

 

Emmanuel Cemetery, Aspelund, 172 baby grave & flip flop

 

Smaller than the length of my size eight flip flop, the simple slab of concrete tilted barely above the earth. Inscribed thereon, in cursive, was a single word—Baby.

 

Emmanuel Cemetery, Aspelund 170 baby grave marker close-up

 

Certainly I’ve seen grave markers of many babies. But this one, because of its minimal size and placement under trees along the cemetery boundary and its simplicity of design, caused me to pause. I am a mother and a new grandmother. And I suppose in the humanity of that, thinking of my own love for my daughters, son and granddaughter, I empathized with the grief of such a loss.

A section of the cemetery that lies next to Emmanuel Lutheran Church and next to a field.

A section of the cemetery that lies next to Emmanuel Lutheran Church and a field.

Aged tombstones, which I assume once stood vertically, are now cemented flat into the ground.

Aged tombstones, which I assume once stood vertically, are now cemented flat into the ground.

The names reflect the ethnicity of the immigrant families who settled in the Aspelund area.

The names reflect the ethnicity of the immigrant families who settled in the Aspelund area.

Dates are missing from the in-ground marker of Hans, whom I believe to be an early immigrant.

Dates are missing from the in-ground marker of Hans, whom I believe to be an early immigrant.

A beautiful sheltered gravesite

A beautiful sheltered gravesite for John and Maren.

Love the immigrant names of Johannes and Engeborg. So poetic.

Love the immigrant names of Johannes and Engeborg. So poetic.

As I further explored the cemetery—reading the Scandinavian names, studying tombstones and admiring the meticulously kept grounds—I couldn’t shake the image of that baby’s gravestone. Who was he/she? Who were the parents? Why did he/she die?

Next to this list of rules is a graveyard directory, which we couldn't decipher.

Next to this list of rules is a graveyard directory, which we couldn’t decipher.

Hoping to find answers on a posted cemetery directory, neither my husband or I could figure out how to match names with platted marker locations. So I left, still wondering about this precious baby buried here beneath trees in rural Goodhue County, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Aspelund: More than a southern Minnesota ghost town June 15, 2016

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A lovely sprawling home in Aspelund.

A lovely, sprawling farm home in Aspelund.

TECHNICALLY, ASPELUND is classified as a ghost town by the Goodhue County Historical Society. There’s no longer a post office in this spot along County 1 Boulevard in west central Goodhue County, apparently the reason for the ghost town tag.

The community's church, Emmanuel Lutheran.

The community’s church, Emmanuel Lutheran.

But my observations, and thus definition, of Aspelund differ. People still live here—on at least two farms—and worship here and attend to local government business in the Wanamingo Town Hall.

The area around Aspelund is beautiful Minnesota countryside with a mix of fields and woods, flatland and hills.

The area around Aspelund is beautiful Minnesota countryside with a mix of fields and woods, flatland and hills.

Aspelund doesn’t appear ghost townish to me. Rural, yes.

Making hay on the outskirts of Aspelund.

Working an alfalfa field on the outskirts of Aspelund.

One of two barns in Aspelund.

One of two barns in Aspelund.

Traffic through Aspelund on Sunday afternoon.

Traffic through Aspelund on Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday afternoon, I observed farmers in fields, a youth group meeting in Emmanuel Lutheran Church, and a biker, motorists and farmers passing through this settlement.

Inside Emmanuel Lutheran Church.

Inside Emmanuel Lutheran Church. Local churches centered the community, especially during the days of early settlement.

Places like Aspelund impress upon me their historical and current value in rural Minnesota. Mostly Norwegians settled here to farm the land, to re-establish their lives in a new land of opportunity. I admire their strength and determination. They endured much—poverty, isolation, disease, homesickness and more. They persevered. Just like their descendants who remain 150-plus years later.

The old Wanamingo Township Hall, built in 1862, stands next to the church.

The old Wanamingo Township Hall, built in 1862, stands next to the church.

Aspelund’s ethnic roots are documented in family names on gravestones, in the records of churches like Emmanuel and nearby Holden Lutheran, and in current voter registration rolls.

The current town hall.

The current town hall.

Even the name of the settlement itself, Aspelund, comes from a town in Norway. Oh, how those early immigrants must have missed their homeland. And how their descendants still appreciate the Mother Land today.

Photographed in Aspelund.

Photographed in Aspelund.

FYI: Check back tomorrow as I take you into the Emmanuel cemetery. Click here to read yesterday’s post about Aspelund Winery and Aspelund Peony Gardens.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In rural Aspelund: Passionate about peonies & wine June 14, 2016

These peonies have been growing for seven years now on the Rohl property.

These peonies have been growing for seven years on the Rohl property.

WIND WHIPPED THOUSANDS of past their prime peonies, their crimson, pink and white blossoms dipping, dancing to the rhythm of summer.

Peony fields line both sides of the gravel driveway and spill into the yard near the tasting room.

Peony fields line both sides of the gravel driveway and spill into the yard near the Rohl’s home and wine tasting room.

With temps in the seventies under clear skies, it was a perfect mid-June Sunday afternoon to tour the Aspelund Peony Gardens in west central Goodhue County, just east of Aspelund/northwest of Wanamingo/northeast of Kenyon.

The entry to the small tasting room.

The entry to the small tasting room.

Paired with Aspelund Winery, also owned by Bruce and Dawn Rohl and on the same rural acreage, this makes a great southern Minnesota day trip destination. It’s peaceful and lovely, educational and relaxing. You can learn about peonies and wine while enjoying both with a couple passionate about both.

While strawberry wine is the best-selling wine, my favorite is Neighborhood Apple, the top-selling of the three apple wines.

Strawberry wine is the best-selling wine. But my favorite is Neighborhood Apple, the top-selling of the three apple wines.

While the Rohls have been in the business of growing, hybridizing and selling peonies for awhile, they opened their winery just a year ago—on June 13. A taste-testing of their six wines—three apple, one grape, another elderberry and the sixth, strawberry—made it difficult to choose a favorite. They’re that good. But, after some thought, I’d select Neighborhood Apple as my favorite. It’s their best-selling apple wine, a blend of their apples and apples gathered from neighbors. I like the neighborhood name and concept as much as the wine. The outgoing and welcoming Rohls are the type you’d want as next-door neighbors.

Inside the tasting room, peacock decor prevails, here next to the wine rack.

Inside the tasting room, peacock decor prevails, here next to the wine rack.

Their employee, Anders Lars, is a neighbor, whom I mistook as their son. And, yes, he goes by the Swedish Anders, not Andy. I asked. This is an area proud of its Scandinavian heritage. Bruce’s ancestors, however, trace to France where they were vintners.

So many lovely peonies in multitudes of colors, shapes and scents.

So many lovely peonies in multitudes of colors, shapes and scents.

Interestingly enough, it is memories of Bruce’s grandma’s peonies that led him into the peony business. But not how you would expect. He didn’t like her flopping-over peonies and vowed never to plant peonies. That changed on the day he and Dawn visited Bob Tischler, a now-deceased Faribault peony grower. Bob introduced them to other varieties and the couple left Tischler Peony Garden with 13 plants. And, yes, despite his initial dislike of the flopping-over peony, Bruce now has his grandma’s peony from her Hudson, Wisconsin, garden.

Peony lovers shop and admire the gardens.

Peony lovers shop and admire the gardens.

Today the Rohls grow 150 types of peonies. Visitors peruse the offerings online or visit the farm during bloom season to select specific bushes. Then, in the fall, the plants are divided and customers get their plants. Average cost is $20, with some going as high as $70.

There are rows and rows and rows of peonies.

There are rows and rows and rows of peonies.

Buyers range from grandmothers purchasing plants for family to people beautifying landscapes as they focus on staycations rather than vacations to serious peony lovers, Bruce says.

Bruce's hybridized peonies are growing by the tasting room.

Bruce’s hybridized peonies are growing by the tasting room.

He has hybridized seven peonies, giving them identifying local town names like Aspelund, Wanamingo and Zumbrota. It will be awhile before those are ready to sell, Bruce said, noting the entire process from hybridizing to sale-ready takes about 20 years.

The grapevines grow atop a hill overlooking the countryside.

The grapevines grow next to an aged outbuilding atop a hill overlooking the countryside.

A design engineer by full-time profession, Bruce hopes to some day make the flower and wine business his sole focus. The couple also makes maple syrup and tends their small vineyard of 80 vines in seven varieties of grapes, their 450 elderberry bushes and 150 apple trees.

There are two red wines--Elder-bry (elderberry) and Stra-bry (strawberry).

There are two red wines–Elder-bry (elderberry) and Stra-bry (strawberry).

They are clearly passionate about their peonies and wine. Like the hybridizing of peonies, the couple is also always working on new wines. They hope soon to release a tomato wine that tastes like a Bloody Mary (200 tomato plants are growing on their farm); a cucumber wine flavored with lemons and oranges and with ginger roots; and a fennel wine tasting of black licorice.

Dawn meets with customers who are perusing a peony catalog in the wine tasting room.

Dawn meets with customers who are perusing peony choices in the wine tasting room.

It will be interesting to see what they name these new wines. Dawn explains that Mingo Red, for example, is like a Minnesota hotdish, a mingling of their seven Minnesota cold climate grape varieties.

The memorable symbol of Aspelund Winery.

The memorable symbol of Aspelund Winery.

There’s also a story behind the peacocks featured on the wine labels, in the landscaping and in the cozy tasting room. The Rohls attempted to relocate peacocks from Bruce’s father’s farm two miles away. But the birds didn’t stay at the winery/peony garden, returning on their own to their original home. It’s just as well, Bruce says, noting that he learned after the fact they’ll eat flower blossoms. But it makes for a good story and a memorable winery business graphic.

I couldn't get enough of the peonies, even if most were past peak bloom.

I found some peonies not past peak bloom. Lovely.

And about the proper pronunciation of peonies, I asked the peony experts. The correct pronunciation is pee-a-knees, Dawn said. However, because Minnesotans like their “o’s,” they mostly say pee-oh-knees. And the Rohls are just fine with that.

Even though peony blooming season is wrapping up, you can still order peonies by shopping online or viewing the selections in this three-ring binder in the wine tasting room.

Even though peony blooming season is wrapping up, you can still order peonies by shopping online or viewing the selections in this three-ring binder in the wine tasting room.

FYI: The winery, located at 9204 425th Street, rural Kenyon, is open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from April through December 24 (the neighbors have a Christmas tree farm). If you’re traveling Minnesota State Highway 60, watch for the Aspelund road sign onto Goodhue County Road 1 near Bombay. Go a few miles to Aspelund, turn onto County Road 8 and then shortly thereafter onto 425th Street.

There's plenty of deck and patio space for gatherings to sip wine.

You can sip wine outdoors on the patio or deck, in a beautiful park-like setting.

Note that the tasting room is small. But there is plenty of outdoor seating on a patio and deck. The Rohls also welcome guests to explore their beautiful, well-groomed property.

I still found blooms worthy of photographing.

I still found blooms worthy of photographing.

Prime peony blooming season has ended. It’s best to call ahead in the spring/early summer if you want to see these flowers in peak bloom.

The Rohls use their own apples and those of neighbors to make their three wines: Cobblers Knob Medley (Honey Gold, Ida Red and O'Connel Red), Cobblers Knob Gold (Honey Gold apples) and Neighborhood Apple.

The Rohls use their own apples and those of neighbors to make their three wines: Cobblers Knob Medley (Honey Gold, Ida Red and O’Connell Red apples), Cobblers Knob Gold (Honey Gold apples) and Neighborhood Apple.

For more information about the winery, click here.

Peony beds mingle between farm buildings on this lovely rural Goodhue County site.

Peony beds mingle between farm buildings on this lovely rural Goodhue County site.

And click here for info about the peony garden.

BONUS PHOTOS:

My favorite old building on the farm site.

Love this old building on the farm site.

Choosing a favorite peony would be difficult among the 150 varieties.

Choosing a favorite peony among the 150 varieties would be difficult.

This tire swing, with its chain grown into a tree branch, adds simple country charm to the yard.

This tire swing, with its chain grown into a tree branch, adds simple country charm to the yard and peony gardens.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wondering about the Wanamingo Town Hall April 8, 2016

Wanamingo Town Hall, 112 view one

 

WOOD-FRAME TOWN HALLS aged by time hold a sense of history that always leaves me wondering.

The Wanamingo Town Hall, which I recently photographed in the ghost town of Aspelund in Goodhue County, is no exception. I thought a simple internet search would yield answers. It didn’t.

 

Wanamingo Town Hall, 113 view two

 

So I am left to wonder about this simple structure built during the Civil War and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Was this originally a schoolhouse as town halls often were? Is it still used for township activities? For 4-H meetings? As a polling place? I found a photo of a new pole shed style town hall online indicating this historic building is no longer used by township government.

I also learned some history of the area from the book, Minnesota Geographic Names—Their Origins and Historic Significance, written by Warren Upham and published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1920. Wanamingo, the author writes, “settled in 1854, organized in 1858, is almost wholly occupied by prosperous Norwegian farmers” (page 209).

Today Wanamingo Township remains agriculture-based. And you can still see the strong Norwegian heritage in family surnames, in country churches, in business names and more. Is the area still occupied by primarily prosperous Norwegian farmers? That I can’t answer.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling