Heritage and heart are the foundation of Two Silo Winery & Vineyard.
Along the curving backroads of Grant, settled in a valley amid rolling hills, an 1800s-era dairy farm is now pumping out something a bit more exciting: wine.
Over the past five years, the Dehnert family (current owners of Tally’s Dockside) have turned the secluded 22-acre property into a flourishing winery and vineyard. Now, grapevines dot the hills, fermenting tanks line the former milking parlor and the two historic silos sit beside a brand new tasting room.
Standing in the winemaking room, Two Silo Winery & Vineyard vintner Connar Dehnert uses new technology to test pH, alcohol level and malic acid levels from bright, stainless steel fermenting tanks.
“We are among a handful of wineries with the newest technology, which allows me to test under fermentation in about two minutes,” Connar says. “Getting the right chemistry for making the wine comes with time and education.”
Connar is an important player in his family’s new trade along with his parents, Jan and Keith Dehnert, and brother, Gavin. But to call it “new” isn’t the whole truth.
As the story goes, Jan’s grandfather David Stevens, or “Pappouli,” came to the United States from Greece in the late 1800s, bringing Roditis grapevines. Using the grapes, he would make wine in his basement and sell it in his restaurant. He passed his grape-collecting and smashing talents down to his daughter, Mary Schaefer, when she was only 6 years old, who years later would pass that knowledge along to her daughter, Jan.
Jan’s interest in winemaking would ferment over the years. “After 42 years of being together, [Jan] finally tells me it’s been her lifelong dream to own and operate a winery,” Keith says. Though Keith has an agricultural background and 34 years as a co-owner of Tally’s Dockside alongside Jan—his initial reaction to his wife was, “No.”
“Her dream won out,” he says. “Jan’s design background [she was an interior designer for 25 years] and a great contractor helped us put this all together.”
When Jan and Keith approached Connar about their idea, he immediately expressed his interest in being a part of it, saying to them, “I’m all aboard, and I’ll be your winemaker.” Already enrolled in school for environmental science, upon graduation he spent three years training in the science of winemaking, blending and tasting. The first vines were planted in 2018.
The Dehnerts started with seven grape varietals on their farm and also supplement with grapes from a grower in Lodi, California, for blending. “I bring in grape juice from Lodi and blend to create more balance, some dry and full-body flavors, so you can enjoy a glass or two and take a bottle home or up the hill for a picnic,” Connar says. With 2,300 vines, their first “estate harvest” created 66 gallons, which were released this summer. “We grow frontenac gris, frontenac noir, frontenac blanc, la crescent, itasca and marquette—which is a staple, a great-great granddaughter of pinot noir. And the prairie star.”
It’s a different profile than wines from warmer regions. “Minnesota wine has a little more acidic, sweet style,” Connar says. “I like a more flavorful body; a little more balanced complexity. I just want to bring in more of a balance in a wine that everyone can enjoy.”
As Jan stands on her property, looking out at the budding vineyards, she says, “There’s so much love that goes into making wine. It’s such a laborious process. And I remember watching my grandfather do it at a very young age, and then [he’d sit] down and enjoy a glass of wine. I now feel what he meant by, ‘It’s such a labor of love.’”
Each building on the expansive property reflects Jan’s eye for design. The winery itself holds many echoes of its predecessor. “This place was an old machine shed, and we debated back and forth until deciding to gut it and reuse a majority of the original material,” Jan says, pointing around the winery walls. “All of the sheet metal was off the old barn. We cleaned it, flattened it and used it in the ceiling. The wood boards climbing the height of the walls came from an old Amish farm in southern Minnesota.”
The tasting room has an intimate feel, with dark, comfortable leather chairs and couches looking out at hills lined with vines. A silo-style bar is the main tasting bar, made of hand-molded concrete blocks. “We wanted it very circular to reflect the name of our winery,” Jan says.
The idea behind the name and concept of Two Silo Winery & Vineyard comes from the two metal silos that stand beside the tasting room in an open space, dubbed the Cow Yard, that includes picnic tables and games. In the temperature- and humidity-controlled barrel and bottle storage rooms that sit nearby, wine is bottled and labeled by hand. Last year, Two Silo Winery & Vineyard produced 7,400 bottles. This year, it will do another 16,000.
With a repurposed granary that will eventually house bigger gatherings and an original farmhouse for renting to guests, there isn’t one spot that wasn’t carefully considered as the renovation of the farm took place. The boutique winery also features a special VIP wine tasting room called Pappouli’s Cave, where wine ambassadors and guests can learn about and taste various wine offerings. The expansive table that sits along the cave is made from one slab of fully grained black walnut harvested and aged by HomeTown Sawmill and Woodworks.
To visitors, renters and the Dehnerts alike, the goal is to gather at day’s end in an oversized leather chair, taking in autumn’s gifts with a glass of wine in hand.
“It kind of makes me teary-eyed because when people come in and just look at the view and look at the building and see how much work it’s taken this far, it’s just really touching,” Jan says. “And I wanted to leave a legacy to my boys, so it just moves me to know that it’s coming to fruition.”
Two Silo Winery & Vineyard is currently open Friday through Sunday for tastings or picnics on the hill.
Stay at the Farmhouse
This fall, put your flight to warmer places on standby and wake up on a crisp morning to watch the sunrise over hills of vines, just miles from home. The historic Two Silos Farmhouse is a 5-bedroom Airbnb nestled within a working vineyard. The former dairy farm was homesteaded by the Arcand family in the 1800s, and the original home has been lovingly restored with space for groups to escape the city or operate as a home base to start your tour of a plethora of vineyards and apple orchards nearby.
With great big beds, farmhouse chic décor, original hardwood floors and porches on both levels, the impeccable design comes from Jan’s
25 years working as a commercial interior designer.
Each room (the home sleeps 12) overlooks the vineyard from a different angle. Jan recalls a past group of visitors who were teachers from the North Shore. “We were actually harvesting last fall, so we said, ‘We’ll be here at 5 a.m. in the morning. You’re more than welcome to get out of bed and walk up the hill and help if you’d like,’” Jan says. “They saw us with the tractor headlights on and watched the whole thing in bed.”
At day’s end, the screened-in porch becomes a quiet getaway for conversation and a glass of wine. Better yet, grab a blanket and your new favorite red or white and head out to enjoy under the stars.