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Woodbury couple's grape escape: backyard vineyard

Woodbury residents Pat and Jane Thiegs are in the process of starting a vineyard and eventually hope to start a winery, Woodlane Oaks Winery and Vineyard. A group of people assisted the Thiegs in planting their vineyard on Sunday.

Back in April 2011, Woodbury residents Jane and Pat Thiegs decided to get away for the afternoon, so they hopped in their car.

"We just got in the car and drove," Jane said. "We let the car lead."

The Thiegs eventually found themselves in Prescott, Wis., where they saw signs for Valley Vineyard.

The couple stopped in, sampled some wine, talked to the owners and found a new life adventure.

"We started driving, we were maybe couple a miles away, and we looked at each other and said 'We've got to do this," Jane said. "It was probably the only simultaneous similar thought we've ever had in our lives."

Last spring, Jane and Pat started a vineyard at their house on Woodlane Drive.

The couple started with two acres, but an additional two acres were planted on Sunday, June 2.

It total, the Thiegs' vineyard has 2,000 vines and includes several varieties: Marquette, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, St. Croix, Prairie Star, La Crescent and Marechal Foch.

The end goal, Pat and Jane said, is to open up a winery at their property where they can make wine from their own grapes.

"We're just going to go with it and see where it goes," Jane said.

Growing passion

The Thiegs said they decided to take up grape growing because both of them were retired and were in need of something to occupy their time.

Jane is a former nurse and Pat previously worked at 3M.

In addition to having the time, Pat said they also had the land since the farmers that they had previously leased their land out to were starting to move away from farming.

Jane said she and Pat were drawn to the idea of growing grapes specifically because of how wine brings people together.

"There's kind of a spiritual connection to the grapes," she said. "What better way to connect with people than over a glass of wine."

Initially, Jane and Pat had only planned to grow the grapes and then sell them, but after talking to the owners of Valley Vineyard they learned that there's not much money in grape growing without the wine.

"If you grow grapes, you can only sell the grapes for 80 cents a pound," Pat said. "You do the math; that's a lot of work for not much income."

Since Pat and Jane are completely new to grape growing and winemaking, their research has consisted of winery tours, wine tastings and trying out some wine-making kits.

"It's the best type of research," Jane said.

In terms of their wine, Jane and Pat said they are looking at both straight varietals and some blends.

"We want to make excellent wines," Jane said. "If we can't make excellent wines, we're not opening up."

In total, the Thiegs' vineyard can produce up to 2,300 gallons of wine.

"There's a learning curve to go through," Pat said. "We don't want to disappoint people."

Jane and Pat aren't anticipating having their first batch of wine until at least the spring of 2015 since it takes at least two years for the grapevines to mature enough to actually have a crop.

"It is a ton of work," Jane said. "That opened our eyes big time.

"When we first looked at growing grapes, we just saw the romantic part of it."

Woodlane Oaks Winery and Vineyard

Even though the winery and tasting room is still a few years out, Jane and Pat have already come up with their name - Woodlane Oaks Winery and Vineyard.

The couple has already started brainstorming how they want their winery to look, but first they need to get the city's approval.

Currently Woodbury has no regulations for wineries and the Thiegs' property is zoned rural. In order to sell wine they would need to be zoned commercial.

The Thiegs are hoping to present their proposal to Woodbury City Council in January.

"I'm hopeful that it'll work and if it doesn't, I guess we'll go to "Plan B' - selling grapes," Jane said.

However, there is a Minnesota statute regulating farm wineries, which would permit the Thiegs' winery, Pat said.

The Thiegs' plan for their winery and tasting room is to utilize a 2,000 square foot pole barn located on their property.

Jane said the pole barn would be remodeled to house the tasting room and storage of the fermenters.

Jane said she would also like to add on a patio.

"I've always had a desire to bring the community together," Jane said. "A winery is a calm place that has connections to the past and that's part of the romanticism."

Both Jane and Pat said they are very excited about their adventure and being able to provide good wine to people.

"I'm just thrilled to have a way to have a job and a way to bring the community together," Jane said. "To me, a glass of wine says 'Let's put away the work and let's just be together.'"

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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