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After their success with Schram Vineyards in Waconia, husband-and-wife duo Aaron and Ashley Schram decided to bring their passion to Minneapolis’s North Loop. In 2021, they opened AxeBridge Wine Co., an urban winery crafting artisan varieties using both cold-hardy and West Coast grapes. Here, Aaron discusses the company’s winemaking process, unique year-round experiences and more.

Photography provided by AxeBridge Wine Co.

What sparked your interest in winemaking?

I’ve always been a hands-on do-it-yourself kind of guy, and it was no different when it came to alcohol. During college, I started making wine in my dorm room just for fun. I think my first batch was made with Welch’s grape juice, but I continued exploring how to make it better using different kits and grape styles. I enjoyed learning about the process and having friends and family try my creations. Once I graduated and joined the business world, I began working at a few local wineries for mentorship about how to make wine commercially. I soon discovered that working in an office cubicle wasn’t for me, so I created a business plan to open a winery. Most of my friends thought I was crazy, but I was passionate about it and set a goal to make it a career. It wasn’t until I met my wife several years later that I found a partner to go on this adventure with me.

What prompted you to open AxeBridge in the North Loop?

With the success of Schram Vineyards, we knew we wanted to expand but ran into limitations due to space and land access. We had built a relationship with the largest commercial grape grower in Minnesota and were making a great product. All we needed was an avenue to move more products out the door, so we started exploring the idea of creating a commercial winery. Since we saw so many visitors from Minneapolis coming to our Waconia location, we wanted to bridge the gap between city and country by bringing that experience to an urban setting. There’s so much enthusiasm for drinking local with all the breweries and distilleries around town, and we wanted local wine to have representation in the market, too.

What experiences can guests enjoy at the urban winery?

Visitors can enjoy wine tastings daily as casual walk-ins or book a guided tasting experience. Our tasting staff will lead them through a selection of artisan wines made with cold-hardy grapes and imported varietals — all handcrafted at Schram Vineyards — while sharing insights about our history and winemaking style. We’ve also curated a menu of perfect food and wine pairings . Other unique experiences include wine-blending workshops, a one-of-a-kind urban Grape Stomp that’s held on our back patio every fall and regularly hosted winemaker’s dinners. The wine club is another fun way to take advantage of our different experiences with themed pickup events and new releases. Lastly, our event spaces are perfect for both small and large gatherings where beverages, food and atmosphere take center stage.

Do you have a go-to food and wine pairing?

I’ll never regret pairing the marquette burger with our marquette wine. This variety is something we’re known for, and it’s also made from the best red grape we grow in the state. So, why not make a delicious dish that can compete with it? Our culinary team took that success and, using the best ingredients, made something that tastes out of this world: a smashed burger with gem lettuce, tomato, merlot Cheddar, fancy sauce, and, of course, our caramelized onions with marquette jam. 

Which of your wines are your favorite?

I love our deep reds of marquette and our Winemaker Reserves. These are the two styles I love to drink, and I have the most fun creating and watching them take shape as they mature in our premium barrels. These wines undergo at least two years (and sometimes up to five years) in the aging process. I will never forget the first year we pulled our very own marquette out of the barrel — the taste encouraged me to go all in on that grape.

The Winemaker Reserves are a collection of varieties that showcase our team’s ability to create a high-caliber wine. Some of these bottles would cost $80 to $100 if they were made in California simply because of the location and the tourism that area can bring in. These reds are much more affordable and demonstrate the quality we can achieve. Because of this, they’re exclusive to our wine club members, who get our best products because they truly support what we are doing. Without them, we wouldn’t have our wineries.

What’s the best part of the winemaking process?

To me, the most exciting part is the barrel-aging process. Seeing wine change in the barrel is almost magical — starting from the initial wine with no oak characteristics to watching the toasting of the wood take shape. It doesn’t always go exactly as you envisioned, and that’s the artistic part of the practice. Each barrel is different and has variability because of the nature of wood and how it grows. Sometimes it’s better, and sometimes you need to give it a shove in a specific direction. The process shows that wine is a living, breathing product that undergoes a lot of changes, which makes it exciting to see it develop for an extended period. Patience is the name of the game, and the ability to make changes during the process and react to what’s happening is a skill that separates a good winemaker from one who just follows a recipe. 

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