Mike and Ann Tessneer will ‘Raise the Timbers’ at Stark Wines this weekend

By Jon Tatting
ECM Post Review, North Branch

Mike and Ann Tessneer are transforming their homespun winery from one of modest beginnings to something of sophistication with local food growers and the community in mind.

Mike and Ann Tessneer, of the Harris and Stark area, show a drawing of what their new timber frame wine tasting structure will look like once it’s raised on site this weekend. Photo by Jon Tatting

In celebration of their newest endeavor, the Tessneers will be joined by friends and family this weekend July 16-17 to “raise the timbers” for their new timber frame wine tasting building — called the Vinsted — at Stark Wines, a family-owned and operated business near Stark.

Vinsted simply means winery in Norwegian, Ann pointed out.

The public is especially invited to enjoy the festivities, as a wine tasting will be offered on Saturday and Sunday afternoon with hopeful live music at the site, located at 43150 Blackhawk Rd., Harris.

Over a two-week period in May and June, the joinery for the timbers was done under the supervision of experienced timber frame instructor Peter Henrikson at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minn.

Adding to the experience on the North Shore of Lake Superior, the Tessneers organized a group of 30-plus volunteers who ventured there to put their skills (some they never knew they had) to work on cutting and chiseling the timber to size.

Hardly going unnoticed, the timber project further caught the eye of the Grand Marais community. Though well received, the rumor was the Folk School was building a winery, smiled Ann, noting she dispelled the rumor with help from a local radio station.

A group of 30-plus volunteers helped saw, chisel and form the timbers under the supervision of timber frame instructor Peter Henrikson at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minn. When the last timber was finished, this group of volunteers celebrated with a few beverages and posed for a group photograph. Photo supplied by Mike and Ann Tessneer

Approximately 240 white pine timbers were cut and then delivered to the site of the new winery. The volunteers will be reuniting at this weekend’s “raising” event.

“It’s like building a gigantic piece of furniture,” said Mike of piecing the structure together.

Also at the site, just across from the timber frame structure, visitors will notice a new vineyard where 600 grape vines were planted three weeks ago. Folks, including interns from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm, helped with the mulching.

The Tessneers’ smaller yet more established vineyard features Marquette, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris and La Crescent grape varieties. Propagated by the University of Minnesota, these cold climate grapes can withstand 20 to 40 below temperatures, Ann explained.

Stark Wines also grows red and black currant fruit plants. Blueberry and raspberry plants, along with rhubarb, are also grown and tended to for winemaking.

“Rhubarb wine is Chardonnay-like but better,” offered Ann.

While they do buy berries and grapes outside of the winery, most of their wine is produced from the fruit they grow on site, Mike affirmed.

The Tessneers started winemaking as a hobby 12 years ago at home. They used kit wines and began to explore what they could do with a tree full of crab apples, rhubarb, raspberries, currant, plums and other fruits.

“We made all the mistakes you could possibly make in making wine,” recalled Ann of their first years in winemaking.

Yet they remained steadfast, as the operation grew into the winery it is today. Becoming licensed in 2009, they began selling their wine last fall.

The Tessneers participate in various tastings and other community events when they can. Such places have included City Center Market, Northbound Liquor and Willowbridge in Cambridge; the Full Moon in Stark; Fat Boys Bar and Grill in East Bethel; the Grant House in Rush City and the Briscoe Pottery Show Wine Tasting.

Customers can find the Stark Wines label for purchase at select liquor stores in the area.

Tucked away in their country setting, Mike and Ann Tessneer have an unselfish vision for their business. They want to build a stronger community by creating a cultural experience while sharing their knowledge of winemaking and supporting other growers in the area.

As the labels on their wine bottles say, “Wine has been made in small handcrafted batches for thousands of years. Stark Wines continues that rich tradition by producing small handcrafted lots on site, from locally grown fruit and grapes.

“Each batch receives individualized care to ensure a delightful wine drinking experience. Enjoy this bottle of wine, which will bring you right to the garden…”

For more information, visit Stark Wines on Facebook until its Web site, starkwines.com, is up and working. Located at 43150 Blackhawk Rd., Harris, MN 55032, the winery can be reached at 651-674-7548 or [email protected]