Justin Osborne is the winemaker at Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery. Before entering the world of wine, he was also in the ‘relaxation’ industry, working at his family’s ice-fishing company, Clam Corporation. He could have stayed there, but of all things, he listened to his mother-in-law. This isn’t where the story goes downhill, though. “Vicky wanted to start a winery and we were almost immediately all-in,” Justin says.
The idea was a little bit out there, but interesting to say the least and if it turned into any sort of success, winemaker would be heck of a career, and cool job title to boot!“It just seemed like a fun adventure to try something new,” Justin says.
He went through the University of Missouri’s VESTA program for winemaking several years ago and studied enology, the making of wine.Four Daughters is one of about 40 licensed wineries in Minnesota. Most of the state’s wineries are rather small – producing fewer than 1,000 cases of wine each year, says Katie Cook, researcher at U of M with a master’s degree in enology and experience with grapes from all over the world. She, like Justin, is fond of the idea of grape growing and winemaking in Minnesota.
Of course, most people think of the Mediterranean, California or Argentina when they picture vineyards and wineries. However, Minnesota’s cold hardy grapes, its winemakers, grape growers’ association and research efforts deserve a tip of the hat, too. There is an identity uphold.“It’s kind of forging our own identity,” Cook said. “’It’s kind of the idea of bringing something unique to this area.”And Minnesota’s wine production is about to get a boost. Justin and Four Daughters will soon crank up production to 10,000 cases per year after installing four additional 4,000-gallon tanks this fall. That will be enough for Four Daughters to start wholesaling its wine to local suppliers. Come production time, that will mean intense aromas from many gallons of wine – euphoria!
As winemaker, Justin is a chemist. The process starts at grape crushing and proceeds through adding yeast, fermenting, pressing skins and eventually bottling. Through it all, he most enjoys pressing: squeezing the fermented skins of red grapes and smelling the overpowering rush of hundreds of gallons of wine rushing out at once.“You know it’s going to be good,” Justin says. “It smells really good, and it’s really strong.”Winemaking may seemingly come with a lot of pride, secrecy and experimentation, but that’s not necessarily the case. To a degree, Cook says, it’s an art form. Mostly, it’s science.“For me, it’s about science, or even less than that,” Justin says. “It’s about basic rules.” Experimentation only goes so far. Playing around with a centuries-old craft likely isn’t going to improve much and the Four Daughters winemaker realizes that.
As a winemaker, working hours vary greatly. It’s sort of like farming; sometimes he just has to sit and wait. Other times, he’s up until 4 a.m. during the grape crush, scrambling to turn seemingly endless buckets of grapes into mash, and then into juice. Then he waits for the particles to settle out of the juice.“One of the biggest, time-consuming parts is the settling of wine. I can’t make it settle any faster.”Once the elements have settled and the juice is moved into storage tanks for fermentation, he waits again. He monitors; then he waits some more.
Thus far, he’s been very happy with his bottled results. At the beginning, he hoped for mere mediocrity, second-guessed himself and even considered hiring a winemaker to help! He didn’t and it’s become apparent that he has a natural knack for winemaking. He’s received several awards for various wines, including the biggest awards of last year’s International Cold Climate Competition, the coveted Governor’s Cup and the “Best of Show” award for the top white wine. To Justin, that’s exciting, but only for a short time. Winemakers can’t rest on their laurels!