Thursday, October 14, 2010

River Blues on U.S. 61

The cobalt blue skies of October have favored us with day after day of beautiful mild sunshine.

We’re seeing more of that blue sky these days. Leaves continue to empty from the trees.

Some come down as if choreographed to their own music. They float, dip and flutter. Sometimes a tree appears to drop its leaves all at once. It’s as if the leaves make a plan. “On the count of three let’s all jump.”

Then there are the sad leaves that bowl along in the street curbs. Color fading, dry and mottled, they’re whipped from spot to spot like refugees without a place to stop.

We decided to visit the southern part of the state while it still had peak color. We were shortly returned from the North Shore. But the forecast for warm temperatures set our direction. These were the days to travel before the weather changed.

We took U.S. Highway 61 in a favorite drive down the Mississippi River. Unlike State 61 which runs along Lake Superior, U.S. 61 – it goes all the way to New Orleans – is a federal highway. It is designated the Great River Road for much of its route.

At Red Wing, where we picnicked, the Mississippi is running high. It’s the result of earlier rains upriver. Levee parks in the city have some flooding.

We watched a tugboat line up barges tethered to the river shore. Two barges were low in the water indicating they were filled with grain.

Two barges rode high. You could tell their container holds were empty. They were the barges the tug was systematically nosing into place. They would be moved upriver. The barges are filled at the big grain bins in the port of Red Wing.

On the road, and pulling into Red Wing, were many trucks. They were hauling grain to the elevator.

The trucks were from Wisconsin as well as closer by. The names on the truck cabs spelled out the different operating locations. It was a good picture of harvest activity. In the cities we can lose contact with the farm scene as made aware of it today.

On the way home, pleasantly satiated on colorful leaves, and rolling up shirt sleeves against eighty-degree temperatures (having doubted the predicted high for the day), we stopped at Alexis Bailly Vineyard.

The vineyard at Hastings is a place we like to visit. We don’t get there often but when we do we promise next time will be sooner.

Alexis Bailly is the oldest winery in Minnesota. It opened in 1978 five years after the planting of the original vines.

The family-run vineyard bears the name of French ancestor Alexis Bailly. Born in France, he had his start in this country as a voyageur.

His arrival in Minnesota corresponded in timing with the construction of Ft. Snelling. In 1820 Ft. Snelling became the citadel in the wilderness at the confluence of the St. Peter’s River (now the Minnesota) with the Mississippi.

Bailly became a prominent trader in this frontier locale. He brought many voyageurs from Montreal to Mendota, the trading post near the military fort. Voyageurs in turn settled here, adding French and French-Canadian flavor to the e trading community.

The winery grounds were inviting. It was mesmerizing, after a full day in the car, to saunter about soaking up late afternoon sunshine. With wine glasses in hand we seated ourselves at the bocce court which is part of the vineyard. Little bluestem grasses waved in the adjacent field.

At a distance a planted row of pines reminded us of the North Shore trip. And ah! the grapevines, the source of this relaxation. They were bronze and lovely in their own changing colors as their year’s work comes to an end.

Swirling our glasses of deep red wine (a blend of French grapes with Frontenac, a variety developed by the University of Minnesota to withstand our severe winters) we could appreciate the wine as perhaps never before.

The Minnesota travels had come full circle. “Voyageur” read the label on the bottle that filled our glasses. Appropriately, the wine we had chosen was named for the heritage of river and stirring times that all Minnesotans get to claim.

Ro Giencke – 2010

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