Making wine is an exacting process.
“We call it a labor of love,” said Bonnie Marhoun of Heaven’s Gate Winery in Belview.
Bonnie, her husband, Bill, and their daughter, Bailey, have operated the winery in the small community since June 2016.
“We’re now in our second season,” said Bonnie.
While still a young operation, the Marhouns have already made a significant impact in their community and in Redwood County, as they have been named the 2017 Redwood County Farm Family of the Year.
“We feel very honored,” said Bonnie. “When I think of family farms, it’s about people with thousands of acres of land. We’re a lot smaller than that.”
On their few acres in Belview, the Marhouns have 220 apple trees growing, to include nine different varieties, and those trees produce the fruit that is used to make their wine – currently four full production varieties and a fifth that will be in full production next season.
The Marhouns are newcomers to the Belview community, as they first came to town in 2009. A connection to hot air balloons brought them to town, as they fell in love with the area.
Tragedy struck the family with the sudden and unexpected loss of their daughter, Jocelyn in 2010, which was followed by a second major loss in July 2011 when a tornado devastated the work they had done to their home, including the loss of a barn and several trees.
Rising from the ashes, the Marhouns moved forward undaunted and inspired, which resulted in the establishment of Heaven’s Gate Winery and the apple orchard as it exists today, which is open seasonally from mid-May through the middle of November.
The four award winning wines produced and offered for sale at Heaven’s Gate Winery, with names like Phoenix (symbolic of its rising from the ashes), Jocelyn (in honor of their daughter), First Flight (recognizing their love of hot air ballooning) and Sestry (Czech for sisters) are available by the glass and the bottle, and all of that bottling takes place right on site.
According to Bailey and Bonnie everything is done locally from picking the apples to the process of preparing the apples.
“We go through every apple by hand,” said Bonnie, adding, paring knife in hand, all of the blemishes are removed.
“It’s all about clarity,” explained Bailey, adding the intent is to do as much as they can to make the wine taste the same from year to year.
The Marhouns are currently in the process of adding a fifth wine, which is their first combination of apples with another fruit – grapes.
Bailey said the process of coming up with a new wine is a long one, as they first develop what they would like to see, make it and then test it. Tweaks are made, and then a few more people are brought in to offer their thoughts.
This year the first official run of the new wine, 250 bottles, was done, and the popular response has led them to the decision to do a full run, 1,000 bottles, of their new wine starting next season.
Another wine combining apples with cranberries is also in the works.
No, said Bonnie, the intent is not to become a huge bottler of wine but to continue to do what they do on a smaller scale to ensure the quality of product that is important to them. That quality and consistency is evident in their menu, too, as they keep a limited menu to ensure the things they offer are made right every time.
“If I wouldn’t eat it, I sure wouldn’t serve it to others,” said Bonnie with a smile.
The early variety of apples in the Marhoun’s orchard will be ready for picking later this month, and that picking will continue for a few months as each variety ripens, with all of those apples picked (with a few set aside for eating) used to make next year’s wines.
“All of the wine we make is sold locally,” said Bailey.
Yes, agreed Bonnie and Bailey, it takes a lot of work to do what they do, but it is something they enjoy, which makes it all lot more fun.
The winery’s kitchen is open Thursdays from 4-9 p.m. (the bar usually is open a couple of hours after the kitchen closes), with hours from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
This season an outdoor bar area was added, with Bill able to create a structure from an old grain bin.
“What we want is for people to come and enjoy themselves and not feel rushed,” said Bonnie, adding all guests must be 21 or older.
Heaven’s Gate Winery is now listed in the Minnesota Department of Agriculture “Minnesota Grown” directory.
To learn more about Heaven’s Gate Winery, visit its Web site at heavensgatewine.com or on its Facebook page.