Belview, Minnesota isn’t likely at the top of anyone’s destination list. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone, and if you’re familiar with it but have never visited, that’s not surprising. Located between Redwood Falls and Granite Falls, the hamlet’s claim to fame is Old SOD Days, a celebration of its Norwegian, agrarian heritage.
Five miles away, under the watchful gaze of Rock Dell Lutheran Church’s idyllic steeple, sits the Grandview Valley Winery. It’s a family-owned and operated winery and pizzeria which has become a destination for many residents in the surrounding area. Flanked by the bluffs of the Minnesota River Valley and accented by granite outcroppings, the Rigge family has planted its roots and grapevines here on land the family’s owned for four generations
“I don’t want to toot my own horn, but we’ve become probably one of the most popular places to hang out in a 50-mile radius,” John Rigge said. “We have people from Marshall, Wilmer, New Ulm, Redwood Falls, Granite Falls. They come down here because the [Minnesota] River Valley is beautiful.”
John Rigge runs the daily operations out at Grandview along with his parents, his wife, and their four daughters. If you’re from the area, you might recognize the Rigge name. Rigge Construction has been a staple in the area; building homes, remodeling, and general contracting for the better part of 40 years. For John, construction was great, but he knew it wasn’t forever.
“I was a construction worker. My dad and my uncles owned a construction company. We built houses, we shingled roofs and sided houses. And after so many years of that I thought, ‘Well, I’m never going to get ahead on this. Maybe we should have a side business where my wife could stay home with the kids and pour some wine on the weekends.’ And that just blew up,” John said.
The Wrath of Grapes
In May of 2009, the Rigges planted their first acres of grapes with the dream of making wine. “We had probably close to eight acres to start, but we had a few bad winters and lost them several times. They’ll grow up from the ground again, and you can restart them, but it’s a lot of intensive work,” John said. “So, we decided [to] cut that in half. I think we have around 1,900 vines right now, which you could define as about three acres.”
Growing wine grapes in Minnesota is tricky business. The weather, which will come as no surprise, is often hostile to viticulture. It’s a major issue for Minnesota’s winemakers, and it’s one of the reasons why growing wine grapes here is so difficult.
Luckily, Minnesota growers have found a solution: hybrid grape varieties which are bred to stand up to the cold. Pioneers like Elmer Swenson and the University of Minnesota have made major contributions to the Upper-Midwest winemaking industry.
All three of Grandview’s grapes (Brianna, Itasca and Sabrevois) come from either Elmer Swenson’s innovative breeding or the U of M. “They’re bred to withstand the cold. And the disease that can come with this climate.” John said.
While many of us enjoy the end product, few know what it takes to make a bottle of wine. The cold, which can be a dire enemy to the grapes, is critical in the formation of a great wine. “You have to put the wine outside in the wintertime to cold stabilize it,” John said. “The cold takes the acid out of it. If you don’t and you bottle it, even if you filter it extremely well, when you put it in the fridge it’s going to get acid crystals in it, and then you’re going to have white dust in the bottom of your glass.”
For anyone in Minnesota agriculture, fickle weather is par for the course. Fortunately, the past few years of drought-like conditions that hit other ag-related businesses hard, did not have the same impact on vineyards. “Grapes can handle drought really well,” John said. “They do better if their roots are established in a drought than [in] a wet year because fungus doesn’t occur as much when it’s not so wet.”
The weather is one challenge, the deer are another. “Our Itasca just can’t seem to grow,” John said. “We’ve planted them the last three years, and they just can’t seem to grow because the deer have been so hard on them. We’re just trying to figure out how to build a fence around them and get the deer out.”
Deer, like the weather, are part of the territory. The Rigges are not the first growers to complain about Bambi, and they won’t be the last. Swelling deer herds have wreaked havoc on farms across the state, and many farmers are asking the state to be more aggressive in controlling them.
Despite the hurdles, it’s clear that John enjoys his work, the winemaking process and, of course, the wine itself. While relatively unknown, Grandview’s wine can be purchased within the Redwood Falls area and beyond. “We’re in about 30 or 35 stores and restaurants, I would say…we’re in New Ulm, we’re in Hutchinson — that’s 65 or 70 miles away,” John said. “…I’d like to push down Highway 212 and get into Shakopee, Chaska, and out that way.”
As far as awards and accolades are concerned, John is pragmatically oriented and not too concerned: “To tell you the God’s honest truth, I kind of lay in the weeds. We could enter our wines [in] contests and do all kinds of things… But as long as it’s selling and I’m making money and the doors are open, I’m happy.”
And selling they are. But the wine, while a draw for amateur sommeliers and casual drinkers alike, plays second fiddle to their famous fare and one of the most universally enjoyed foods on earth: Pizza.
Prairie Fire Pizza
A classic winery pairing, pizza is easy to make, delicious and the perfect entrée to accompany the ambience of a small, bucolic winery with beautiful scenery.
“It was like starting a fire in the prairie.” John recalled when asked if the pies were a hit from the start. “I think we may have had the ingredients for 30 or 40 pizzas to start with, and the second weekend probably 60, and the third weekend probably 100. Then it just piled up and piled up. And now on a good weekend from Thursday to Sunday we’ll do about 600.”
To put that in perspective, for their business hours (Thursday through Sunday) that works out to about one pizza every three minutes. Popular is an understatement. The success of their pizza boils down to two key factors, quality ingredients and talent. “We buy cheese from Bongards, which is by the Western metro,” John said. “… We chop our own peppers and onions, and we have fresh mushrooms; all the ingredients are fresh.”
According to John, it’s the employees that make the pizzas really shine. They’ve invented some of the knockout pizza recipes featured on the menu. “A lot of times between the young employees, the 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids, they’ll come up with something,” John said. “Like The Cuban. My cousin Sarah came up with that, and she was probably 16 years old.”
John says it’s not unusual to have interesting or, some might say, downright weird pizzas on the menu. Grandview has even run contests to see which of its unique crusted creations should be perennial offers. “You try different things and you just put ’em together. And if they work, they work. If people are responsive, you keep them on the menu. If not, you try something different.”
This willingness to try new mashups and offer them to customers has resulted in an eclectic menu. The Cuban pizza John mentioned includes barbeque pulled pork, Canadian bacon, brown mustard, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, bacon, barbeque sauce drizzle and pickles. Another fan favorite and contest winner is the Strawberry Sriracha pizza: strawberry balsamic sauce, chicken, bacon, onions, strawberries, topped with sriracha. It’s a collection of ingredients which may generate an “Uff da” or two from those of us with boring, Norwegian palates.
We’d be remiss not to mention that Grandview has classic pizza toppings as well, for those looking for something a little more traditional. Regardless of the type of pizza that’s served, the conclusion is always the same: delicious.
Day-to-Day at Grandview – It’s All in the Family
Running a vineyard and winery takes dedication, hard work, and a whole lot of trust. Grapes are resilient crops, but they require loads of input to ensure the best possible product at the end of it all. Who better to trust this operation to than those closest to you: your family.
Family is critical to Grandview’s success, not only the winemaking and viticulture, but also the restaurant, logistics and operations. So, what do the day-in and day-out operations look like at Grandview?
“Absolutely nothing in my life has a schedule, you just kind of go from day to day,” John quipped, half-joking. With raising four daughters and taking care of daily tasks, it’s not surprising.
John’s wife, Laura, handles the public facing aspects of the winery along with raising their children. “She does more of the PR, HR, hires and fires and …if somebody’s going to have a wedding shower or a bachelorette party, she answers the phone and makes sure everything’s coordinated,” Jon said.
As for mom and dad, they’re involved as well. “Dad does more of the vineyard and maintenance kind of stuff. My mom takes care of all the books, all the payroll. I make the wine, and my dad helps me out a lot on the wine too. We all kind of jump on the bottling line,” John said. “If you got four, five people, it goes a lot faster.”
It’s par for the course for a family business, but who’s the favorite employee? Well, that’s an easy question for the Rigges. It’s Piper, John and Laura’s 16-year-old daughter.
“My oldest daughter is basically running the original building right now because we are so consumed with everything else, [from] making wine to running this place [Rivendell]. She’s scheduling, she’s hiring, she’s taking care of everything” John said. “She’s a fantastic girl … takes the bull by the horns. She’s spunky. I mean, she’s her mom and dad’s absolute craziness all put into one. She’s good.”
That can-do, take-charge attitude is prominent at Grandview and now a necessity, because it just added a new, million-dollar bottling facility and high-end cocktail lounge.
A Night Out in the Deep Valley
Rivendell is the Rigges’ latest venture, a huge barn structure located across from the original restaurant. The front half is a high-end cocktail lounge and gift shop with a humidor for purchasing cigars. According to John: “There’s probably a couple thousand in there.” A rare find for rural Southern Minnesota.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, “The Lord of the Rings”, Rivendell is home to the magical race of Elves. In Sindarian, one of the imaginary languages Tolkien invented for his epics, Rivendell translates to “Deep Valley” – the perfect name for Grandview’s newest venue.
“Well, I’m a huge “Lord of the Rings” nerd,” John said. “We’re not in a deep valley. It doesn’t really resemble Rivendell. But we are in a very good river valley for … this part of Minnesota.”
The name stuck. Rivendell is designed to complement the existing winery and restaurant. It’s for 21+ customers only, with the goal of capitalizing on parent date nights and providing something unique in the area for a night out.
A huge, ornate bar and tin ceiling highlight the elevated ambience that the Rigges are aiming for. “It’s meant to be something that you can’t attain in this rural area,” John said. “Get a drink that’s not a Windsor Coke. Get something that’s actually a craft cocktail. You can find a cigar; you can find a nice little gift shop.”
Rivendell opened in February of this year, but not without its fair share of headaches. “It took us a year and a half to build this building between everything being behind with Covid and not being able to get materials,” John said. “We had a terrible winter and couldn’t finish everything because it was snowing and blizzards all the time.” Despite all the obstacles, Rivendell is a hit. Offering a different menu than the pizzeria allows it to flex its culinary muscles, with dishes that include burgers, sandwiches, appetizers and, of course, cocktails.
The production facility behind Rivendell is set to streamline bottling and vinification while allowing room for growth. “One thing that’s kind of fun … is that we bought some Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels to make port style wine,” John said.
Grandview has earned a special place in the Belview community, not just for its great wine, but for its economic impact. “It creates jobs. We have 55 part-time employees, a couple full-time ones, and it creates tax revenue.” When asked how local municipalities and officials have received their business, John said: “I have no complaints whatsoever. … Every government entity that I’ve worked with on this project has been extremely cooperative.” Of course, what official doesn’t want a local watering hole?
What the future will hold for John and his family remains to be seen. Right now, they are focused on raising a family, growing grapes, and supporting their community. “I’m optimistic and I think in the long-term plan, I want my kids to take it over.” As for John and Laura? “I want to move to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and be a battlefield tour guide.” Add Civil War enthusiast to John’s long list of credentials.
There’s no shortage of ideas for the property in the future. John envisions a coffee shop in the old Sioux Agency Town hall that they moved next to Rivendell or short-term rental cabins for hunters and fishers. The only thing he is short on is time. “I’m pushing it until it’s at its full potential and hopefully my kids can benefit greatly from it.”
One wonders if four generations ago, when the Rigge patriarchs first set foot on their land, could they have ever possibly imagined what would blossom here a century later? It’s clear when talking to the Rigges that wine and pizza are simply the vehicles for their true passions, serving their community and building a legacy for their family. Now those are noble values we can all raise a glass to.
Grandview Valley Winery
Address: 42703 Grandview Ave., Belview, MN 56214
Phone: (507) 938-WINE (9463)