Scandia couple creates a family-friendly destination for wine lovers.
“Take Comfort. Drink Well.” This warm and welcoming phrase can be found on the label around every bottle of wine sold at Rustic Roots Winery in Scandia. Here, you’ll find a family-owned business with deep roots in the St. Croix Valley. Their story is filled with hopes and dreams, hard work and a unique family treasure that found its way back home.
Owners Greg and Andrea Sandager met as upperclassmen at Forest Lake Area High School. After attending college at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, they got married and took over the family business, Abrahamson Nurseries in Scandia. The garden center, which is located along St. Croix Trail, has been in Greg’s family for the past 50 years. (Greg has worked at the nursery his entire life and started full-time post graduation.)
Fast forward to 2019, when a property boasting 80 acres came up for sale across the street from their garden center. The Sandagers immediately started putting their heads together.
“Greg was thinking about how do we get more people to the area if we want to grow our business and kind of anchor tourism. What are some options to make Scandia more of a destination?” Andrea says.
They debated a few ideas, such as a corn maze, a pumpkin patch or another type of fall festival. Finally, after spending an enjoyable afternoon in Alexandria, Minnesota, at Carlos Creek Winery, they made a decision. Rustic Roots Winery would soon be coming to Scandia.
At the time, the Sandagers didn’t know the first thing about growing grapes or making wine. Because of this, Andrea was feeling hesitant about their newest endeavor. She says, “Not that I wasn’t sure it would work out, but more so,
I was concerned we didn’t know everything that it takes to start and operate a vineyard and winery.”
But their plans did work. In fact, it all came together quite beautifully, just as the Sandagers had hoped. Rustic Roots serves a variety of red, white and rosé wines, hard cider (Its Heritage Hard Cider is made in-house with apples from Pine Tree Orchard in White Bear Lake.), beer from Uncommon Loon (a brewery located in Chisago City), from-scratch root beer and other nonalcoholic options.
From its wine menu, customers can choose from a selection of five whites, two rosé and six reds. The La Crescent, a semi-sweet wine, is their best seller on the white wine list. It features floral aromatics and inviting flavors of ripe peach and pineapple.
For a wine that’s less sweet, featuring something crisp and refreshing, look no further than its Roots White. It has notes of fresh lemon, lime and pear with hints of white flowers.
If a rosé is more your style, try the newest one on the wine menu, River Day Rosé. Greg describes it as a dry rosé. “On paper that doesn’t sound appealing, but it’s good, easy drinking,” he says. “It’s real fruit-driven, refreshing. It’s fun to show it to people and have them try it.”
Roots Red is the top-selling wine at Rustic Roots. Produced from Minnesota-grown Frontenac grapes, it’s full-bodied, semi-sweet and offers flavors of plum and cherry with finishing notes of sweet milk chocolate.
And don’t be afraid to try something new. The Sandagers encourage visitors to sample grenache from its red wine list. This grape tends to be more popular out West, so that’s why you don’t see it as often on wine menus in the Midwest. It’s described as drier, fuller-bodied and smooth but not overly fruity. Plus, it pairs well with steaks and roasts.
Rustic Roots Winery is open year-round—in the winter, guests are welcome to grab their snowshoes and check out the trails, or bring a sled for a ride down the sledding hill on the grounds. You can be sure they’ll have a glass of wine or a mug of hot chocolate waiting for you.
Nearly everyone who comes through the gates at Rustic Roots Winery feels compelled to get a picture next to the family’s vintage 1928 Ford Model AA pickup truck. Greg’s great-great grandfather, Nels Sandager, bought it when it was only a few years old. At one point, he ended up selling the pickup truck to someone else, and it left the family.
Then, about 25 years ago, Greg’s uncle, Erik, found a vintage truck for sale in the Alexandria area. He was looking for a project to work on over the winter, so he brought it to the shop at Abrahamson Nurseries to tinker with it. That’s when Greg’s grandfather stopped by, recognized the truck model and started reminiscing about a similar pickup truck he used to drive on the family farm years ago. He tells of a time when he was 15 years old and ran into the back of a combine with the family’s pickup truck. He ended up crushing its right fender and grill.
Once Greg’s grandfather and uncle started examining this truck a little further, they happened to notice that repairs had been made to the right fender and grill. Then, they pulled the seats out and found some feedbags dated 1942. They appeared to be from Hills, Minnesota, where their family farmed decades ago. Sure enough, the family had once again come into possession with the same truck that Nels had purchased nearly 100 years ago! Now, it’s a permanent fixture at Rustic Roots Winery.
If you time your visit just right, you’ll get a chance to meet the Sandager’s 10-year-old son, Howie. He’s in charge of his own hot dog stand at the winery—and Andrea says the idea was 100 percent Howie’s creation.
When the gates first opened in fall 2020, Howie helped out by delivering charcuterie boards to guests. He would often receive tips, which, over time, allowed him to save up enough money to purchase the supplies he needed to open Howie’s Hot Dogs.
“He spent the winter researching various roller dog machines and then spent his own money to buy the machine and other supplies that he needed for his business,” Andrea says.
By spring 2021, he officially opened Howie’s Hot Dogs at Rustic Roots Winery. Andrea says it’s been a great experience for him.
“He’s learned a great deal about customer service, managing inventory, managing money, etc.,” Andrea says.
They also offer a variety of meats and cheeses and other light snacks inside the tasting room and have a rotating schedule of food trucks, too.