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Gold Anniversary: Celebrating 50 years of fine winemaking

The Purple Foot Wine Club was founded in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the fall of 1971 by a young entrepreneur named Tom Lauerman. Lauerman and his wife, Mary, had already been making wine in their basement for a few years. At the time, home winemaking as a hobby was in its infancy but growing quickly. Tom and Mary purchased their supplies from a couple of small hobby shops in the area, but the selection was very limited and Lauerman soon came to the conclusion that this was something he could do better. In April of 1971, he, along with a handful of business partners, opened their own winemaking supply shop on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis called The Vintner.

One challenge for the fledgling business was finding clientele. Winemaking was indeed growing as a hobby, but its numbers were still small. And so Lauerman set out to grow his customer base by organizing a local winemaking club. After all, it stood to reason that the members of such a club would need a local retailer where they could purchase their supplies.

During the early years, members made wine mostly from fruit and commercial grape juice concentrates . . .

The first meeting was held August 5, 1971 and Tom and Mary were surprised to have 35 people attend that meeting. From there the club quickly took shape. Lauerman wisely decided that rather than take an active role in the club, he would simply plant the seeds and allow it to grow on its own.

Shortly after the inaugural meeting the new Purple Foot Club drafted bylaws and elected officers. It was decided the first president would be Ronald Twite, a local rosarian who had already been making wine for 15 years. Ron’s wife, Bonnie, was elected secretary. Under Twite’s governance, membership grew to over 100 within six months and has held steady ever since.

During the early years, members made wine mostly from fruit and commercial grape juice concentrates, although there were a number of people who also picked “wild” grapes. In 1975, the club decided to host its first ever amateur wine competition. Registration was opened to entrants throughout the upper Midwest. In the first year 115 entries were submitted by 80 people. The Purple Foot continues to hold two winemaking contests every year. In 1978 the club was instrumental in compelling the Minnesota State Fair to add a winemaking competition. To this day, members of the Purple Foot continue to judge the preliminary rounds at the State Fair contest.

The Purple Foot Wine Club gather for a photo op during their annual picnic at the park in 2021. Photo by Steve Kroll

In addition to the monthly club meetings, there are a number of events held each year to keep members engaged. In July we have an annual picnic in the park, while August is normally reserved for an organized tour of local wineries. Without a doubt, however, the most popular event the club holds is the annual Holiday Banquet in December. This gathering features a multi-course dinner with wine pairings, silent auction, raffle, as well as several fun contests. It’s always well attended.

Although Tom Lauerman’s retail store closed its doors many years ago (and Lauerman himself passed away in 1984), the Purple Foot Club he inspired marches on 50 years later.