Northern Vineyards is a shared winery owned by the Minnesota Winegrowers Cooperative, a group of winemakers who own 1- to 15-acre vineyards across Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Members grow Frontenac, Prairie Star, and other grape varieties that perform well in the region; since the region has a cold climate and short growing season, grapes grown here must tolerate lower temperatures, ripen early, and be able to knit their own woolen mittens. In the fall, growers lug their mature grapes to the main winery in Stillwater, where award-winning winemaker Robin Partch transforms them into 30 kinds of wine.
The winery’s barrel room hosts wine tastings seven days a week at a glossy, wooden tasting bar. There’s also an outdoor deck that overlooks a historic lift bridge along the St. Croix River. In nice weather, visitors can bring a picnic lunch to enjoy with a glass of wine on the deck.
Inside the open-space facility surrounded by lush vegetation, winemaker Billy Smith marries Minnesota grapes with fresh Northern California varietals. Aged and oaked in traditional fashion, that fusion has led to the creation of several award-winning wines, including the Best Minnesota Red and Best Minnesota White at the 2012 Minnesota Monthly Food & Wine Experience. Warehouse Winery’s fermented pleasures are available onsite, as well as on the shelves of local stores, theaters, and restaurants.
The founder of Finnish Bistro, who moved to the United States from Finland decades ago, recently passed the torch to a new owner, Sandra Weise. With the same care for authenticity that the restaurant’s founder brought to bear, Sandra curates a menu full of fresh fish, lefse flatbreads, and Finnish-style baked goods—as well as sundry continental, European offerings. A robust selection of traditional delights includes pickled herring, beets, and cucumbers, as well as smoked salmon, salami, and spicy reindeer sausage.
Patrons can peruse fresh-baked goods on display in glass cases, ranging from the familiar—donuts—to the more unique—their signature almond kringlers and gluten-free flourless tortes. When the weather is nice, guests can sit outside to enjoy Finnish eats and listen to the wind whisper about its recent trip to Europe.
When the Gaffer family describes The Nova as "an eclectic little wine bar," they're not speaking figuratively. This cozy spot was refurbished from half of the historic liquor store it's attached to, a liquor store with a cave that burrows 150 feet into the nearby hillside. The Nova is the Gaffers' love letter to wines, where chef Nate crafts seasonal menus inspired by the more than 200 bottles of wine onsite. And while pan-fried walleye with a cornmeal crust would pair nicely with a bottle of white, dishes such as the Nova dirty burger with mushroom-cream sauce would probably fare better with a craft beer from the restaurant's 12 rotating taps. As a proponent of wine, beer, craft cocktails, growlers, and all things spirits, the Nova and its sister liquor store often host events and tasting parties in the aforementioned cave.
Taste of Stillwater's annual festival, established in 2011, directs the spotlight toward the palate-popular offerings of local wineries, breweries, restaurants, and food trucks. Throughout the daylong celebration, empty tummies shuffle from station to station filling up on samples of refreshing beverages and foods, fueling bodies to explore the festival grounds' shopping opportunities and to tour Saint Croix Vineyards. Families stake their claim on the lawn area with blankets, foldable chairs, and giant bronze statues of their great-grandfathers before they feast their ears on live music. Taste of Stillwater dedicates a portion of its proceeds to charities including Valley Outreach, a community-based nonprofit organization that supports low-income people with donations of food, clothing, and other necessities.
The youngest of nine children, Luna Rossa’s owner and chef, Raffaele Virgillo, grew up at his mother’s side, studying her every move as she cooked in the kitchen of their small cottage in southern Italy. Emigrating to the United States in the 1970s, Virgillo put the culinary skills and magical Italian incantations he learned from his mother to use here in the States. He settled in the Twin Cities, where he cooked his way through four restaurants before opening the original Buona Sera, and eventually, Luna Rossa. There, he works alongside his daughter, Anna, son-in-law, Jesse, and grandson, Vinny, serving a menu of Italian-inspired cuisine within a rustic eatery near Stillwater’s historic limestone caves.