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.
In the 1880s, Matt Müllner crafted his own wine and whiskey with his brother-in-law in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Nearly a century-and-a-half later, his descendants carry on the tradition more than an ocean away at Millner Heritage Vineyard & Winery. The Millner family oversees every facet of their business. Father Don is the CEO, while mother Mary handles the gardening and decor. Jon, their son, cultivates the vines, mashes the grapes, and ferments the wine. His wife Annamaria, a Hungarian-born winemaker and agricultural engineer, not only helps him, but also oversees just a little bit of everything else.
The family's European and Minnesotan heritage comes through in how they blend modern equipment with traditional wine-making techniques, using eight varieties of grapes grown on their nine acres of land beneath their nine acres of sky. In 2013, their craft caught the attention of a judging panel, who named Millner Heritage's 2012 Little Iza wine the state's best and bestowed upon it the Minnesota's Governor's Cup. Though winery tours peek into the award-winning processes, guests can also sample the end product in guided tastings. Currently the Millner's produce more than a dozen Austrian and Hungarian Style wines, ranging from Dry whites and reds to semi-sweet rosé to dessert wines, sparkling wines, and ports.
Perched atop the highest point of Woodland Township, the Woodland Hill Winery spans six and a half of Minnesota's most verdant acres. The intimate winery produces unique, small-batch wines under the direction of owners Mike and Katie Dickerman. This couple does everything, from picking the grapes and fermenting them to running the tasting room and organizing events. They host daily wine tastings with pairings of chocolate and cheese. They even stock an olive oil and bread bar, since a regular bar probably seemed a little redundant.
A mural occupies the corner of the tasting room, fooling the eye with a painted passageway that heads back to an old world-style wine cellar. But the physical surroundings prove much more cozy and modern, with cafe-style tables and a sleek, wood-accented bar. This is the setting for frequent special events, such as September's Fondue Fridays or October's Ladies Night Out, which features wine tastings, karaoke, and an extensive list of craft vendors.
Ken and Sara Beamish loved traveling the Minnesota countryside, visiting new wineries and breweries along the way. As they expanded their search to far-flung reaches of the country and even Mexico, they both had the same idea: maybe we could do this ourselves. That idea soon came to life as The Bohemian Wine Bar and Pub, where the pair now serve their favorite brews and vintages they found while traveling across the country. Drinks arrive by the glass or flight, with four different pours giving others the chance to discover the joy found at the bottom of a previously unknown beer. Alongside the drinks, cooks serve up small bites of wine bar fare, from plates of prosciutto and cheese to sandwiches topped with ham, raspberry, and cheddar. They even offer dessert chocolates that come served with two glasses of port, ensuring that meals end on a sweet note without printing their receipts on Fruit Roll-Ups.
Armed with a few hybrid wine grapes procured from the University of Minnesota, Nicole Dietman set about planting a vineyard on her property in 2007. Today those grapes, along with a few new additions, grow up to become the whites, reds, and blushes bottled and sold at Buffalo Rock Winery. The port-like Papa Steve's Contraband, named for Nicole's father-in-law, smuggles the fermented juices of organic Frontenac and Marquette grapes onto the palate, where they unleash semi-dry flavor and ginger notes. The Sweet Addilyn rosé earned a bronze medal at the 2011 International Cold Climate Wine Competition for its artful balance of crisp and sweet. All Buffalo Rock Winery wines are produced in limited quantities and are only available for purchase in the tasting room, which opened in 2010.
Steel Toe Brewery's founder was a home brewer, fermenting beer in his bedroom overnight, until the gurgling sounds of the carboy began to disturb his wife's sleep. Origin stories like these are just one of the attractions of Taproom Tours' brewery tours, which also explore the Belgian yeast of Boom Island Brewing, celebrate session ales at 612 Brew, and enable sud savoring in the wood-paneled taproom at Indeed Brewing Company. Visitors taste sample brews at each location, and, helped along by a knowledgeable guide, explore the breweries' inner workings until they have learned every yeast strain's first name and favorite sports team.