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.
Robert and Nicole Stai have a passion for the outdoors. Combined, they have been avid adventurers more than 50 years–including several years of marriage. The Stai's opened The Gear ReSource Outfitters in order to equip others for adventures of their own. They keep their shop stocked with the industry's newest gear, as well as lightly used and consignment items brought in by customers or bears trying to clear room in their dens for flat-screen screen TVs. More than just a source for outdoor apparel, Robert and Nicole also help customers put their purchases to work with guided adventures, including canoeing and kayaking trips in the summer and snowshoe treks in the winter.
Inside the Cannon River Winery, visitors can perch at tables made from wine barrels and sip varietals while listening to the croons of local bands echoing off the sparkling silver tanks. Throughout the winery, guests immerse themselves in the entire experience of drinking and appreciating wine, from learning about each varietal during wine tastings to high-fiving each grape.
A rustic red barn nestled in the fields of New Prague stands as the centerpiece of Next Chapter Vineyard. Around it stands six acres of vineyards blooming with marquette, frontenac, gris, and le crescent grapes. On these grounds, the Tulloch family mashes, presses, and ferments their varietals into a range of red and white wines. They often demonstrate their process to curious visitors and incorporate old winemaking techniques, such as grape stomping and wine bottling. Nearby, guests can pick apples at the Montgomery Apple Orchard.
Sever’s Corn Maze isn’t just a cornfield with some paths cut into it. It’s a full-scale celebration of the autumn season, combining traditional harvest activities and treats with bounce pillows, petting zoos, and magic shows. The farm welcomes in guests from mid-September through the end of October, inviting them to share in the fun of picking their own pumpkin, biting into a crisp caramel apple, or finding all of the checkpoints in a themed maze without running into the centaur scarecrow. The Severs offer enough activities to keep families busy all day, including seeing which little piglet will win the derby race. Knowing that guests can work up an appetite between all their activities, the Severs offer a range of autumn goodies including brats, kettle corn, cheese curds, and steaming mugs of hot cocoa and cider.
The sommeliers at WineStyles stock cupboards with up to 150 vintages, each less than $25 a bottle, arranged according to boldness, richness, and difficulty of removing the cork. Patrons savor the crisp fragrances of a Randall-Monroe sauvignon blanc ($12.99) or draw in the golden apple and citrus hints of a Graton Cellars chardonnay ($12.99). A staff of experts is on hand to guide the palate to the Foxtail cabernet sauvignon ($12.99), which beckons the olfactory senses with aromas of berry and plum, and Los Primos malbec ($12.99), which drapes tongues in silken sheets of plum and vanilla. Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., customers can make their way to WineStyles for a complimentary sampling of four to six featured wines.