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.
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.
At Wild Mountain Winery, everything is local, right down to the grapes and the process in which they're grown. Surrounded by the green hillsides of the St. Croix River Valley, Wild Mountain Winery utilizes the methods of Elmer Swenson?a pioneering breeder who revolutionized grape growing in regions plagued by cold, short seasons, and undomesticated snowplows. Having been perfected over the years, those time-tested processes now result in hardy varietals that represent the local climate, soils, and vines. Travelers along the Upper St. Croix Wine Trail can explore Wild Mountain Winery's territorial flavors in a number of ways, including during weekend tastings that come with a souvenir glass.
The prairies southwest of St. Cloud are mostly known for corn and soybeans. But the growers at Hinterland Vineyards have turned those fertile fields into the incubators of award-winning wines, growing both white and red varietals to use in their house blends. Their Happy Creek Red was named Best Off-Dry Red at the 2013 Mid-American Wine Competition, and La Crescent, a semi-dry white, earned a Best of Class nod at the 2013 International Women's Wine Competition. At the on-site winery, guests can sample these and other vino varieties while nibbling appetizers or listening to live music on select nights of the week. Hinterland also serves microbrew beers for guests who prefer beverages made from browner, fizzier grapes instead.
Chef Dennis Lewis of Ursula's Wine Bar & Cafe draws from his cornucopia of seasonal produce, sourced from local farmers, to craft his monthly changing menu. It’s a menu that has earned OpenTable Diners' Choice Awards for "Best Food" and "Best Overall" experience. In the kitchen, Chef Lewis chops greens from local producers, including Twin Pine Farm, Grandmas Bakery, and Pine Tree Apple Orchard, to toss with blueberry-balsamic vinaigrettes and curried, creamy coconut dressings. His monthly updated menu has included appetizers such as goat-cheese gratin with sun-dried tomatoes and spicy red-pepper hummus with warm flatbread. The kitchen team also prepares entrees that are seasonally inspired, like reindeer lawn ornaments and air-conditioner window decorations. An example of this seasonal food is the pork loin rubbed with ancho-chipotle chili and served with pumpkin mashed potatoes and bacon brown butter. The dining area accommodates 39 guests, meaning there are more than three times as many varieties of domestic and imported wines—150 to be exact—as there are guests at any given time. There’s also an outdoor patio, where wine flights can be sipped while plane flights sip the sky overhead.
Scott Hansen's Comedy Gallery splits sides with stand-up comedy performances served up alongside full dinners. Take a seat at Welsch’s Big Ten Tavern at 8 p.m. to enjoy a quarter-chicken dinner, served with soup or salad, and the choice of a baked potato, au gratins, garlic mashed potatoes, wild rice, steamed vegetables, or a side of already-primed smiles. At 9 p.m., the laughs begin as that evening’s comic takes the stage. On September 9 and 10, veteran Minneapolis comic Jodie Maruska relates hilarious hijinks about life, family, and body acceptance. On September 16 and 17, Eugene Meaux presents a menagerie of relatable characters from daily life in a fun, friendly, and real performance. On September 24, laugh along with comedian Jim Wiggins, who has tickled audiences on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, in a performance that harkens back to the witty styles of comedians like George Carlin and Thomas Edison.