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 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's territorial flavors in a number of ways, including during weekend tastings that come with a souvenir glass.
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.
While stationed in Germany with the U.S. Air Force, Troy Chamberlin and his wife Laura developed a love for wine at the wineries of the Rhine Valley. Upon returning home, they set about creating a European-style vineyard to share the joy of their days abroad without having to hurl their fellow countrymen across the Atlantic. Thus Chateau St. Croix Winery & Vineyard was born, a 55-acre plot complete with stables, a fishing pond, and an art gallery. The heart of the vineyard, though, is its 2.5 acres of grapes, nearly five tons of which are grown in six varieties for use in their award-winning wines. Visitors can sample Chateau St. Croix's sundry varietals and blends after a half-hour tour, pairing each sip with chocolates, cheeses, and crackers.
The story of Wineries and Grille in St Croix Falls began at a picturesque Wisconsin orchard. Former owners Linda and Mike Welch were busy crafting delicious apple wines from the fall’s harvest when the phone rang. "I’ve got 20 pails of ripe grapes,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “What do I do with them?" Out of the goodness of their hearts, Mike and Linda sprung into action, blending the grapes with their apples to create unique local wines. Their process evolved, as did their humble orchard, which now encompasses Wineries and Grille. Though they have since sold the orchard, they continue to produce apple and grape wines. They also market and sell wines from other local makers who have a talent for making outstanding vintages but struggle with the vagaries of marketing, sales, or convincing customers that some bottles contain genies.
Linda and Mike have a knack for tracking down Wisconsin’s best wines, partnering with producers such as Seven Hawks Vineyards to spread forward-thinking drinks. They sell new wines crafted from cold-weather hardy grapes at the University of Minnesota. They also carry national labels, such as Canyon Road from California, which is specially crafted for dining, and international labels from Spain, South Africa, and elsewhere. But even stronger than Linda and Mike's love for ambrosials is their love for St. Croix Falls and its local produce and game. Their son Greg uses these local ingredients to create hearty entrees with elk, rainbow trout, and hand-cut steaks. They pair smoked pork chops and crisp salads with bricks of homemade fudge and cheesecake, for meals that highlight the subtle flavors in their wines and leave diners yearning for more.
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.
Though Little Venetian opened in 2002, the family behind the operation has been treating locals to Italian flavors since 1928, when Mama and Papa Vitale opened a modest vegetable stand. Now, decades later, diners can enjoy their fresh produce whipped up into hearty meals, made in accordance with Vitale family recipes. Pastas and pizzas come coated in slow-cooked marinara or alfredo sauces, and plates of chicken parmigiano and Italian sausage warm forks and souls with homemade flavor.