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.
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 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.
Inspired by their love of Germany's Rhine Valley, the Shimek family shares the joy of their days abroad with their European-style vineyard without having to hurl their fellow countrymen across the Atlantic. Chateau St. Croix Winery & Vineyard, a 55-acre plot, is 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.
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.