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 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.
For nearly two decades, Chef Filippo Caffari mastered the skills of butchery in Rome. Since relocating to Minneapolis, the executive chef of The Butcher Block Restaurant draws upon that training to prepare a range of organic, grass-fed, and sustainable meats. On his authentic Italian menu, mashed potatoes and mushrooms accompany marsala made with veal liver, and house-ground pork sausage flavors a rigatoni drizzled with truffle cream.
Even without meat, Chef Filippo brings out Italy's flavors with items like ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach. He concludes meals with desserts such as tiramisu infused with housemade limoncello and zucchini cake. To complement these delicacies, guests can peruse a wine list that features bottles from around the world, not just from around that abandoned train yard.
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.
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.