Paul Werni had a lot of time on his hands. After relinquishing the successful landscaping business he helmed for 10 years, his mind wandered to thoughts of what he might do next. A love of well-crafted spirits eventually turned his attentions to books on distillation, which in turn brought him to workshops across the country and tours of distilleries in Austria and Germany. With a few in-depth lessons with experts from a Christian Carl distillery, Werni finally learned enough to create refined, flawless libations, and his own distillery was born. Lauded by critics and connoisseurs alike, 45th Parallel Distillery distills quality vodka pours from local ingredients and zero additives, overseeing the entire process from grain to glass within its facility. In addition to 45th Parallel Vodka?a name derived from the line of latitude on which France's Bordeaux region, Italy?s Piedmont region, and Vermont's Appletini region lie?the distillery also fills bottles with whiskey, limoncello, and Midwest vodka and gin, a budget-friendly alternative to top-shelf spirits that pairs well with mixers or stands alone for delicious home imbibing.
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.
Hosted by an eclectically elegant collection of inns and museums peppered throughout the St. Croix River Valley, the 2011 Chocolate March launches guests on self-guided, cocoa-centric excursions. Guests munch on chocolate delicacies and take in architectural desserts with chocolate-dipped innkeepers at five separate stops, one of which will feature a wine pairing, on the Sunday jaunts (different destinations are featured each weekend). Depending on their chosen date, chocolate hunters can relax under the mannered, leaf-shaded porticos of Rosewood's Queen Anne mansion, take in the brick-draped Gilded Age grandeur of the Water Street Inn, or plot a sweet rustic retreat or candy-coated coup d'état by Wissahickon Farms' general store façade and peppermint-stick split-rail fence.
The mealtime mavens at Rafters Food & Spirits adorn their pub-centric menu with deep-fried appetizers, meaty sandwiches, and saucy pastas within an eatery situated alongside the scenic St. Croix River. Roust slumbering appetites with starters such as spicy-ranch battered pickles ($6.99) or bamboo shrimp skewers arriving in a piquant-garlic or spicy-Cajun incarnation ($7.99). Then stretch out your gullet further with a more sizable spread, such as the butter-crusted walleye sandwich ($10.99) or the hot roast beef and cheddar ($8.99), a hoagie-bound amalgamation of succulent slices cut thin enough to craft a perfectly folded beef airplane or meat crane. Sauteed mushrooms and onions team up with hickory-smoked bacon to top off the Rafter's Burger, whose duo of third-pound patties bridge the gap between two halves of a ciabatta bun ($11.99). A lineup of draft beers ($3.75 each) is ready to accompany hearty plates.
After modeling their first eatery, ROMA Restaurant, after the Roman Empire, Chef Brent Pilrain and his family opted to try something new, setting their sights on a colonial American theme. So when the family was greeted with the opportunity to open up a new kitchen in Liberty Village, the birth of Patriots Tavern seemed like kismet. Today, Chef Pilrain keeps up the colonial theme in both cuisine and décor, churning out a menu of New England–inspired fare and wood-oven-fired pizzas within a whitewashed mansion. Rich mahogany and stone details create a warm yet spacious interior dabbled with American flags and historical knickknacks, such as lanterns and George Washington’s original set of wooden press-on nails.
Sometimes, you?d rather just enjoy a view of the fairways than be on them. That?s why the staff at Danny?s Bar & Grill, located at Stoneridge Golf Club, welcomes guests to sit on their expansive patio, which gives them clear views of the green. The patio features an outdoor fire pit where guests can keep warm on cool nights as they wait for plates of chef Bohnert?s Guinness-braised short ribs or mahi mahi encrusted with macadamia nuts. When patio weather is over, guests can still hang out by the indoor fireplace in the dining room where a slew of high-definition TVs showcase golf matches and, if the golf match turns out right, golf fights. On weekend evenings, live bands entertain in the dining room.