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.
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.
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.
In the open autumn air at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, Twin Cities Oktoberfest celebrates all that is German during its two days of festivities. Throughout the weekend, live bands such as The Squires Band, a four-piece band with 30 years of experience, entertain guests with traditional German harmonies and live renditions of the ER theme song. Between shows, audience members peruse vendors' booths, noshing on brats and German snacks. Beer from Summit and wine from Pedroncelli flow into glasses, keeping guests lingering into the evening hours as they discuss the latest in lederhosen fashion.
After a round of renovations, owners Mike, Al, and Jamie filled the shelves at Metro Wine and Spirits with libations for all tastes. Wines from such makers as Blufeld and Ecco Domani bring with them the flavors of Europe, while the popped cap of a Surly craft beer hisses "I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night_." Liquors by such favorite brands as UV stand ready for inclusion in cocktails. Visitors dropping by the shop may even find themselves swept up in a tasting or a contest to identify wines by cork texture alone.
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.