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.
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.
The menu at Café Cravings, sister restaurant to Cravings Wine Bar & Grille, is in essence an encyclopedia of classic American cuisine. There are the sandwiches, which run the gamut from crisp BLTs and triple-decker clubs to the sizzling, strawberry-kissed Monte Cristo. There are the soups, which fill sourdough bread bowls, and the rotating selection of quiches. But most impressive has to be the breakfast. The 25-strong selection is served all day, ensuring that even those who wake up late or have their watch on backward get a bite of fluffy, ham-stuffed Denver omelets and apple-walnut pancakes topped with maple butter.
The eight-page dessert menu is no slouch either. Those who call ahead get their pick of whole cakes, tarts, cobblers, pies, cheesecakes, and other sugar-laden delicacies, which they can pick up inside or at the convenient drive-through window.
The founder of Finnish Bistro, who moved to the United States from Finland decades ago, recently passed the torch to a new owner, Sandra Weise. With the same care for authenticity that the restaurant’s founder brought to bear, Sandra curates a menu full of fresh fish, lefse flatbreads, and Finnish-style baked goods—as well as sundry continental, European offerings. A robust selection of traditional delights includes pickled herring, beets, and cucumbers, as well as smoked salmon, salami, and spicy reindeer sausage.
Patrons can peruse fresh-baked goods on display in glass cases, ranging from the familiar—donuts—to the more unique—their signature almond kringlers and gluten-free flourless tortes. When the weather is nice, guests can sit outside to enjoy Finnish eats and listen to the wind whisper about its recent trip to Europe.
Acqua-Forest Lake's passionate clientele like to spread the word about their favorite eatery, and their word-of-mouth reviews culminated in three OpenTable Diners’ Choice Awards for best ambiance, Italian food, and view. Tucked into the northern shore of Forest Lake, this restaurant allows patrons to stare out at blue waters and lush tree lines punctuated by the occasional sasquatch as they feast on Executive Chef Chris Whalen’s upscale Italian cuisine. Whalen twirls spaghetti around sautéed tiger shrimp and pairs broiled cold-water-lobster tail with truffle risotto and clarified butter. His shareable dishes include pizza with Calabrese Italian Sausage and fresh mussels sautéed in garlic, parsley, and cream.