Northern Vineyards Winery: A favorite winery in a favorite town

By Randy Gutzmann

I bought my home just outside of Stillwater in 1986. My job at the time had me traveling 50 to 60 percent of the time, and it seemed like I had little time to explore the historic town and beautiful St. Croix River Valley that brought me to the area in the first place. In 1996, after leaving the company, I finally had the opportunity to actually visit and spend time in my hometown.

I’ll always remember walking into Northern Vineyards, having no idea what or who they were. Back then, member grape growers would work behind the tasting bar on a volunteer basis to save costs. As I sampled my first taste of Minnesota wine, the grower shared the Northern Vineyards story.

First, I was surprised how good their wines were; and second, I loved the Northern Vineyards’ story, which is the reason why so many years later I’m working to let more people know about Minnesota wineries.

Northern Vineyards Winery has been making wine since 1977, and is one of the oldest Minnesota wineries in operation. In 1983, the Minnesota Winegrowers Cooperative acquired Northern Vineyards as a means of making and selling wines from the grapes grown by the member growers. Northern Vineyards is actually one of the first wine cooperatives in the United States and is unique among Minnesota wineries.

The members’ vineyards are located throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Each member of the Minnesota Winegrowers Cooperative maintains a vineyard from one to 15 acres. The wine co-op members produce grapes that are brought to the winery in the fall to be transformed into wine. Each vineyard has its own unique characteristics for growing grapes, depending on soil and sun exposure.

Northern Vineyards Grape Growers

Courtesy of Northern Vineyards Winery

The growers are located in Wisconsin and Minnesota, stretching as far north as Mora, Minn. to as far south as Viroqua, Wisc. It has been great fun to meet the growers over the years. They provide meticulous care to their vineyards dealing with the rigors of Minnesota’s continental climate. Due to the variety of growers, Northern Vineyards offers a variety of wines, everything from dry to sweet (in both whites and reds), and they have a variety of dessert wines.

Robin Partch, the winemaker, came on board in 1989 and has been producing award-winning wines ever since. Robin has been an integral part of the Minnesota wine industry. He is a founding member of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association, the organization dedicated to helping Midwest grape growers, and he is a founding member of the Minnesota Farm Winery Association, the organization I’m working with to promote Minnesota wineries.

Robin Partch

Robin Partch, the winemaker at Northern Vineyards Winery. Courtesy of Northern Vineyards Winery

He has won more than 100 international awards for his wines and is a recognized leader in the industry. Robin is also the founder of one of my favorite events, Savor Minnesota, a show that features only Minnesota wineries sampling their wines made from Minnesota grapes. The show also features a variety of Minnesota made food and merchandise. The next Savor Minnesota event is scheduled for Saturday, April 29, 2017 at Canterbury Park Event Center.

Early on, Northern Vineyards determined they would do business year ‘round and stay open 7 days a week, taking advantage of the farm winery legislation that allows Sunday sales. The winery is on Main Street and has a deck overlooking the scenic St. Croix River and historic lift bridge. It is a wonderful spot for a glass or bottle of one of their award-winning wines. The deck serves as a unique venue for a variety of events, and in the winter the winery is also available for events.

Northern Vineyards Winery

You definitely do not want to miss out on any of their wines. A few that I recommend are:

  • Croix Reserve: A dry, barrel-aged red wine made from the press-run juice of St. Croix grapes (aged in hand picked barrels). This wine has won multiple gold medals in national wine competitions.
  • Edelweiss: A dry, barrel-aged, white wine made from Edelweiss grapes grown by our winemaker, Robin Partch, at Lavender Vineyard in Stillwater, Minn.
  • Yellow Moccasin: A semi-sweet, unoaked, white wine made from La Crescent grapes grown in Vernon County, Wisconsin.
  • Oktoberfest: A sweet, unoaked, white wine made from late-harvest Edelweiss grapes grown in Vernon County, Wisconsin.
  • Rivertown Red: A dry, barrel-aged, red wine made from Frontenac grapes grown in St. Croix County, Wisconsin.

Visit my friends at Northern Vineyards Winery! They are a great reason to make the short trip to Stillwater, one of my favorite Minnesota towns.

Northern Vineyards Winery is located in Stillwater, Minn. For more information, visit www.northernvineyards.com.

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