STAY AND PLAY: Drinking in the atmosphere at local wineries, breweries
For those who prefer a more sophisticated day trip or night out, there are a number of venues available in the area, depending on your tastes.
Touring wineries, breweries and distilleries provides glimpses of the behind-the-scenes production of wine, beer and spirits, respectively. Some businesses have scheduled tours, while others request that you call for an appointment.
All businesses listed are within a 40 minute drive of New Richmond.
Chateau St. Croix, 1998 A State Road 87, St. Croix Falls. 715-483-2556.
This 55-acre estate is constructed in the style of the chateaus of Burgundy, France. Owners Troy and Laura Chamberlain were inspired to start the winery by their trip to Europe.
"Troy was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Air Force, and they were impressed with the hospitality of the wineries there," said Laura Lenhart, tour guide (and Laura Chamberlain's mother). "So when you come here, you are our guests."
Driving up to the chateau, visitors pass a 2.5 acre vineyard on one side and a pasture with pond on the other. Half of the vineyard will be ready for harvesting this fall; the other half still needs to mature three more years. They anticipate reaping 7-8 tons of grapes a season, equaling about 5,000-6,000 bottles of wine.
In the meantime, the chateau purchases grapes from local vineyards, such as Martell's Vineyard in Somerset. The rest they import from Michigan, Washington and California - depending on what's available.
The chateau itself is an impressive building of gray stone, complete with white statues and water fountain. Entering the foyer, guests are treated to an interior with beamed ceilings and a huge fireplace flanked with suits of armor. The open room houses an international library of wines on one end, and a tasting bar on the other.
For $6, visitors can take a 30-minute guided tour of the grounds and the production facilities, as well as taste three different wines of his/her choice. Guests will also receive a souvenir wine glass at the end of the tour.
The tour includes walking through the production area where the wine is fermented, stored and bottled. Grapes are usually harvested in mid-late September, but Lenhart said they bottle year-round, depending on what is ready.
Lenhart suggested calling at least a week ahead of time if visitors wish to see the bottling process. Otherwise, the tours are conducted every day during the summer, except for Tuesdays when the entire facility is closed. Monday-Friday the tours begin at 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday tours are 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday tours are 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Guests are invited to bring a picnic basket to dine on the outdoor patio (capable of seating 200) to take in the view. Wines are available for purchase.
Rush River Brewing Company, 990 Antler Court, River Falls. 715-426-2054.
For beer enthusiasts, Rush River Brewing Company has a special offer.
Visitors can bring a half-gallon jug to the brewery and they will fill it for $10.
"It's an easy way to get a sneak peek into the brewery," Nick Anderson, owner of Rush River, said with a smile.
Currently, Anderson said they do not have a tour schedule set up, but they hope to have it ready within a month. At that time, visitors can tour the microbrewery and see where they house 3,000 pounds of base grain in an outside silo before it makes its journey inside the production room.
Once inside, the grain goes through an auger to be converted into a mash before it is boiled as a sugar mixture. Hops are added and it is then pumped to a fermenting tank where yeast is added to produce the alcohol and carbon dioxide.
After the yeast is removed to be used for the next brew, the beer is transferred to a conditioning tank either to carbonate or to sit in one of the three holding tanks in the cold room before being bottled.
They do their own bottling on equipment from the 1950s, where they can produce about 150 bottles per minute. Then it's onto the circa 1930s labeling machine before being packaged into six-pack cases.
"These machines have a lot of quirks," Anderson said, "but they do the job and are easy for us to manually work on if needed."
In addition to offering public tours in about a month, Anderson said they will have Rush River Brewery merchandise for sale, as well as several flavors of beer that are not bottled at this time.
Call or check their website for more information.
Brady's Brewhouse, 230 N. Knowles Ave., New Richmond. 715-246-9960
Although Brady's Brewhouse isn't scheduled to be open for business until this fall, it will be one of the few brew-pubs in the area.
According to Chris Polfus, owner, the production area - where beer is brewed - will be visible to the public via a wall of windows.
"We'll have the brewhouse (machines) visible here," Polfus said, gesturing to the two-story high room just inside the back entrance to the pub. "People will be able to walk in and see it first thing."
The fermenting area is in the basement, where they also have several serving tanks.
In addition to viewing the brewmaster at work, the facility has two full kitchens, a stage, dining area and, of course, a full bar.
Polfus said they will plan an opening ceremony once the facility is ready for the public.
45th Parallel Spirits, 1570 Madison Ave., New Richmond. 715-246-0565
For a small distillery that is only a few years old, 45th Parallel Spirits has built an impressive reputation.
Vodka is its flagship product; it was recently ranked as the top vodka on the 115 Top 5 Star Spirits List by Paul Pacult in the Spirit Journal.
Just this year, the company added Midwest Gin to its roster of products. They also are producing whiskey.
Paul Werni, founder of 45th Parallel Spirits, is not one to be secretive about the production process.
"Yesterday we had three groups come through here," Werni said. "The best time to see would be during the mashing process; that's where we're unique."
The distillery is an all-in-one facility run by Werni and his distiller Scott Davis. Werni takes visitors through the production room and shows how they bring in the grain from local farmers to how they store the finished product.
Currently, they are building an enclosed tasting room/retail area where visitors will be able to sample 3-4 different types of spirits as a compliment to the tour. Bottles will also be available for purchase.
The tasting room should be ready within a month. Tours are available throughout the week; Werni suggests calling ahead of time to see what they are working on that day.
For those people interested in a more detailed distillery experience, 45th Parallel hosts a two-day class in the art of distillery. Werni said they have already had people attend from Michigan, Hawaii, Montana and Washington. Check their website for more information.
NEXT WEEK: Nature centers and specialty museums for the whole family.
If you have any suggestions for future Stay and Play articles, contact Julia Ybarra-Young at jyoung@river towns.net or call 715-246-6881, ext. 245.