State Fair visitors who make yearly pilgrimages to the Epiphany Diner will be in for a bit of a shock this year. The erstwhile church dining hall now houses a "wine bistro."
Gone are the rickety chairs and wacky shape-shifting mirrors; in their stead are granite-topped counters, grape-colored beams and a flat-screen TV showing video clips from wineries. It's perhaps little consolation that visitors will be able to obtain the components for Communion.
"We're kind of disappointed they didn't leave those corny mirrors behind," said Paul Quast, the only wine poobah the State Fair has ever had.
That's probably for the best, given that customers will be able to sample 4- or 8-ounce pours of fermented grape juice -- red, white and sweet -- from 13 Minnesota wineries. Or "flights" of themed, smaller pours served on Minnesota-shaped cardboard. Or three wine-flecked ice creams made by Izzy's. Or a "smoothie" made with raspberry wine and raspberries.
"Well, the State Fair is about trying something you've never even thought about," said Shawn McMerty, director of finances for the building's operator, Mintahoe.
The food items will be both wine-friendly and fair-friendly, "kind of grab-and-go-ish," McMerty said: an antipasto platter including Minnesota bison sausage, Caprese salad on a stick and beef bourgignon in a bread bowl (try saying that five times after a glass or two of frontenac gris).
The wine folks had been operating in the north hall of the Ag-Hort Building, and "we knew from Year 1 that we needed a different space," Quast said. "There weren't the proper utilities to provide the food we wanted."
But the biggest problem was the cramped space. "The fact was, during really busy times you couldn't get into the north hall," he said. "When other vendors had big days, we found out what our max was."
So when the Church of the Epiphany decided to give up its building on Underwood Street near Carnes Avenue, the Minnesota Wine Country folks pounced.
Some elbow grease
After they won the bidding, the real work began. "There were definitely roof issues," said Mintahoe facilities director Tim Bloom. "We pretty much ripped all the drywall out and put in a new frame. We found out that any building holding more than 50 people is required to put in sprinklers. That wasn't budgeted."
The good news: "The kitchen was in pretty good shape. We didn't have to rip out the back of the house."
Some of the revamping is a work in progress. Bloom's crew built out the counter at one end of the kitchen, where a grill will be installed for cooking demos next year. The giant new pergola out front will eventually have grapevines climbing around it. "Some of the work was just 'a bridge too far' this year," Quast said, "and there's just so much you can do with overhead garage doors."
All the toil and trouble meant that Minnesota Wine Country will have the same 13 wineries as last year, but Quast said he hopes to add many more to reflect the industry's tremendous growth. (When Quast and Peter Hemstad opened Saint Croix Vineyards in 1992, Minnesota had three wineries; now there are more than 40.)
A winemaker will be on hand daily from 3 to 6 p.m. for demonstrations and casual discussion, and there will be music every evening, including Salsa Night on Aug. 29.
And on the beer front ...
Housed in a wing of the Agriculture/Horticulture Building, the Land of 10,000 Beers exhibit will showcase the best of Minnesota's booming craft beer industry and will have something for everyone from craft beer newbie to home-brew aficionado.
This ambitious undertaking will include a look at the history of the state's beer culture, daily presentations by brewmeisters on the "beer deck" and all manner of info for home brewers. Even the kids can get involved with beer -- root beer, that is -- in their own space.
Beers from at least 20 companies in the state's rapidly burgeoning craft-brew industry will be served, either separately or in flights of light, dark, hoppy or sweeter styles.
That might make this little pocket of Minnesota's end-of-summer funfest susceptible to being dubbed the Buzz Block.
Bill Ward • firstname.lastname@example.org