Vino in the Valley opens with cork-popping pizazz

Debbie Griffin River Falls Journal
Published Thursday, July 05, 2007

Wine flowed. Pasta steamed. Bread chefs removed loaf after loaf of steaming-hot focaccia bread from the brick oven.

And lots of “rich chocolate torts with fresh berries and whipped cream” got boxed to go.

Owner, president and host of Vino in the Valley Larry Brenner welcomed guests and led them during dinner in the famed Dean Martin number “That’s Amore.”


Vino in the Valley owner Larry Brenner welcomed dinner guests to the grand-opening night of his pavilion restaurant that overlooks a vineyard and the Rush River. A couple times each night, he leads the crowd in singing the classic song “That’s Amore,” from words printed on the back of a card at each table. Seated at this table are dinner guests and friends (clockwise): Bill Paatal, Jenny McEneny, Tatum Huppert and Tom Place. Debbie Griffin photo

With the words to “That’s Amore” printed on cards at each table, people seemed to delight in singing along with the song’s peppy lyrics. At the refrain, he asked diners to raise and clink their glasses.

Vino serves many beers, too, but wines include merlot, chardonnay, pinot noir, chianti, Riesling, pinot grigio and a few local selections: Rush River Red, Moonlight Whisper and Lost Creek Sunset.

The local wine names refer to features found near the new Thursday and Saturday dining spot that overlooks a vineyard on the banks of Rush River.

Located 25 miles southeast of River Falls at W3826 450th Avenue in Maiden Rock, ties to Vino in the Valley reach home.

Its executive chef, Allen Whitney, also creates the chocolate confections for River Chocolate Company on County Road U in rural River Falls. He’s supervising food and making all the desserts.

The chef making the food, Catharine Noel, lives in River Falls. Jerome McNamara, a chef at the West Wind Supper Club, helped Vino by cooking on grand opening night when Noel couldn’t make it.

Locals Colleen Raye and Norton Lawellin entertained the crowd on grand opening night.

Vino’s gift shop offers interesting and many local items including Ingridware Pottery out of Beldenville. Brenner said he incorporated local goods at every opportunity, for example he serves Chippewa bottled water, coffee from Elmwood and goods from many other area vendors.

A few of Brenner’s neighbors set up stands in the vendor area selling homemade honey and signs made from old barn wood.

Vino, view, vibes

Brenner just planted three acres of vineyard before opening the open-air pavilion and kitchen.

From it Vino serves mainly bread, pasta, some meal-sized salads and an appetizer of Italian nachos. Guests had two choices of meal salad and two choices of pasta for the grand opening: Rigatoni with rustica (pork sausage, tomatoes, white wine, peas, butter, onion and garlic; and a linguini with marinated, sautéed chicken breast and an asparagus-parmesan cream sauce.

Salads cost $18 and pasta’s priced at $17. The chocolate tort dessert sells for $5 a piece. Wine by the glass ranged from $4-$6; by the bottle in cost between $23 and $30. The local wines Brenner sells were bottled in Stillwater, Minn., and all made from either Wisconsin or Minnesota grapes. He said when his vineyard matures, it will yield about 9,000 bottles of wine.

Whitney said in the future they might place dining tables in the vineyard.

Brenner said he’s just always wanted to do something with his big farm that sits in the lush Rush River valley. He’s worked at Clear Channel Communications for 28 years and said he enjoys meeting people.

“I wanted to figure out something different to do with the land,” Brenner said.

So he planted a vineyard and built a kitchen and bar, gift shop, restroom and open-air pavilion. He manicured the property and landscaped the dining area.

Brenner made two fire pits and placed benches and other seating outside. He created a path right along the river, where a cool breeze blows on strolling guests.

“They’ve done a good job with quality” said diner Joe Glab, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina but is from New Jersey.

He said he considers himself an Italian food connoisseur and commented that the food tastes “just like home.”

Vino in the Valley seats 80 people and employs 15. Whitney said it’s done some “soft opens” since the end of May, but last Thursday was the official Grand Opening.

Regular hours are 5-9 p.m. Thursdays and 4-10 p.m. Saturdays. Seating is on a first-come first-served basis.

Get directions or more information online at or by calling 715-639-6677.

Whitney said, “It’s just like Tuscany in Wisconsin!”

Vino in the Valley sits about 25 miles southeast of River Falls in Maiden Rock. The open-air pavilion serves pasta, bread, salads, dessert and wines beside a newly planted vineyard in the Rush River valley. Debbie Griffin photo