Noble Grapes

Car-seat country scores a family-friendly wine bar with a serious education mission

It turns out that co-owner David Bernick was a flea's hop from being a winemaker himself. He grew up in Southern California and went to U.C. Davis for winemaking, eventually securing a prestigious internship at the winery now known as Franciscan Oakville Estate, in the Oakville appellation of Napa Valley. He was there working for famous winemaker Greg Upton, during the time Upton debuted his wild yeast Chardonnay--an event about as interesting to wine nuts as gull-wing doors are to car nuts; not the most important thing that ever, ever happened, but of extreme interest to a few.

Anyhoo, when Upton wasn't actually making wine, says Bernick, he was convincing his young protégé of the importance of family values. And, as we all know, as soon as you cast your lot with family values, south Minneapolis's tractor beam switches on. "He told me, unless you're a great, great winemaker, you're just a commodity," says Bernick. "Enjoy your wine, but enjoy your friends and family; this is not as good a life as people think it is, you spend your whole life in a lab."

This advice led Bernick to a brief career as a wine broker, which taught him to hedge agricultural commodity prices using currency fluctuations, which led him to a high-stress career in finance, which relocated him to Minneapolis, where his fear of burnout led him to chuck it all and, seven years ago, open a coffee shop, where his business sense convinced him to put in a large children's playroom, which attracted a longtime nanny, Mara, who found a child-friendly, single, energetic entrepreneur with a head full of family values and...introducing Auguste, age three, a child who will doubtless become famous in the schools for supplying limitless quantities of corks for craft projects. And now we have the Riverview Wine Bar, which unites David Bernick's first love with his enduring one.

Fancy flights: Mary Gaytan with one of the Riverview's cleverly conceived wine tastings
Jana Freiband
Fancy flights: Mary Gaytan with one of the Riverview's cleverly conceived wine tastings

Location Info

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Riverview Cafe & Wine Bar

3745 42nd Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55406

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Seward/ Longfellow/ Minnehaha

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The kitchen at the Riverview puts out a few very nice little snacks to have with the wine. I especially liked the cheese plate. A recent one for $9.75 had a very fresh local chèvre, a block of Schwarz und Weiss Blue, an aged Asiago Casaro, a few slices of pears roasted in Merlot, and a cheddar made with curds that had been soaked in port and brandy and then pressed; it resembled a dollhouse cobblestone walk. An antipasto plate ($9.75) one night hit all the right salty and sour notes, offering two sorts of sliced salami, prosciutto, that aged Asiago Casaro, three sorts of olives, cornichons, caper berries, and pickled asparagus. A fruit plate ($7) looked like it had been cut up by a concerned mom five seconds earlier: a whole pear carefully sliced, half an apple, handfuls of berries and grapes.

The limited menu offers a few other things, but I wasn't a fan of the six-inch pizzas ($10.50), finding their crusts far too sweet for my taste, and I could live without the beet salad ($9), which, when I tried it, was swamped with a strong and sugary curry vinaigrette. On weekends the little spot serves a full entrée: I tried a Thai-marinated pork chop ($13.50), which didn't taste very Thai, but did taste like a nice Midwestern family dinner, and, appropriately enough came with fluffy handmade garlic mashed potatoes that the Riverview could serve in cups through an ice cream window and make a cool million on.

The kitchen puts out some very nice desserts. I was particularly charmed by the egg-sized homemade chocolate-cognac truffles ($2 each) that I tried alongside a bowl of Cabernet Sauvignon sorbet: The potent weight of the chocolate went so well with the slick dark fruit of the sorbet that I am calling this the adult's version of the bliss that comes from the venerable high-summer pairing of air-conditioned matinee followed by Dairy Queen. You do know the grand old Riverview Theater is just kitty-corner from this wine bar (www.riverviewtheater.com), right?

Well, it is. So it's not just a wine bar with a fascinating selection of wine flights and a 60-bottle-deep list boasting a number of well-priced options (I counted 15 bottles priced at $21 or under). It's not just the rarest of Minnesota phenomena: a nice place for a drink within walking distance of a movie theater. It's not even just a great destination for beer lovers, with its three dozen specialty ales, well weighted with robust American microbrews, fine-bubbled Belgian classics, and robust eternals from the United Kingdom. It's not even just the most toddler-friendly wine bar in the whole entire world.

The wine license covers all the square footage of both Riverview Wine Bar and the adjoining coffee shop, Riverview Cafe, which has a large, cheerful, mural-bedecked play area full of toys to share, soft couches, and the works, so you can sample some late harvest Riesling with a friend while junior plays with trucks. (On my last visit the wine bar had no fewer than a dozen guests seated in backpacks, car seats, and double strollers, some of whom eschewed the on-premise beverage selection, preferring the breasts they brought from home.)

No, in addition to being a whenever-you-want-it wine school, in addition to being a great wine bar, a great beer bar, a good place to teach your child to say "Mommy's Riesling," and a nice place for cheese and dessert, the Riverview Wine Bar has finally put voice to the current spirit of south Minneapolis.

"Where do I want to be in five years?" David Bernick asked me, rephrasing a question he had been asked by a neighbor. "Right here. This is my life; this is what I want to do. I'd rather have another baby than another coffee shop."

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