Our Perfect September Weekend in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Eau Claire, Wisconsin

By Angie & Jeff

September 21, 2023

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If you haven’t experienced fall in Wisconsin, you need to do so. It’s Angie’s favorite season because the weather is still fairly warm, the bugs are minimal, and the fall colors are stunning. We’re only at the beginning of our fall colors, but the show Mother Nature will unveil in the next few weeks never disappoints.

This past weekend, we put together a fun-packed schedule of area activities to end up with a perfect mid-September Friday night and Saturday in Western Wisconsin. Expect more fall fun posts from us in weeks to come as we bask in the beauty of this season in Wisconsin.

Riverbend Winery & Distillery in Chippewa Falls, WI

We live on the northwestern edge of the city of Eau Claire, which makes a trip to our neighboring city of Chippewa Falls to the north an easy few mile drive. We started our Saturday at 8 a.m. at the River Bend Winery & Distillery to help them harvest this season’s grape crop. Yes, we have wineries in Wisconsin and some REALLY good ones like River Bend! There are other wineries in the state that have fruit based wines, such as those really common in Door County. Those wineries are appreciated by many, but we find after our travels to wine country in California, Upstate New York, South Africa, Ontario, and counting, our palate prefers a more complex wine and River Bend meets that preference impressively right here in Western Wisconsin.

River Bend Winery and Distillery Grounds and Interior.
River Bend Winery and Distillery Grounds and Interior.

River Bend opened in 2009, the same year we relocated to the Chippewa Valley from Central Wisconsin, and we have been regular visitors and loyal customers from the beginning. The ownership changed about a year ago, but that hasn’t impacted the quality of the experience or their wines and spirits. Their delicious wines start at around $15 a bottle. Jeff’s favorites are LaCrescent and Cabernet Sauvignon. Angie loves their Summer White and Summer Red, but really hasn’t met a wine she doesn’t enjoy from River Bend. In addition, what was once only a winery expanded to add a distillery several years ago. We enjoy trying their cocktails on the menu regularly and their weekly featured cocktail. This past visit we both really loved the Maple Cream cocktail featuring their River Bend Sap Happy Maple Vodka. Jeff also enjoys a good gin and appreciated their Grapefruit Gin and Tonic while Angie tried the Lavender Collins which also included gin, not her favorite spirit, and still loved the cocktail.

River Bend Winery and Distillery and our maple cream cocktails.
River Bend Winery and Distillery and our maple cream cocktails.

We often visit for a nice view of the River Bend vineyards while enjoying their wine or cocktails with our own little picnic of charcuterie. If we’re not in the mood to pack a picnic, they often feature different food trucks on summer weekends as a food option as well as having cheese, charcuterie, and locally made Beez Kneez cupcakes available for sale in the winery. They also offer a small selection of local products for sale including the delicious maple syrup from a young entrepreneur whose family we know, Wanish Sugar Bush. And, to top all that off, if wine and spirits, good food, and good views aren’t enough to tempt you they often host free live music on summer weekends. This past Saturday while we were there they also hosted a morning workout class at the vineyard and a Vendor in the Vines event to peruse.

A few of our past picnics at River Bend Winery and Distillery.
A few of our past picnics at River Bend Winery and Distillery.

Harvesting Grapes

This is all a bit about why we love River Bend on a typical day, but this past Saturday was not just a typical day. It was one of our favorite days of the year–the day we get to help harvest their grapes. We started volunteering to do this in September many years back and now it is an annual tradition that we include in our schedule as long as we are in Wisconsin the few weekends the harvest is scheduled. This year River Bend had three weekends for a total of six days (Saturday and Sunday) that wine fans could sign up as volunteer harvesters. We were only scheduled to be home on one of those six days and so Angie quickly grabbed a spot on their online sign up. If you’re interested in doing this, it is done for 2023 but follow them on Facebook to see their announcements about harvest sign up next season. The spots fill up, so act fast!

The harvesting day  started at 8 a.m. with a light breakfast and coffee in the winery. Then, we were given a briefing of the type of grapes we will be picking that day (we picked Frontenac Gris), given instruction on how to use the really neat grape harvesting tool, and tips for harvesting. In exchange for your volunteer harvesting work, each volunteer is given a ticket good for lunch and two drinks after the harvesting is done around Noon. Angie loves this day so much she would be willing to pay for the experience, but the included lunch and drinks make a fun, unique morning activity even more rewarding.

The grape harvesting process.
The grape harvesting process.

This past Saturday started as a foggy, cool day and warmed up to the upper 60’s as we were in the vines harvesting. It was perfect harvesting weather, but as early fall weather can be unpredictable, you should expect anything from 90 degree temperatures to having to wear winter hats while harvesting-we have seen them both and many points in between in our times harvesting. The cooler weather seemed to keep the bees at bay this time, but in past years we have had to contend with a lot of bees so it may not be the best activity if you have a bee allergy.

This year the grape crop was abundant. It was the most abundant grape crop we recall harvesting in our years doing this. This varies from year to year based on the weather that summer and we have seen really sparse years, too. If we recall correctly, there have even been years so sparse that the prior owners didn’t need volunteer harvesters and just handled it with their own staff team. We were excited that for this first harvest season the new owners have the problem of how to harvest and handle the abundance instead of scarcity.

Vineyard in the fog and the green tractor hoisting a bin of freshly picked grapes.
Vineyard in the fog and the green tractor hoisting a bin of freshly picked grapes.

Between the two of us, we harvested 16 of the five gallon pails of the Frontenac Gris grapes in the roughly three hours we worked and we only picked one side of one row of the vineyard for that bounty! It’s a fun morning picking grapes and meeting other wine lovers. And, beautiful photo opportunities are everywhere!

Mi Mi Cafe Food Truck

The lunch provided to harvest volunteers has always been a voucher for a delicious meal from the food truck on site that day, in our experience. We have had delicious wood-fired pizza and BBQ from food trucks on prior harvesting days. This past Saturday the food truck was Mi Mi Cafe serving Vietnamese street food. Angie had the Chicken Banh Mi sandwich and Jeff the Chicken Noodle Bowl. Both included their delicious egg rolls.

Mi Mi Cafe Food Truck lunch.
Mi Mi Cafe Food Truck lunch.

Chippewa River Trolley Company

That already sounds like a great fall day in Western Wisconsin, right? But, we were only just starting this great Saturday! Our next stop was the afternoon Signature Eau Claire Tour offered by Chippewa River Trolley Company. The trolley is a brand new and very exciting addition to our town, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Nick Meyer, the owner of the media company Volume One, has long dreamed of offering unique trolley tours, as we were told on the tour. Just a few weeks ago, that dream became a reality. We had the honor of riding on the brand new trolley during the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) conference we attended that was hosted at the Pablo Center at the Confluence in July as a shuttle between conference activities. We were already really excited for the launch of this tour company, but that ride increased that excitement exponentially!

Boarding the Signature Eau Claire Trolley Tour.
Boarding the Signature Eau Claire Trolley Tour.

The Chippewa River Trolley Company offers multiple tours and we plan to take them all. The tours include multiple brewery tours, winery, and cocktail tours. We also learned on the trolley tour that we have a spooky Halloween tour to look forward to as well as a hopeful holiday lights tour and even more in the 2024 season. Our tour this past Saturday was the Signature Trolley Tour for just under two hours and a cost of under $20 each with the absolutely perfect driver and guide, George House, a born and raised Eau Claire local with a successful decades long radio career and the wonderful voice and storytelling skills that you would expect with that background.

We don’t want to give away too much about the tour content, so suffice it to say that you have to take it, local or not. Jeff was born in Eau Claire, moved to Colorado in middle school, and returned in 2003 before moving to Central Wisconsin with Angie to live for about six years. Together we both moved to Eau Claire in 2009 and despite being very active in local activities and reading of local publications, we both learned new things and continuously marveled at how fortunate we are to live in this amazing city of Eau Claire. We can’t wait to see what is ahead for the Chippewa River Trolley Company and the Chippewa Valley. Book your tour ASAP before the 2023 season comes to an end.

Enjoying the Signature Eau Claire Trolley Tour.
Enjoying the Signature Eau Claire Trolley Tour.

Maiv Flower Farm

When our trolley tour ended, we quickly met up with Jeff’s parents to get to our next stop for the day. Jeff’s Mom celebrated her birthday recently and as a part of her birthday gift, we planned a trip to the newly opened Maiv Flower Farm. Angie learned about this exciting new local small business when several of her friends started sharing absolutely stunning photos of flower fields on Facebook recently. The Maiv Flower Farm has only been open a handful of weekends and Angie was looking forward to returning from the latest travels to ensure we were able to visit before the first frost of the fall ends the flower season. In thinking about an idea to celebrate Jeff’s Mom’s birthday, Maiv Flower Farm was the perfect place because she loves flowers from the farmer’s market and is known for the great flower photos she takes at botanical gardens on their travels made into cards given to loved ones.

You can pre-purchase tickets to Maiv Flower Farm on their website. The current process to visit Maiv Flower Farm is to purchase a ticket on their website for $5 for each person over the age of 12 in your party. Children under 12 are able to visit at no cost. Then, once onsite, if you choose to purchase flowers or vegetables that you harvest yourself, the $5 is credited to that purchase.

Upon arrival at the parking lot at Maiv Flower Farm, you check in at the tent to show your pre-purchased tickets and pick up baskets or mason jars for the flowers and/or vegetables you plan to harvest. The array of colors at Maiv Flower Farm is stunning. The kaleidoscope of colors is overwhelming with all the beauty this place holds. If you find a quiet moment here you will probably hear bees moving from flower to flower doing the important work of pollination.

So many beautiful flowers at Maiv Flower Farm.
So many beautiful flowers at Maiv Flower Farm.

Beyond the flower field begins the vegetable field. You know we love our local farmer’s market, but we were excited to pick some produce for ourselves on this visit. We picked a purple eggplant, a yellow squash, several green peppers, several banana peppers, a large cucumber, a nice head of cabbage, and about a pound or so of green beans during our time here. There are blue baskets available for collecting all the vegetables you pick.

Us at Maiv Flower Farm and our blue basket of fresh picked veggies.
Us at Maiv Flower Farm and our blue basket of fresh picked veggies.

Our only critique of this amazing experience is the vegetable picking experience was a little confusing for us. We weren’t always sure what vegetables were in the field from the visible leaves above the dirt and were reluctant to pick items when we weren’t sure what they were. The rows ready for harvest are marked with white flags, but some labels of the vegetables in that row would be really helpful. We also didn’t always know how to harvest all the vegetables properly. We think we saw brussel sprouts but weren’t sure if that was the case or how to begin to harvest them, for example. There wasn’t staff present in the field to consult so we ended up sticking with vegetables we were certain about. Also, since it is late in the season, it was a bit challenging to find some of the produce in the field ready for picking. There was a fair amount of overripe produce scattered throughout the field. In the end, we did find a full basket full of delicious vegetables to enjoy at home.

We all enjoyed the flower field at Maiv Flower Farm.
We all enjoyed the flower field at Maiv Flower Farm.

The flower picking portion was much more straightforward from our perspective. Jeff’s Mom had an excellent time snipping a mason jar full of beautiful blooms that she later arranged into two bouquets, one for her and one for her 95 year old mom, Jeff’s Grandma. We experienced a wonderful sunset at this stunning farm for four adults, a basket of vegetables, and a bountiful bouquet of flowers for a total cost of $35.

River Inn Bar

The original plan was to visit the Maiv Flower Farm on Friday afternoon and then take Jeff’s parents out for fish fry at the River Inn Bar in Chippewa Falls. But, the rain throughout the day on Friday caused us to split the plans with a Friday night trip to River Inn Bar and we visited Maiv Flower Farm on Saturday afternoon instead.

River Inn Bar is located just off of County Road X in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. We were here on a Friday and as such, and in a Wisconsin tradition, Jeff already had a mindset to try fish fry here as you know he loves a fish fry. Jeff decided on the 2-piece fish and shrimp combo platter which includes french fries, coleslaw, toast, tartar sauce, and cocktail sauce. This choice got our server’s endorsement as a good pick. This is often a sign that you’ve chosen wisely and Jeff felt he’d done well. Angie chose a 4-piece chicken strips basket with fries. Jeff’s Dad chose 3-piece fish fry and Jeff’s Mom the shrimp special.

River Inn Bar exterior and interior. Is Jeff hugging or trying to wrestle the rooster?
River Inn Bar exterior and interior. Is Jeff hugging or trying to wrestle the rooster?

The 2-piece fish and shrimp combo platter was fantastic. It came with 2 nice size cod filets and 8 butterfly shrimp. And curly fries. It was so much food it came out in two baskets. The chicken strips were also very good and Angie really enjoyed their homemade Rooster Sauce for the tenders.

Another great thing is If you have a craving for fish fry on a day other than Friday you can still get all the fish and/or shrimp combinations at River Inn Bar all the other days of the week too. They have a slight discount in price for Friday which makes Friday extra special. We were really happy with the value for the price paid at River Inn Bar. Including a generous tip, dinner for the four of us including one spiked seltzer and one soda (Jeff and his dad had water) was under $70. And we took home a box of Angie’s leftover chicken tenders and fries which Jeff gladly ate for lunch during the week.

River Inn Bar fish, shrimp, and chicken tenders.
River Inn Bar fish, shrimp, and chicken tenders.

River Inn Bar has All You Can Eat (AYCE) chicken wings Monday through Thursday. This is a rare find to see a restaurant still offering a value like this and even more amazing to have it offered on multiple days of the week. We heard very positive reviews and comments about the chicken wings from other content creators we met at the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) conference held in Eau Claire earlier this summer. So now there’s even more reasons to go to the River Inn Bar again.

Clearwater Comedy Show – Ben Bailey – Cash Cab Host Stand Up Comedy

You may remember Ben Bailey from the game show Cash Cab filmed in New York City. People get into a cab expecting a normal, oh-hum ride to wherever they are going and then the ceiling of the cab lights up in a grid of colors and suddenly they are on a game show with the chance to win cash by answering questions on the way to their destination. The show ran for 15 years and Bailey joked that he was glad the show ended when it did because he would probably have ended with a mental breakdown having to keep driving day after day in New York traffic while simultaneously hosting a game show.

The Clearwater Comedy show was hosted at The Plus, a local eatery and bar on Barstow Street in downtown Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The show featured two local comics and Bailey’s opening comic who did short sets before Bailey came out and took the stage. The comedic talent of our local comics was impressive and while this was our first Clearwater Comedy show, it won’t be our last as we learned they host shows weekly on Thursdays doing this show right here in Eau Claire.

Bailey has some serious comedic skill as he improvised and crafted new jokes on the spot with things that were occurring in the audience during the show. A highlight was his series of jokes about the pronunciation of our town name, Eau Claire. (If you’re not sure, it’s pronounced, “Oh, Claire” and Bailey shared a series of situations when one might say this phrase with different inflections that had the audience in stitches.) If you have a chance to see Ben Bailey do stand-up sometime go for it. You’ll likely have a very fun time.

A Perfect Fall Weekend in Western Wisconsin

The Chippewa Valley is a wonderful place to experience the beautiful fall season and we feel really fortunate to call this our home. We have always felt it was a great place to stay, but are really marveling especially lately about the plethora of opportunities for fun adventures that offer a tremendous amount of value locally. For under $200, we did everything in this post with two of the activities including four adults. A key part of our Thrifty Living Travel Freedom lifestyle is living like travelers everyday and enjoying the types of activities when we’re at home that we would enjoy while traveling. We hope you can come to Western Wisconsin soon to experience these great places, but if not, what can you find in your own backyard to enjoy? We’ll see you soon for another adventure!