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Hi everyone –
“Local kid does good” is always a great headline. In Minnesota, we’re lucky to have a roster of former Minnesotans that have staked their claim in the wine world, especially in the Willamette Valley. David Adelsehim, Page Knudsen, Mark and Pattie Bjornson, Bill Hooper, Tom Mortimer, Shar Peterson, and more fondly recall their Minnesota roots (and Page still calls St. Paul home!).
Add to that list Tim Wilson of Denison Cellars.
Never heard of this winery? You’re not alone, and there are some reasons for that that we’ll get to.
Tim is from here – he’s one of us!
He spent the early years of his childhood growing up near the intersection of Lincoln and Prior in St. Paul, literally two minutes from my house and right down the block from Thomas Liquors. Tim recalls going to the local market to buy cigarettes for his mom — a ten-year-old carrying a note saying it was okay.
One thing led to another, and the family ended up in west Bloomington and he went to Eden Prairie High School, back when the area was still farms and no freeways. He’s a proud graduate of Eden Prairie High School.
Long-distance running and competitive biking led him out of Minnesota and into a series of locations, vocations, and interests. See the video below for more of the story.
Quick background on Denison Cellars
Denison Cellars is named as an amalgamation of Denise (Tim’s wife) and Tim’s last name, Wilson.
They founded their winery in 2009 when Tim left the head winemaker position at Benton Lane Winery, and they decided to risk it all with their own micro-winery, starting with only 100 cases produced. Fourteen years later, they intentionally keep their winery at around 1000 cases of total production.
This is a microscopic number in the world of wine. One container of wine coming from Europe can hold 1000 cases. But Tim and Denise designed their business with the intention of keeping control of every aspect.
As a result, some wines they make are only 48 cases in total production. That’s not even one pallet of wine.
If you’re into under-the-radar and microscopic wineries, this is for you!
Welcome back to the Minnesota market
Denison Cellars was a victim of poor distribution in Tim’s home state. It’s sad, but there is no other way to put it.
For years the former distributor for the brand never placed the wines in the right spots, rarely told the story, never discussed the local connections, and basically didn’t build the brand. Year after year, the wines were relegated to the closeout lists and were dumped at the wrong stores.
This was evident when we met with Tim and Denise in Willamette Valley last January. Their frustration was palpable. After tasting through the whole lineup and asking point blank, “Why aren’t these being poured at the best restaurants and offered at the key top-notch retailers?” we offered to help them out with a relaunch.
And rather than relaunch the market the way it’s typically done (ship a bunch of wine to the new distributor who quickly sells it to whoever will buy it), I suggested being more strategic and surgical.
We weren’t talking big numbers because Tim and Denise make so little wine. On top of that, they sell a chunk to their direct-to-consumer list as well as in Florida, Michigan, and Japan.
This gave us the opportunity to be careful about who to offer it to. So at this moment, Solo Vino has a defacto exclusive. When the next shipment arrives (probably September), we’ve talked with France 44, South Lyndale, Thomas Liquors, and Excelsior Vintage about bringing it in. There might be enough Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for one-by-the-glass placement.
And that will be that. That’s really all that is needed. But the key is to have the wine in the right places.
Of course, in the end, it’s up to the new distributor but I crave the idea of only a handful of the best shops getting their mitts on these wines. They are so good and so limited that they can become a source of pride for the retailers that have them. And if each retailer sells a couple of cases a month, plus having one great by-the-glass placement in town, that’s all that Denison Cellars needs to say Minnesota is a hugely successful market for them.
So to kickstart the relaunch in the Twin Cities, we held a wine class with Tim last Tuesday at Malcolm Yards; last night, we did a wine dinner at J. Selby’s; we have this Friday e-blast offer; and on Tuesday, we’ll pour the wines at the Minnesota Connections tasting at the Campus Club.
Denison Cellars Casin Vineyard Chardonnay 2020
Yamhill-Carlton AVA. 97 cases produced.
This is a Chablis-style Chardonnay, done in stainless tanks and neutral oak with malolactic surpressed. Aromas of key limes, perfectly ripe green apple, wet stone, and tender herbs.
Chardonnay from Willamette Valley has exploded in popularity as the quality has been going up in the last few years. In fact, Chardonnay fruit in Willamette now costs MORE than Pinot Noir!
Denison Cellars Johnson Ridge Rosé of Pinot Noir 2022
Eola-Amity Hills AVA. 105 cases produced.
This is, as Tim says, an “intentional” rosé meaning the vineyard rows and blocks for the rosé bottling were picked way ahead of harvest, and the grapes were picked at full ripeness at the same time as the grapes for the normal Pinot Noirs. Additionally, instead of keeping the skins on the juice for under one hour (which is currently in vouge to make a pale pink wine), Tim keeps the skins on the juice for four days.
In many ways this is more Pinot Noir than “rosé” but simply a different expression. It’s meaty without being savory or soft, and has the guts to hold up to big plates of big flavors such as steaks or Thanksgiving dinner.
Denison Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2021
Willamette Valley AVA. 325 cases produced.
In terms of bang for the buck, this wine is in the top five of the year. It’s a blend of three single vineyards and showcases the beauty of what a great Willamette Pinot Noir can be. Additionally, it’s from the INCREDIBLE 2021 vintage, which is delivering Pinots that are firing on all cylinders and making punchy, juicy, drinky wines. LOVE!
These are outstanding wines that deserve a place in your collection. You’re supporting a fellow Minnesotan, you’re supporting small business, and most importantly you’re getting some great wine for your cellar.
These will continue to be available at Solo Vino and select other wine shops as inventory lasts, but help us celebrate the relaunch of Denison through this offer (lowest prices you’ll find).
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education
Offer and special pricing are available through Monday, or as supplies last