Is Minneapolis entering a Wine Renaissance? Yes!

Something is in the air. Something amazing, and it smells like wine.

After over ten years of wine playing second (or third, or forth) fiddle to other beverages in terms of interest and energy at restaurants and in the general public, I’m watching something amazing happen right now.

Before I get to the proof, let’s look back.

I’d say the last peak of wine energy in the Twin Cities was fifteen years ago or so when Toast Wine Bar was firing on all cylinders (oh, how we miss that place. Check out our post, The Final Night of Toast Wine Bar).

Since that time, so much has changed. Let’s track what happened.

First came the rise of beer taprooms and distilleries, which, as expected, grew fast and are now deflating a bit. Consumers have become tired of yet another new taproom or distillery that is the new hot, awesome place that you just have to visit. The market became over-saturated.

Then came the rise of craft cocktails, where bartenders with fancy aprons and mustache wax spent fifteen minutes and a hundred ingredients (including a smoke machine) to make you an Instagrammable $24 cocktail. Over time, we started to notice the look in the bartender’s eyes when we said, “That was great; I’ll have another!” Time for another fifteen minutes of fussing. (Is it any wonder why batched and kegged cocktails are now the rage?)

Then, a minor cultural distraction called COVID-19 happened, and all the restaurants liquidated their wine inventory to generate cash. A clean sweep, ready for when we reopened.

Out of the blue, THC drinks arrived in the Twin Cities. Lots of people suddenly turned to these drinks to get a bit stoned instead of drunk. The shiny new object was too much for many to pass up.

A new movement of neo-prohibitionists and modern temperance movements has suddenly cropped up, led by the World Health Organization proclaiming “there is no safe level of alcohol.” (History repeats itself, folks!) Read more about this threat to the wine industry.

Note: I’m ALL FOR people cutting back or eliminating alcohol from their lives if it makes their lives better. I have many friends in the wine industry who have found sobriety in the last few years, and I’m so proud of them. What I’m referring to here are the policy-makers who are actively connecting the idea that alcohol is the “cigarettes of the 21st century,” which is a real threat to those of us who love wine in moderation.

So if you’re following the story, it chronologically goes like this (in terms of “beverage/movement of the moment”):

  • Wine is the leading category! Yay!
  • Taprooms open in Minnesota. Craft beer time!
  • Distilleries open in Minnesota and you can drink in them. Spirits time!
  • Mustachioed bartenders get fancy with 100 ingredients at a time. Cocktails yay!
  • What? Minnesota is suddenly allowing THC in pre-packaged drinks? Let’s get stoned!
  • Hold on! Consuming large quantities of alcohol is bad for you? Time to get sober!

And now we come full circle. We’ve had enough time to go through all of these distractions and return to the greatest beverage in the world.

I’m happy to report the wine energy is back, and here’s the proof.

1: BARCELONA WINE BAR is coming to Minneapolis

This is huge.

Barcelona is a wine bar and restaurant chain with 11 locations nationwide. The Barcelona in Denver, Colorado, was the first one I experienced and it quickly went to my short list of Favorite Places on the Planet.

Barcelona is all about tapas and small plates combined with incredible Spanish wine. Their staff is highly educated, the wine list is beautifully curated, and they’ve dialed in their concept so tightly that you’ll be amazed when you walk into the new Minneapolis location.

Article: Barcelona Wine Bar is coming to Minneapolis’ North Loop

Check out their website: https://barcelonawinebar.com

2: MILLY’S WINE BAR opened, followed by Dara’s wine-focused articles

Milly’s Wine Bar on Washington Avenue was the first wine bar opening post-pandemic in the Twin Cities, and they hit it out of the park, making wine FUN again! Cheeky descriptions, guess-the-variety games, neat flights, and a beautiful atmosphere combined to make us quickly forget about the previous few years.

Dara Moskowitz picked up on the fun and wrote a glowing piece about Milly’s in October 2023.

One month later, Dara nailed it with a beautiful article entitled A Wine Tour of Minneapolis, highlighting the wine programs at Red Rabbit, EaTo, Maison Margaux, Chole by Vincent, AxeBridge Wine Company, and many others. A wine-focused article like this hasn’t been seen in the Twin Cities since Bill Ward was writing for the StarTribune and the fact that Minneapolis-St. Paul magazine allowed that much space for an article only about WINE says something.

3: NEW WINE-FOCUSED SHOPS have opened and are kicking ass

VIOLET WINES

Local wine legend Fred Petters, along with business partner Erikka, quietly opened Violet Wines in Northeast Minneapolis. It’s a shop you need to check out. It’s so clean, so welcoming, and so zen.

https://www.violetwinempls.com
2435 Marshall St NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418

UNDERGROUND LEAF AND VINE

One of my new favorite shops is located in the North Loop of Minneapolis. It’s the best store in the North Loop when it comes to wine prices (by far), and its success since opening in May is evident by its ongoing expansion. Manager Sam and owner Jason are the friendliest retailers you could ever meet. It’s well worth a visit.

Website: https://undergroundleafandvine.com

706 N 1st St Suite 100, Minneapolis, MN 55401

SO WHAT WINE

This is the smallest wine shop in the state of Minnesota. It’s also one of the most interesting.

Ashley Hausman is one of only 416 Masters of Wine worldwide and the only one in Minnesota. She and her husband moved here to be closer to family; our local wine scene is the beneficiary. Ashley recently opened her gem of a shop in Stillwater (on South Hill, not downtown) and is focusing on growing her wine club business.

Ashley Hausman, Master of Wine. Photo from So What Wine website article The Beauty and Intelligence of Old Vines.

Website: https://sowhatwine.com/

823 4th St S unit 200, Stillwater, MN 55082

4: WINE BARS ARE BUZZING

Nico Giraud, one of the best-known wine people in town, is in charge at The Tasting Room at 31st Street just off Hennepin. We were there last Saturday ahead of a concert, and it was packed, energy-filled, and delicious. The wine and food menu are top-notch, and in true wine bar fashion, the bites are small, affordable, and delicious. https://www.thetastingroommpls.com

After the show, Troubadour at 28th and Hennepin was packed at 11:30pm with tons of young people with dozens of bottles open all over the room. It felt like San Francisco in the 2000s. https://troubadourwinebar.com

The Vine Room in Hopkins is full every night. The women-centric team at both The Vine Room and The Vine Shop curate a great list, have delicious cheese and meat boards at the ready, and are all about good vibes for the customers. We’ve started teaching small group wine classes in their private room, and you can always catch events and live music during the week. I love this place. https://www.vineroom.co

The wine bar at Café Latte continues to be one of my favorite places to have a glass of wine and is being discovered by fellow wine lovers. The prices are incredibly reasonable, and the pizzas are particularly delicious. Wine is served in Riedel stemware, and the whites and reds are at the correct temperature.

Wiley Wines, a personal favorite, sold at retail pricing at Café Latte. By far the lowest price you’ll find on these rare gems.

The current but ever-changing wine list at Café Latte. Eden Rift Pinot Noir for only $12 a glass? Yes, please!

Today (March 29, 2024) a wonderful little cafe called Picnic opens in the former Clancey’s Meats spot in Linden Hills. Picnic is not outwardly advertised as a wine bar, but a relative of one of the founders is Lee Kitzenberg, one of the top wine collectors in town. (Lee is also one of the most generous, donating a ton of incredible wines to the annual Winefest in May. Some of the best wines I’ve ever had are from Lee’s cellar.) Lee is curating the wine list at Picnic, and it will be a place to keep an eye on. https://www.picniclindenhills.com

Small Hours is opening this summer, from local sommelier Sarina Garibovic. I’m really looking forward to this. Their concept sounds suspiciously close to my pre-pandemic Vino and Vinyl events (vintage hi-fi and albums meet wine and good times), which is cool. I just hope the wine and music selections are for the people and not just the owners. I’m not suggesting they rely on Kenny G with California Chardonnay pairings. But getting too edgy, like Bubblemath paired with funky f’d up Pet-Nat, isn’t going to draw enough crowds. The secret sauce will be somewhere in-between. (Not that I have opinions or anything.) I’m really looking forward to this opening and with Sarina in charge it’s bound to be a great destination for wine lovers. Here’s the Star Tribune article with all the details. https://www.instagram.com/smallhours_mpls/

The interior of what will be Small Hours Wine Bar. Photo from the StarTribune.

5: Restaurants are returning to investing in staff wine training

One result of the pandemic shutdowns of restaurants was, for many, a complete staff turnover. As a result, the servers are being hired with less experience, or they are under 21 years old and can’t taste to learn. This has resulted in a VERY busy 2024 for us, training the staff at restaurants, wine bars, and local wineries. The Blue Plate Restaurant Company, Red Cow, and Red Rabbit are investing significantly this year in educating their staff in wine and wine service.

This year, we’ve also seen a considerable uptick in restaurant groups bringing staff to our wine classes. It’s been great to make the connections and know the time and financial investment being made.

6. Wine education is everywhere

Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

Twenty years ago, Twin Cities Wine Education was the only game in town to learn about our favorite beverage. Even ten years ago, options were limited for those wanting to grow their wine knowledge.

Today, the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) has authorized programs available through Vinelab and France 44. Master of Wine Ashley Hausman is teaching in Stillwater. The Meritage Wine School is consistently sold out. Many stores have been remodeled to include classrooms (France 44, Zipps, and others). The number of people advertising as wine educators in the Twin Cities has tripled in the last four years.

All of this is wonderful. It only helps to have more and more people thinking about, talking about, and learning about wine. Is it competition for TCWE? Yes. But that’s fine. I’m not worried. I’m just happy to see growth in our local wine scene, and so many more educational opportunities are out there for consumers shows the demand is there.

In summary

There has never been a better time to be a wine lover in the Twin Cities. We’re at the front edge of a growth curve that is going to be a blast to watch, and I want to say thank you to all of you who are joining us on this journey, onward to a great year. See ya at Barcelona the moment it opens.

Jason Kallsen

3 Comments

  1. I love this recap and overview! I had a memory pic pop up of the Italian wine in home event you did for me and Mary TEN YEARS ago! That’s how long I’ve been learning from you. 2 WSET levels later, you’re still my favorite wine guru. Thanks for keeping the fun and excitement flowing! Cheers!!

  2. Great article and I’ve felt it too. We were at Milly’s on a Monday afternoon and had a blast with the fun, knowledgeable staff and wine list. A couple of other signs: Leslie Miller’s Sip Better and her biweekly appearances on the Jason Show exhibiting interesting wines with her bubbly personality; South Lyndale Liquors great new store and their market & sandwich shop with a several wines by the glass drawn from wine preservation taps. Looking forward to trying all the new options and frequenting familiar ones.

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