It’s no secret that Minnesota is home to Fortune 500 companies, a rich tradition in the arts and a cultural fabric that rivals any major metropolitan area in the United States. Our culinary scene is thriving with inventive and daring menus, as well as equally exciting wine lists featuring more and more hard-to-obtain and limited-collection bottlings.
Many of the winemakers and vineyard owners on the hippest lists in the hottest restaurants around town originally hail from Edina and other parts of the Twin Cities. The last 30 years have witnessed an explosion in the number of Minnesotans who have gone west to grow grapes, bottle vino and stake their claim in the vineyards of Northern California and Oregon.
In 2006, Edina native and entrepreneur Bill Spell decided he wanted to get into the wine game, but with a slightly different angle. Bill and his wife Dianne, affectionately known as “Tiki,” sought to highlight the best pinot noir from Sonoma County by bottling limited-production single-vineyard wines from the region. The result is a stunning example of what Sonoma County offers. With five single-vineyard pinot noirs, a touch of chardonnay and a lovely rosé (made from pinot noir, of course, though this changes with each vintage), Spell has captured the essence of the county, from Mendocino down to the Russian River Valley.
Spell’s philosophy is simple and straightforward when it comes to his favorite grape. “Spell Estate is committed to delivering the highest expression of pinot noir without forfeiting the integrity and beauty of the varietal,” he says.
Each bottling exquisitely showcases the nuances of the individual vineyard: The soil, the coastal or mountain influence, and the trellising of the vines all contribute to the unique (and delicious) characteristics of the wines. Spell’s focus on the vineyards themselves, and not just the end-product, allows him and his talented winemaker, Andrew Berge, to source grapes from the most sought-after vineyards in the county, resulting in limited bottlings that often produce fewer than 200 cases each. With total production of just less than 2,000 cases, what you are drinking from Bill Spell is special—and fantastic.
Duane and Susan Hoff left executive positions at Best Buy to put down roots in the heart of Napa Valley. They founded the winery Fantesca Estate + Winery, which produces premier chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon from some of the most coveted vineyards in the county. From Eden Prairie, Betty O’Shaughnessy-Woolls headed west with a love of food and wine (she had a cooking school in Minneapolis) that propelled her to invest in vineyard property and eventually her own estate that bears her name. Producing some of the most sought-after cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley, O’Shaughnessy makes wine from the exclusive Howell Mountain, as well as Mt. Veeder and the Oakville region. Just up the road, Terra Valentine, founded by former Valspar CEO Angus Wurtle and his wife Margaret, also produces world-class wines from a variety of grapes. Their highlight is the exquisite cabernet sauvignon. The stunning winery and picturesque vineyards are a must-see for any Minnesotan visiting West Coast wine country.
Head further north to Dundee Hills outside of Portland, Oregon, and you will find Domaine Serene, owned by Ken and Grace Evenstad from Wayzata. Ken Evanstand is chairman and CEO of pharmaceutical company Upsher-Smith Laboratories in Maple Grove, but he and his wife have always dreamed of owning their own winery. Based on a philosophy of “passion, vision and commitment,” Domaine Serene released its first wine made from estate grapes in 1994, and the couple have never looked back. Garnering such prestigious awards as No. 1 Wine in Oregon and Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year, Domaine Serene (which was named after the couple’s daughter) produces mainly pinot noir with a bit of chardonnay, for which the Oregon wine country is known. With a gorgeous tasting room looking out over gently rolling hills, the winery’s tranquil scenery lives up to its name.
Why have so many Minnesotans headed west to seek the good life in wine country? Perhaps it’s the desire to marry a love of food and wine, invest in beautiful property, or just live the dream of a winemaker. Whatever the reason, we are proud that such renowned wines have ties to Minnesota.
Perhaps it was a sign that Robert Mondavi himself was born here in northern Minnesota, sparking a migration of prominent Minnesotans to set their sights on making wine in California and Oregon.
To learn more about wineries with Minnesota roots, you can visit the websites of the vineyards profiled here:
Also check out some other notable wineries with Minnesota ties:
Ladera Vineyards, laderavineyards.com, Napa, Calif.
Bevan Cellars, bevancellars.com, Napa, Calif.
Kenefick Ranch, kenefickranch.com, Napa, Calif.
Murphy-Goode, murphygoodewinery.com, Sonoma, Calif.
Most wines can be found at France 44. france44.com