The Vine Room is a Taste of California (And Beyond) in Hopkins

Vine Room’s Main Street Hopkins wine bar // Photo by Tj Turner

There’s never been a Twin Cities wine bar quite like The Vine Room in Hopkins. The motley assortment of such establishments in these parts are uniformly designed to be comfy-cozy, with warm wood tones and what those of a certain age call “flattering lighting” (i.e., dim and dusky).

Not The Vine Room. This is one bright, sunshiny space. Its white luminosity reflects the venue’s inspiration: the radiance of the nation’s most populous state.

Ali Hanson at The Vine Room // Photo by Tj Turner

“The intention was a contemporary California vibe, bright and welcoming and fun,” said owner Ali Hanson. Her hope is that it’s especially suited for Minnesota’s by-far-longest season. “In winter people are going to seek places that are bright and have positive energy.”

It’s not just the ambiance that embodies the Golden State. The wine list is packed with offerings from smaller California producers—no Kendall-Jackson or Meiomi here—with several of them hailing from the Santa Barbara region that the Hansons called home for five years.

Funny thing, though: When Ali and her husband Drew—both natives of Buffalo, Minnesota—moved to the beach town of Carpinteria, quality wine was hardly on her radar.

But soon, the couple were exploring the seriously vibrant scene in a Central Coast region rife with tasting rooms. They became particularly enamored with a wine bar in Santa Barbara’s “Funk Zone” called Corks n’ Crowns.

“They source a lot of garagiste winemakers [small operations that often make their wine in garages] and focus on flights,” Hanson said. “We wanted to mirror that, with themed flights so guests can choose their experience.”

Thus begat The Vine Room’s four themed flights, with three 2-ounce pours for $11 to $15. The selections come from the kind of wineries featured in Jon Bonné’s book “The New California Wine,” focusing on vintners who go against the grain of your standard cabernet/chardonnay behemoths. That makes for more interesting backstories, which have become a key element in selling the kind of less-familiar brands The Vine Room champions.

“When I say that [Le P’tit Paysan’s] Ian Brand was [the San Francisco Chronicle’s] winemaker of the year, that perks people up,” Hanson said. “When you tell people that [winemaker] Bill Hooper is from Minnesota, that [Paetra] pinot blanc tastes twice as good.”

For the Hansons, sharing the enthusiasm they have developed for wine is as integral an aspect of the operation as the alabaster accoutrements.

“California wines, that’s what fills our hearts. We have to love it for you to love it,” she said. “By default, people don’t explore on their own. That’s why it’s important that we have so many wines by the glass.”

There are 20 of those, plus a canned sangria, a cider, and two wines on tap (including the delicious 2017 Field Recordings Chenin Blanc.) All but six of the bottles are $50 or under.

Photo by Tj Turner

While more than half the wines on the list, which will change seasonally, are from California, food and other beverage offerings are a locavore’s delight. All the cheeses, charcuterie and bread are made in Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Iowa, and the beers on tap are from right around the corner (LTD) or a couple of miles west (Unmapped).

But the focus, of course, is on wine, an all-too-often arcane and complex topic. So instead of just slapping critics’ ratings on the menu, Hanson and her cohorts strive to ease customers into a comfort zone. The walls might be white, but this is no ivory tower of snooty snobbery.

“We don’t want to overeducate, but to educate to where people feel it’s approachable,” Hanson said. Which is why local instructor and part-time staffer Shar Peterson is holding “Wine After Work” sessions a few times a month (upcoming topics: New York’s Finger Lakes on Nov. 5; Valpolicella, Ripasso and Amarone on Nov. 19 and New Zealand on Dec. 3). Morning events range from yoga classes to “bubbles and cupcakes” pairings in collaboration with Amy’s Cupcake Shoppe just across the street, and evenings include live tunes a couple of times a month.

In a metro area where many wine bars are coffee shops that wanted to stay open at night, this combination of entertainment and edification stands out.

Especially given the locale. Urban denizens have had a virtual monopoly on vinous meccas such as Troubadour, Terzo, Riverside, and the late, lamented Toast and Scusi. Now cork dorks can go west for a stellar experience—in quite the glistening setting. Sunglasses optional.

The Vine Room on Main Street in Hopkins // Photo by Tj Turner