Ali Hanson may be the owner of The Vine Room, a recently opened wine bar in downtown Hopkins, but "culture curator" is the descriptor she came up with to encompass what she wants to accomplish in the role. “For me, creating this business was about creating this space before anything. I really wanted to create a space for people to gather to enjoy wine, to learn about wine, but really to enjoy the company that they’re here with as well," she says.
Hanson herself wasn’t always the wine lover she is today. Before moving out to California in 2013, she didn’t even like wine, she admits with a laugh. “Moving out to California was interesting because it wasn’t like I had this epiphany, ‘I want to learn about wine.’ It was just our social life there,” Hanson says. Much like the brewery scene of the Twin Cities, wineries and tasting rooms in that part of California are a social destination and a fun weekend adventure. “Learning and drinking more wine there, and really finding what I enjoyed, is what made me fall in love with it,” Hanson says.
After five years in the sunny beach town of Carpinteria, Hanson and her husband, Drew, decided to move back to Minnesota. They’ll always love Carpinteria, Hanson explains, but there was a piece of their lives that felt unfulfilled. “All of our family and all of our closest friends all still live here,” she says, adding, “That sense of family and friendship, you can’t quite fill in with anything else.” But while the pair have left the sun and sand behind, they’ve brought a piece of that wine country culture back with them to introduce to a Minnesotan audience.
“I think wine can be a very intimidating product because it needs different languages, a lot of the time,” Hanson says. “The offering is so broad, so I think what we’re really striving to do here is create a space that feels welcoming, approachable.” To this end, The Vine Room has partnered with Twin Cities Wine Education to bring the class series Wine After Work, taught by sommelier Shar Peterson. The focus of the class changes each session: one session it’s a specific region; the next, a single varietal of grape.
The classes, like The Vine Room itself, have attracted people from across the board. It isn’t just wine connoisseurs, Hanson explains; “Sometimes it’s just, ‘It’s girls’ night and it's happy hour, let’s try a new experience.’” And regardless of your experience level, The Vine Room offers a number of foolproof menu-pairing options, including a seasonal charcuterie board.
“There’s enough variety on the board that pretty much anything you’re drinking, something will pair well with it,” Hanson says. The board, comprised of locally sourced meats and cheeses from farmers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, also features fixings that play with seasonal ingredients. This past winter’s menu has featured fixings like praline pecans, seeded mustard and grapes; to see what's on the menu currently, check thevineroom.co.
The website is also the best place to keep track of upcoming special events, whether it’s Wine & Shine yoga classes upstairs paired with an afternoon wine tasting, the newly launched Wine on the Weekend series, or live music nights. “We bring unique people in,” Hanson says. “The opportunities to be more than just a wine bar are endless, and I think that’s what I’m the most excited about."