Sometimes we’re tempted to think that all roads leading to wine begin in Minnesota. Perhaps that sounds egotistical of us since Minnesota is where we live, but we have proof. The number of wineries where we’ve unearthed a connection to Minnesota is so lengthy we’ll name just a few: Terra Valentine, O’Shaughnessy, Miner, iOTA, Breggo (now called FEL), Domaine Serene, Ladera, Murphy-Goode (proudly sporting Minnesota Vikings colors on its label), Argyle, Spell, Robert Hall, Le Cadeau. We could go on and on. Even the king of Napa Valley himself, Robert Mondavi, was born here.
Shane Wine Cellars, a small label we recently became acquainted with, is another winery in this great Minnesota tradition. Founded in 2006 by Shane Finley, Shane makes only a few hundred cases a year of each its bottlings; small, if judged by numbers alone, but giant if quality is the measure.
While Shane is currently the winemaker for Lynmar Estates in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma and consulting winemaker for several other California wineries, it’s clear that he still has plenty of passion leftover for shepherding his own label on the side. The very first line of his bio on the Lynmar website won us over instantly: “Shane’s route to winemaking was far from direct, more spiritual calling than dogged pursuit,” it said. Spiritual calling beats dogged pursuit? We liked him already. Added to that, we’d heard that he’s a homegrown Minnesotan, a graduate of Bloomington Jefferson High School, which virtually cements our hypothesis that Minnesota is the secret epicenter of the wine world.
After college, Shane went to work in Manhattan for a large insurance company but in three years decided that wine was his calling instead. Preferring to learn by getting his hands dirty rather than sitting in a classroom, he pursued a series of apprenticeships with small wineries to learn the business. When interviewed by Star Tribune wine writer Bill Ward in 2009, Shane said he “majored in Syrah” at Copain in Sonoma, Torbreck in Australia, and Pierre Gaillard in the Rhône region of France. (By the way, Bill Ward also has facts backing up the Minnesota wine hypothesis. See here and here.)
On the way to his current post, Shane spent time as Assistant Winemaker to the illustrious Paul Hobbs, helped found and was winemaker for Spell Wines, and made wines at the highly regarded Pinot Noir house of Kosta Browne. Shane’s wines definitely reflect the calibre of winemakers from whom he has learned.
When we sipped Shane (this phrase makes a fun tongue twister, by the way), we couldn’t get over how appropriately each wine was named:
2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir “The Charm” Classic Pinot Noir from a classic Pinot Noir region. Refined, elegant, smooth, plum on the start and tart raspberries on the finish. This wine is charming, we thought, and then laughed to see the name.
2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir “La Reine” Meaning the queen in French, this wine has an earthy power and garnet color that goes with the regal title. Some spice and herbs plus yummy red fruit. We were told this wine was named after Shane’s daughter, and if so, she must be quite a young lady! Not that we needed confirmation, but the 2012 La Reine was rated 91 points by the discerning Stephen Tanzer.
2011 Sonoma County Syrah “The Unknown” Deep, dark and mysterious, of course. Inky-black color. Almost smoky aroma. But surprisingly smooth and well balanced for all its intensity, hints of spice and jammy dark fruit.
Shane also makes a wonderful White Grenache which we tried (bright, zesty nectar of peach) and a rosé which we aspire to sip at some point.
On his twitter bio, which allows precious little room to describe oneself, Shane uses over a third of his allotted character space to proudly proclaim,”Yes, I am from Minnesota and I enjoy walleye.” So this week, in recognition of his dedication to his Minnesota roots, his finesse in making fine wine, and his commitment to spiritual calling over dogged pursuit, we toast to Shane Finley and Shane Wine Cellars. And, to the best kept secret in the wine industry…all roads to wine begin in Minnesota. Cheers! Or better yet, as true Minnesotans would say, Skål!
If you’re in the Twin Cities and would like to find Shane Wines, we bought ours at Excelsior Vintage, 400 Highway 7, Excelsior MN 55331 952-401-0346. Special thanks to Greg for going the extra mile to procure all of the available Shane bottlings for us. Distributed in MN by Domace Vino. Thanks, Jessica, for pouring Shane for us and acquainting us with his story. And Happy 10th Birthday to Domace Vino!