Working Together in Wine Country

3 Reasons Why Working Together Is The Way Forward For Wine

Conventional financial wisdom teaches us that businesses should do anything to gain an edge on the competition, that we all must fight tooth and nail to do better than the next guy or we will be relegated to failure. The business world is a constant game of one-upmanship. Is this truly the way things have to be?

Waconia Wine Country is proving that hand-in-hand approach is helping them thrive.

This December 17-18 check out Waconia Winter Wassail Weekend, a festive holiday event involving all 3 wineries.  You can learn more, here.

1.     Drawing in Tourism

Would you drive a couple of hours to see one winery? Maybe not. But three wineries? Now you’re talking.

The triad of Waconia wineries are Parley Lake, Schram, and Sovereign Estate

Parley Lake was first vineyard in the area, built in 2005 on apple orchards by the owner and winemaker Steve Zeller. This heralded the dawn of the wine era for the west metro. Two years later Theresa and Paul Savaryn started up Sovereign Estates, and one year after that, Aaron and Ashley Schram planted the roots of Schram Winery and Brewery. The first few years are hard for any new vitner: grapevines take several years to mature enough to bear fruit — and a few more years on top of that to bear fruit worthy of wine-making. Once your wine-worthy fruit has matured, there is a learning curve to wine-making with cold-climate grapes (without a long lineage of experts to consult the way European or Californian winemakers can).

It wasn’t long until the vintners struck upon the idea of joining forces. Sovereign’s Teresa Savaryn recalls, “When we planted our first hundred vines, Paul and I invited the owners of the other wineries to a dinner to talk about the future in Waconia of west metro area. This created a friendly atmosphere of collaboration and we knew we were all in this together.”

Parley Lake’s Steve Zeller‘s initial misgivings were quickly erased. “We were a little concerned at first, because we thought, well, there’s only so much interest and purchasing that’s going to go on in the west metro. And it was just the opposite! When Sovereign opened, our business went up. And then when Schram opened, the same thing happened. Now, we see tour buses!” Now visitors can make a day or weekend of wine tasting, roaming Waconia and enjoying the unique qualities of each winery. By working together Sovereign, Schram, and Parley have really developed a cohesive marketing hook—”Waconia Wine Country”. “I say welcome to MinneNAPAlis!”  laughs Teresa. Not sure if that one will catch on!

In short, each vineyard gets much better exposure by being part of a tourism destination than they ever could have alone. Ashley Schram affirms that, “We absolutely have something special. It’s really like we’re creating a brand–Waconia Wine Country. When we work together, we’re able to draw in tourism. People don’t have to get on a plane to California. They can see that we’re making some really great wine here. The grapes that we can grow in Minnesota have come a long way in the last decade, so I think the perception is changing. You can get some really great wine, not too far from home.”

Savaryn agrees. “Frankly, all three of us benefit any time any one individually places an ad, because we know once in the area, most guests will take the time to visit another one of the wineries because of the close proximity. That really rocks for us!”

2.     Sharing Equipment and Info

“We work together trading equipment too,” Schram adds. “Parley borrows our screwcap machine!” It takes a lot of expensive equipment to run a winery, so it’s no surprise that the triad swap stuff whenever possible. “We all can share ideas too. Working together has been helping us all improve.”

Being able to help each other like this makes the businesses’ relationships symbiotic rather than competitive. It’s much easier making the best wine you possibly can when you have other winemakers available to talk to, to taste, to critique. Savaryn explains that, “We each push each other to a higher excellence.”

No man is an island, and no vineyard either!

Four years ago the three wineries started hosting a Progressive Dinner, a nomadic party of wine and food pairings that travels to and from each winery. The first one was so well received that they have added two more collaborative events, The Winter Wassail Weekend and this year the first annual Waconia Wine Festival.

Sharing equipment, techniques, and events as well has been yielding great numbers of visitors, eager to try out what each winery has to offer.

3.     Allowing Individuality to Shine

Zeller believes this collaborative success more easily allows each vineyard to express themselves as unique creatures. “We’re not competing because we’re all so different!”

There are other vineyards around the country who occasionally get together to draw in tourism, but the really special thing about the way Waconia does things is that the triad have a convivial relationship but maintain such individual flavors and ambiance. The visitors get a new, fresh experience at each vineyard they visit.

Sovereign Estates provide a more European wine style that focuses on wines for fine dining. To a new guest the vineyard feels classy and continental, surrounded by gorgeous countryside. The bistro décor hints of Old World opulence while staying grounded in comfort.

Whereas Schram has a modern Uptown vibe, plus stands out as being a brewery as well—in fact, the first Winery AND Brewery to exist in Minnesota. With active bocce ball leagues and weekly food trucks, Schram Vineyards feels like a fun, hip Friday night destination.

Parley Lake Winery is a rustic melding of farmhouse and artist colony. Myriad sculptures dot the landscape around the charming barn house tasting rooms, surrounded by the biggest pick-your-own Honeycrisp apple orchard in the state. It feels like a laid-back, sip-on-the-porch kind of wine experience.

If you owned the only winery in a 100-mile radius, you would probably feel compelled to cater to the widest audience possible. Well, you know what they say about pleasing everyone all the time—it can’t be done. You might end up with a bland, homogenized, one-size-fits-all kind of place, and who wants that? Could Schram, Parley Lake, and Sovereign be such unique places with unique personalities if they were on their own? Hard to say, but it is definitely more fun to go to all three and find out which is your favorite than to be stuck with only one option.

“All customers appreciate the unique qualities of each winery,” Teresa Savaryn states, “but really comment on our spirit of cooperation.” It’s definitely worth commenting on. Yet another example of why Minnesota Nice really works!


Waconia Wassail Weekend – December 17 +18, 2016

What is a “wassail”, you may be wondering?
Wassail is a mulled wine, or spiced ale.  It also refers to drinking in celebration with others, going from house to house caroling!

Tour the 3 Waconia Wineries for a festive holiday spirited weekend featuring carolers and holiday music, mulled wine, winter games, food, and more!

Tickets are $35 in advance, which includes tastings at all three participating wineries. Must be at least 21 years of age to register for this event. Tickets can be purchased at

Image Credit: Sovereign Estate
Image Credit: Sovereign Estate


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About The Author

Sam Fox

Sam is a Twin-Cities based freelance writer.


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