Urban Wineries take winemaking to the streets

Whoever said that wine tasting had to be exclusive to the French chateaus of arrogant aristocrats deserves to have a series of corks placed firmly where the sun don't shine. Yes, it is beautiful and magical, but it is often inaccessible and singular. Going on wine used to mean traveling on dusty roads, to places you could hardly find. It can be fun, yes, but urban wineries are changing the way we think, drink, and enjoy wine. Urban wineries have brought wine to the cities, brought wine to the streets, and infusing the wine that they make with the vibrancy of their neighborhoods. Urban wineries rock!

So what makes an urban winery so awesome, so novice, so innovative? Simply put, urban wineries take you away from the traditional winery and vineyard setting. In doing so they open up to the imagination of the city, but also being as they are in a city setting. Urban wineries can also be in any city, anywhere, and not be held to the constraints of the vineyard. Though the same is technically true for country based wineries, it seems more acceptable for urban wineries because they are usually not attached to a vineyard. Urban wineries can be found close to many major wine regions such as Portland, Oregon, or San Francisco and Paso Robles, California, but they can also be found in places like New York City and Denver, Colorado. Even Dallas has its own urban wineries, yes the famous wine growing region of Dallas has a winery. They are free to bring in grapes from wherever they please, make relationships, and blend them together to create something unique, daring, and totally anti wine establishment.

A lot of the guile of urban wineries comes from their surroundings. At first, the winery will mold to a neighborhood, occupying old warehouses, vacant industrial areas, or any space that has enough area to host their operations. While traditional wineries are free to grow, and create an experience that defines them, the urban winery is defined by their establishment, the building, the neighbors, and finding a home that suits them rather than building one. One need only look to Portland’s Enso Winery to see the remnants of the old auto repair shop that might have once stood in that place. The setting itself is chic, trendy, but lends credibility to the hard work, graft, and craftsmanship going on behind the curtains.

Everything is small...or is it?

Most Urban Wineries are small, and that suits them just fine. For most, the adjustment from a tasting room that brings back repeat customers on the odd occasion when they want to buy a few more bottles, to one that draws in people to start their night, go on a date, sit with a friend and have a glass of wine, turns the winery into a social hub. The urban winery brings the social element back to wine. For smaller wineries this is a chance to stake their claim, make a following, and disrupt the wine industry. Larger wineries are starting to see the urban setting as a place for them to connect with their consumers, and use it as an opportunity to grow in ways they never could before.

When Charles Smith moved their winemaking operations from Walla Walla, Washington into the heart of Seattle it sent waves, but could yet prove to be a seismic movement for the wine industry. For winemakers like Charles Smith, moving his production to Seattle just made sense. Charles moved his winery into an old Dr. Pepper bottling plant, mainly because the wines he produced had gained cult like status (he did put a bomb on the label of one of his wines and call it Boom Boom) and he simply needed more room, which he could not get in Walla Walla. The Georgetown area suited his winery, its new direction, and indeed Charles himself. An industrious, hard working, roll up the sleeves and get shit done kind of guy, Charles is right at home. Seattle is the city that gave birth to grunge, Starbucks, and is the setting for one of the greatest sitcoms of all time in Frasier. It is a city that pulls in a vast number of different directions, but a city that is able to give those with passion and grit a base from which to expand. Just ask Amazon. For Smith it is Seattle that will give his wines the ability to reach an even bigger global audience, not the countryside.

From small to large, urban wineries are bringing winemaking to the streets. They are disrupting the traditional setting and place of the winery. The attitude that these wineries and the environments in which they exist are rewarding us with great wines that allow us to expand our knowledge, and liking of wine to places limited only by the imagination of the winemakers. Urban wineries are making wine a center part of our social lives, and for that they should have a place in all our hearts.

Damian Priday