‘Give ‘Em What They Want’: These Craft Breweries Make Wine Now, Too

Beer and Wine OBC Wine project
From left, The OBC Wine Project Tasting Room; closeup of The OBC Wine Project wine cans. / Photo courtesy of The OBC Wine Project

When Speciation Artisan Ales opened in early 2017, it was going to offer cider and wine along with the house-made beer, says founder Mitch Ermatinger. Delays put those plans on hold until a year later, when Native Species Winery finally opened. When it did, the company became another in a small handful of breweries that are entering the wine space, producing both under (or near) the same roof.

The idea of alcohol producers being known for just one item is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Beverage companies is the preferred term, and while breweries adding spirits, hard seltzer, soda and even coffee to their portfolios is more common, wine production has found a place as well.

“I had a natural interest in natural wine even before I was diagnosed with celiac disease,” says Ermatinger. “For us, adding a winery was not complicated. You go to breweries all the time and you’ll see red and white wines on the menu that are a total afterthought. I honestly do not understand why that is the case.”

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Tasting room customers want choice. Not everyone drinks just beer or wine or spirits, and business owners want customers to feel comfortable. Offering a variety of products, especially when house-made, keeps people around longer and contributes more to the bottom line.

It also allows the companies to tell a story. For Ermatinger, it’s the use of Michigan-grown grapes crushed by foot or fermented via carbonic maceration.

Existing breweries have come to wine in several different ways, but most say their projects stemmed from an existing passion for the product, and a creative spirit.

The OBC Wine Project
From left, outside seating at The OBC Wine Project; an OBC glass of wine. / Photos courtesy of The OBC Wine Project

At Odell Brewing Company in Colorado, it was also about diversification. As the beer industry has grown in the U.S. over the last 20 years, breweries with a long history have sought new avenues to customers.

Odell launched the OBC Wine Project in June 2020 and recently opened a tasting room on the company’s Fort Collins campus. It currently has eight wines, including small-batch selections made from grapes harvested in Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

Some of OBC’s bottlings include a skin-contact Aromella aged in Friek beer barrels, a red blend fermented via carbonic maceration, and an off-dry blend of Riesling, Vignoles and Aromella, all sourced from Sauvage Spectrum Winery.

“We’re not experienced winemakers,” says Matthew Bailey, production manager at Odell Wine Project. “A few of us have backgrounds in wine, but not in a professional way. This came down to passion, experimentation and innovation.”

This project also puts some brewery equipment, such as a 750ml bottling line, to added use. That format has largely fallen out of fashion among beer drinkers, but now finds new life for wine packaging.

From Texas to Illinois, North Carolina to California, breweries that have launched wine components are largely embracing natural wine, thanks to a fondness and understanding of Brettanomyces and other wild yeasts. They are also often canning their wines, a preferred vessel in the beer space.

Wicked Weed Brewery and Vidl Head Winemaker Jen Currier
From left, Wicked Weed Brewery equipment; Vidl Winery Head Winemaker Jen Currier. / Photos courtesy of Wicked Weed Brewery and Vidl Winery

Vīdl Winery was born from the Wicked Weed Brewing Company in North Carolina. It has just completed its third harvest. Like others coming from the beer space, they source grapes for some of their wines from farms in the Pacific Northwest that also supply hops.

The winery uses some of the brewery’s equipment, like fermentation tanks, and barrels that previously held beer (but were steam cleaned before use to ensure a gluten-free product) in the production of their selections. To date, they have released a Sauvignon Blanc, Contact Rosé and Blaufränkisch.

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The beer-wine evolution can also work in reverse. Patrick Rue founded Southern California-based The Bruery in 2008. In 2017, he sold the company and moved north.

Rue opened Erosion Wine in St. Helena in February 2020. True to his beer roots, he added adjuncts like cacao and vanilla beans to his reds and whites, or infused others with terpenes.

But it can be hard to give up old passions. He announced last spring that he would be opening a brewery on the premises and will serve both his products side by side in the tasting room.  

Published on January 18, 2022
Topics: Winemaking News