From major metropolises like New York City to wine-producing hubs like California’s Paso Robles, urban wineries have proved to be more than a fad. They’re even creeping into rapidly developing cities like Austin, Texas. The focus on innovation and local grapes in some of the best urban tasting rooms makes for wines worth taking seriously. City dwellers can get in on the fun of a winery experience without missing the vineyard or leaving the personality of their city behind.
One of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S., residents here are more of a beer crowd, but there’s a new winery in town aiming to change that. Ben Parsons, CEO and winemaker of The Infinite Monkey Theorem, opened his 6,000-square-foot winery and taproom off South Congress Avenue in November with a “hipster kind of coffee shop” vibe. It’s got a modern industrial aesthetic and food delivery from next-door The Buzz Mill is in the works. This is the sister location to Parsons’ first urban winery, which opened in Denver back in 2008.
This spring, Texas-made Trebbiano, Vermentino, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo and Mourvèdre will be available in the Austin tasting room. Parsons’ team crushed 45 tons of Texas grapes in 2015, its first harvest.
“The goal is to make the best wine that we possibly could with Texas fruit and to have it available in our taproom, but also throughout the best restaurants in the city,” says Parsons.
It might be the newest, but The Infinite Monkey Theorem is not the first urban winery to open in Austin. That title goes to The Austin Winery, which cranks out a wide range of varietal wines made from Texas, California and Washington grapes. —Christina Pellegrini
Paso Robles, California
The estate winery experience is key to the steady rise in success here, where rolling vineyards surround hilltop chateaus. But a few years ago, the region’s youthful and tradition-bucking vanguard set up shop in a warehouse zone just south of downtown.
Today, “Tin City” is home to more than a dozen wineries, as well as a brewery, distillery and cider house. Many are open for walk-in visits, including Aaron Wines, Brian Benson Cellars and Levo Wines. Visiting others, like Giornata and Clos Solène, requires an appointment. “Overall, 2016 should be another big year in Tin City,” says Winemaker Andrew Jones, who was featured in Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 issue last year and whose Field Recordings label was among the first to settle into the space.
“Sans Liege will be getting a spot up here, and we are also opening up a cider house for Tin City Cider Co., which is a Field Recordings/Sans Liege/Scar of the Sea partnership,” says Jones.
A restaurant is in the works, and Barrelhouse Brewing, which many credit for discovering this somewhat isolated part of town, is expanding into a new building for its barrel-aged ales. —Matt Kettmann
Unsurprisingly, this tech hub hosts several urban wineries. But when Charles Smith (known for K Vintners, Charles Smith Wines, Sixto, Substance, Secco Italian Bubbles and Charles & Charles), moved his winemaking operations from Walla Walla, Washington, to Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood last year, people took notice. Smith’s mammoth 32,000-square-foot production facility and tasting room, Jet City, is the second-largest urban winery in North America. Smith’s location next to Boeing Field provides plenty of entertainment, as guests can watch planes take off and land in two uniquely styled tasting spaces.
By contrast, Eight Bells Winery is shoehorned into an alley in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. Former home winemakers Frank Michiels, Andy Shepherd and Tim Bates show creativity in using every square inch of space to produce their small-lot wines. They also employ an army of local volunteers to help during crush. The winery’s focus is to sell directly to the consumer at very reasonable prices, especially considering that much of the fruit comes from Red Willow Vineyard, one of the state’s premier locations. —Sean P. Sullivan
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Gruet Winery may be surrounded by desert landscape in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but its roots come from patriarch Gilbert Gruet’s Champagne house, Gruet et Fils, in Bethon, France. Its sandy loam soils, high elevation (ranging between 4,245–5,110 feet) and dramatic day-night temperature changes make an ideal climate to grow the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier used in its méthode champenoise sparkling wines.
Founded in 1984, the winery has just over 400 acres under vine in three vineyards: Gruet Vineyard (near Truth or Consequences), Luna Rossa (close to the Mexico border) and The Pueblo of Santa Ana (outside Albuquerque). Gruet Winery’s portfolio of vintage and nonvintage sparkling wine is produced and distributed at the Albuquerque winery. Last year’s production totaled 175,000 cases—a record for the winery. From the vintage Blanc de Blancs to the Grande Reserve (aged en tirage for six years), Gruet’s wealth of offerings show that the desert is anything but desolate. —Jill Robinson
Over the last 17 years, Portlandia has watched its urban winemaking scene gain momentum. Hip Chicks Do Wine was started in 1999, and Boedecker Cellars launched in 2003. In 2011, six wineries founded the PDX Urban Wineries Association, and membership has since doubled. Virtually all these producers describe themselves as small, artisanal and family-owned, but the similarities end there.
Angel Vine focuses on Zinfandel, while Division Winemaking Company takes on varieties inspired largely by the Loire and Beaujolais. Its portfolio includes Gamay Noir, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and a Grenache-based pét-nat (pétillant naturel). Fausse Piste tackles Rhône varieties from Washington vineyards, while Viola Wine Cellars bottles Italianate varietals, like Barbera and Dolcetto.
Several of the PDX Urban Wineries are also part of the Southeast Wine Collective. The 10-member group comprises a different mix of urban microwineries, all sharing a 5,000-square-foot production facility, wine club, wine bar and event space. The collective was founded in 2012 in the Division-Clinton neighborhood, and has become a focus for the area’s dining scene.
To taste the full spectrum of Portland’s urban winery offerings, don’t miss the PDX Urban Wine Experience on May 1, where more than 12 wineries will each pour two to three wines. —Paul Gregutt
In the 1850s, Ohio was the largest wine producer in the United States, with Cincinnati serving as its epicenter. That may no longer be the case, but there are still quality producers in Ohio. Just minutes from downtown Cincinnati, Henke Winery, established in 1996, set up shop in the city’s Westwood neighborhood after it quickly outgrew its first location. The winery makes all 15 wines right in its cellar, which can produce 20,000 bottles per year.
Owner Joe Henke sources many of his grapes from Ohio as well as Kentucky, Indiana, California and the Finger Lakes region in New York. Among Henke’s portfolio is a spicy Zinfandel from 100-year-old vines, a robust Cabernet Franc and a Seyval that’s a barrel-fermented sur lie style. Nearly 90% of its wine is sold onsite. —J.R.
New York City
Brooklyn is infamous for its from-the-source approach to well, everything. So it’s no surprise that its winemaking follows suit. Case in point: Devin Shomaker’s Rooftop Reds.
Shomaker studied viticulture and wine technology at Finger Lakes Community College. The goal of the project is to be the first “commercially viable, urban, rooftop-viticulture business.” It’s a 15,000-square-foot rooftop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard planted with Bordeaux varieties.
The spot hosts wine tastings, vineyard tours, hammock happy hours, sunset yoga and pizza-and-movie nights.
Eventually, it aims to bottle 30–40 cases of the first-ever Brooklyn vintage, but for now is serving wines produced at Point of the Bluff Vineyard on Keuka Lake.
Urban winemaking is far from new in the borough, though. Red Hook Winery began in 2008. Brooklyn’s oldest standing winery, Brooklyn Oenology, will celebrate its 10th anniversary in June. In September, Alie Shaper, the owner-winemaker, launched As If, her first line of boutique-blended wines.
“I’ve had other producers tell me that they got inspired to start doing what they do because of what I did,” Shaper says. “I certainly can’t take credit for everybody’s efforts, but being part of the very beginning of this wave does mean a lot to me.”
Perhaps New York’s best-known urban winery is City Winery, a winery-meets-restaurant-meets-music-venue that’s expanded to locations in Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville and Napa. The house wines feature top-notch grapes from California, Oregon and Mendoza, Argentina, and you can even craft your own wine blend, from a few cases to a whole barrel. —C.P.
The urban wine dream is alive and well at Bluxome Street Winery in the SoMa district, one of the early venues to host the In Pursuit of Balance tastings. An event space as well as working winery, Webster Marquez of Anthill Farms makes Pinot Noir here from the organically farmed Balinard Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. The tasting room feels more like a bar, where there’s room to grab a bite or sit and sip a glass, flight or bottle.
Dogpatch WineWorks, a 15,000-square-foot winery that also hosts events, will let you taste wine or even make your own. Also in Dogpatch is Sutton Cellars, which makes eclectic wines, like a Carignan-Grenache blend from Mendocino, as well as cider and vermouth.
Tank 18 is a 6,000-square-foot space with a wide variety of wines, most made from Napa or Sonoma fruit. It serves by the glass or bottle, with pop-up food and small plates at the ready. It also hosts BYOB events. —Virginie Boone
Santa Barbara, California
Among Santa Barbara’s white, Spanish-style buildings, vast beaches, fine arts venues, bright boutiques and culinary tastes lies a special treasure. The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail is in the heart of downtown, which offers visitors a focused tasting day. The 27 wineries on the trail are required to have a production facility within Santa Barbara County, and 70% of production must be from vineyards within the county.
At Jaffurs Wine Cellars, the focus is on Rhône varietal wines (including eight bottlings of Syrah) made in small lots in its modern, climate-controlled facility downtown. Nearby Carr Vineyards & Winery, which also has onsite production, highlights its limited-production wines that include Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc. While the Grassini Family Vineyards is not located downtown, the tasting room in the Wine Collection of El Paseo complex offers introductions to its portfolio made from the Bordeaux varieties grown on the estate vineyard. Cebada Vineyard & Winery produces Burgundian-style wines from estate-grown varieties at its vineyard in North Santa Barbara County. —J.R.