Urban wineries have been getting more attention lately. Deservedly so. Once a bizarre oddity in city landscapes known for brewing beer, creative winemakers are cultivating America's taste for wine as they open up shop and move some combination of their crushing, blending, aging, bottling, and tasting into warehouses and storefronts across the nation's great cities. These wineries seem to be situated at the intersection of two trends. The first is the revitalization of America's cities as the young, affluent, and highly educated continue to congregate around urban cores. The second is America's growing wine consumption.
As city dwellers and city travelers, we've come to love the unique sense of terroir -- a wine's sense of place, derived (traditionally) from the climate and soil and rich traditions of the land on which it was grown and made -- that urban winemakers have hewn from the unique character of the cities around them. When done well, we find the charming old building or side street, the uniquely local artistic and musical flair, the rivers and harbors abuzz with commerce, the majesty of airplanes slipping their earthly bonds and soaring overhead blend sublimely with the winemakers' ancient craft, the juice sourced from some quieter place, and the breeze, rain, soil, and sun that nurtured their grapes.
This is the crux of what we've come to love about urban winemaking: that unmoored from the traditional pairing of country winery and vineyard, these creative winemakers have the freedom to select and experiment with a variety of grapes, and to share that wine in a place where there are so many people to enjoy it. We'd be heartbroken if we were to never again look out at the beauty of country hills with grape vines stretched across them in perfect rolling rows, but we find that the urban cousins to the traditional winery are adding something grand to the world of great wine.
At this very moment there is a bottle of The Velvet Devil Merlot from Seattle's Charles Smith Wines sitting upon my desk. We cannot wait visit, not least due to the winery's proximity to planes taking off and landing at Boeing Field (you know how we feel about planes), but we've recently focused our energy and travel on four great wineries in four great cities. We've written about each of them separately over the last couple of months, but really urge you spend time getting to know them yourself. We've tried to focus on cities of different size, with vastly different local flavors, but each with a rich history and culture that make the wines uniquely their own. One of the most brilliant aspects of urban wineries, you will find, is how they make the winery suddenly accessible to travelers visiting a city without enough time to make their way to wine country. We hope you'll make looking up the local city winery a part of every trip you take!
Owner and Winemaker Marco Montez has something really great happening at his Travessia Urban Winery on Purchase Street in charming downtown New Bedford, Massachusetts. Travessia translates approximately to a boat crossing the ocean, a journey through life, an apt name for a winery far from the traditional centers of the wine making world. Here, Marco blends Old World instincts honed in his Portuguese family's Penada vineyard and winery with new world creativity in in the heart of one of America's most under appreciated wine making regions.
Our Favorite: 2013 Jester Red Blend - Travessia's queen of the cellar, the 2013 Jester was still a bit tight when we sampled it in February 2016. It's been aged in French Oak for 18 months, and initially gave us a nose reminiscent of Port before some swirling in the glass let it give way to something a bit more Napa-red-blend-like. Jester's blend changes a bit from year to year, but the 2013 vintage is the yield of 50% Old Vine Zinfandel, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, and 10% Petite Syrah. It's a well-structured, jammy, spicy red wine that is great now, but will be amazing if cellared properly for four to five years.
Located in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, Brooklyn Oenology (BOE) espouses a profound devotion to the sense of place wrapped up in the wine they produce. Winemaker Alie Shaper and her team have really captured the essence of their unique place through exclusive use of grapes grown throughout the state of New York (you'll be hard pressed to find a vineyard in the city), inclusion of New York spirits in their tasting room, and the incredible local artwork that decorates the label of every bottle. The grapes themselves are sourced from Long Island's North Fork and in the upstate Finger Lakes region, then brought to BOE's Long Island winemaking facility for crushing, fermentation, aging, and bottling before making their way to restaurants and the BOE tasting room and as beautifully labeled bottles of wine. The property value economics of New York City make it impractical to make and age wine at the 209 Wythe Avenue tasting room location. Wine is the undeniable theme here, but it's been set in a quintessentially Brooklyn, and even more so Williamsburg way.
Our Favorite: 2014 Serendipity - This white blend of 50% stainless steal Chardonnay, 25% Viognier, and 25% Sauvignon Blanc has the distincution of being BOE's first ever 90 point wine as awarded by Robert Parker, though it is actually labeled and marketed under Alie's "As If" brand. We disagreed as to the whether the nose reminded us of banana bread, but there are undeniable melon, lychee, lemon zest, and botanical notes jumping from the glass. You'll find notes of gala apple and melon in this very well balanced summer wine.
The Nashville variety is a true downtown entertainment venue born of the fusion of wine and music. "Music City" sense of place actually makes this approach work here. The Winery & Barrel Room Restaurant is obviously recently built, but very tastefully constructed. We'll call the style "nouveau rustic", serving the house-fermented wine alongside a compelling selection of spirits (whiskey!) that bridge the gap between the stemware in your hand and the state you know you're visiting. Meanwhile there is a large (by winery standards) concert venue feet away where live music on stage compliments restaurant style seating and dining. It's big, different, and far more commercial than any winery we've ever felt compelled to write positively of... but it works here.
Our Favorite: Cabernet Sauvignon Rose - The Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon is dark for a rose, almost like a light Pinot Noir, giving us some candied strawberry that is lighter in the mouth than the nose lets on... or wait, was our favorite the Hyland Pinot Noir? In the Pinot we were surprised to find a compelling nose, some slight acidity to give it structure, and pleasing vanilla notes. It's a darker, leggy Pinot that reminds us of its Oregonian cousins.
Kansas City is a great town with a beautiful old train station, a shockingly bizarre mid-century airport, and some absolutely spectacular dining. There's also Amigoni Urban Winery, located in the historic Daily Drover Telegram Newspaper building in the Stockyards District of the West Bottoms. Amigoni is serious about making great wine, and has built a city tasting experience befitting this dedication. The tasting room at 1505 Genessee Street also serves as a character-rich event space, with a truly one-of-a-kind atrium and tasting bar up front and a renovated barrel room and adjoining patio. We loved the winery's eclectic and authentic feel.
Our Favorite: 2014 Urban Vaquero - Amigoni's tasting notes call this Tempranillo (90%) and Merlot (10%) blend the "urban cowboy". As with the Barbera, we were definitely surprised to see a Tempranillo based wine in this part of the world, but such is the creative freedom inherent in sourcing fruit from elsewhere. That Tempranillo is often called Spain's "noble grape" is evident in this wine: it felt very Spanish from start to finish. It's earthy, and surprisingly cool with hints of plum, vanilla, and spice.