What is an “urban winery”?
The simple answer is a commercial winery located in an urban environment rather than in a traditional rural location near a vineyard. It’s not really a new concept, but is rapidly gaining currency, especially among millennials who have paved the way for many new alternatives in the alcoholic beverage category.
Urban wineries started out nearly two decades ago as novel, but straightforward, grape-to-glass operations in urban settings. But today it’s a little more complex, especially for consumers looking to sort out options for new wine experiences while visiting and dining in major American cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Portland, and New York.
As wine has gained popularity across all adult age groups, so does the number of establishments called urban wineries (and variations on this theme). A 2018 article in Food & Wine reported that urban wineries are on the rise and “they’re crushing it.”
For example, just among commercial wineries, there are three styles of grape-to-glass operations:
- Some urban wineries manage their own vineyards in locations far from the actual winery. The winemaker for Jackson Hole Winery, which I wrote about in June, grows grapes in California and ships them for processing to his winemaking facility in Wyoming.
- Others contract with growers from multiple vineyards, trucking grapes to a nearby urban location for crush, fermentation, aging, and bottling. Grapes are often from the same appellation where the urban winery is located, e.g., Ohio River Valley AVA, and Cincinnati’s Skeleton Root Winery (profiled below).
- A third variation is for an urban winery such as Peace Water Winery in Carmel, Indiana, to hire a winemaker who oversees the entire operation from grape to bottle, leaving the last step — into the glass — for the experience at the urban winery.
There are two additional types of urban wineries also gaining popularity. One is “DIY” — make your own wine under the supervision of a winemaker — and the other is primarily a commercial event and entertainment venue that happens to include a winery.
Yes, there is wine in Ohio!
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.
Ohio’s place on the world wine map was secured by Nicholas Longworth, a New Jersey native who came to Cincinnati in 1803 when he was 21 years old. Ten years later, he began experimenting with planting native American grapes, already aware that vinifera grapes did not do well in the humid Midwestern climate. His commercial success came in 1830 with the red Catawba grape. It was a little “foxy” and semi-sweet, but Cincinnatians loved it.
In 1842, Catawba got a second wind when the pink wine accidentally went through a second fermentation. The resulting bubbly was popular from California to France, and inspire dramatic growth in Ohio’s wine industry. By 1860 Ohio was producing about 1/3 of American wine, and Longworth himself had 2,000 acres under vines (in an area that is today known fondly as “Catawba Hill”).
Of course, all that changed with Prohibition, and Ohio was slow to regain its footing as a wine producer. Today there are more than 280 commercial wineries and five designated appellations to explore across the state. More than 100 of them welcome visitors. Find your next Ohio winery exploration here.
Cincinnati’s urban wineries
Henke Winery has been a mainstay in Cincinnati’s west side for 23 years. Its current location houses the winery and a restaurant where all wines on the menu are made in the in-house cellar. In 2016, Wine Enthusiast Magazine ranked Henke as one of the top 10 urban wineries in the United States. Henke produces 15 wines, about 20,000 bottles of wine per year. The grapes are all sourced locally in Ohio and Kentucky.
Location: 3077 Harrison Ave, Cincinnati
Mio Vino is a microwinery in suburban Cincinnati where enthusiasts can make their own wine, typically at private parties or events hosted by Mio Vino. Here’s how it works. Mio Vino buys grapes from vineyards around the world. The winery’s staff team assists in selecting blends and yeasts, and then watches over fermentation and aging for 45 days. Design a custom label for about 30 bottles, assist in bottling, and have a party!
Location: 7908 Blue Ash Rd, Deer Park
Revel OTR Urban Winery is a boutique venue established in 2016 that specializes in small batch wine and beer. The two-story building uses its basement space to age wine. The first and second floors are used as a restaurant space offering lite bites, meat and cheese plates, and a daily dessert menu. Closed Mondays for private parties.
Location: 111 E 12th St, Cincinnati
Woodstone Creek Winery & Distillery makes 100-200 cases of wine, spirits, and honey mead each year. Woodstone’s winemaker is also a certified brewmaster, mead mazer, and master distiller. White, red and dessert wines are made from a range of American and French hybrid grapes in addition to familiar vinifera grapes such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Woodstone was Ohio’s first licensed microdistillery, producing about five different types of single-barrel potstilled batches of spirits a year. The winery also produces an unusually large range of mead wines styles ranging from dry to sweet. Open for visitors only Friday nights and Saturdays.
Location: 4712 Vine St, Cincinnati
Skeleton Root Profile
Founded: 2016 by Kate MacDonald and Josh Jackson
Philosophy: revitalize Cincinnati wine inspired by the deep-rooted wine heritage of the region
Strategy: all wines produced grape-to-glass in Over The Rhine neighborhood
Style: classically inspired, dry, and food friendly; vegan-friendly, minimal chemical intervention
Grapes: mostly native American heritage grapes such as Catawba, Norton, and Isabella
Private events: weddings, corporate meetings
Visit: Thursday 4-10, Friday 4-11, Saturday noon to 11, Sunday 1-6
Location: 38 W. McMicken Ave, Cincinnati
Wines to try:
- Sparkling Catawba, made in the ancestral method (also called pétillant-naturel or “pét-nat” for short. Flavorful, rustic pink bubbly that will surprise and delight first-time samplers. Grapes from Ohio River Valley AVA.
- Seyval Blanc, a French hybrid grape from the Lake Erie AVA. Dry, brightly acidic, great on its own or with food.
- Rosé of Pinot Noir made from grapes grown in the Grand River Valley (Ohio) AVA. A magical pink/magenta color reminiscent of French Tavel or Spanish Navarra. Dry, mouth-watering, notes of wild strawberries on the palate.
- Norton, also from the Ohio River Valley AVA, is a big red grape with lots of tannins that want to be tamed. SR typically ages Norton for 24 months in a mix of neutral wood, plus further bottle aging. Pairs well with earthy food such as game meats and foraged vegetables such as mushrooms.