Sippin' in the CityBy Judy Jacobs

Urban wineries

Looking for a different type of off-site experience—one that involves a winery, but not in a distant wine region? In some cities you may not have to look too far—there just might be a winery in the neighborhood. And as urban wineries continue to gain in popularity, there will be more opportunities to find these venues.

Urban wineries fall into two basic categories. One is new-style and usually found in a warehouse or repurposed historic building. These are for the most part working facilities, where events take place in the production room, and the emphasis is on the wine.

The San Francisco Bay Area has been at the forefront of this movement, and its East Bay Vintners’ Alliance now has 23 member wineries throughout such urban enclaves as Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda. In New York City, Brooklyn and Manhattan just may be the next hotbeds for this kind of viticultural facility. The other type is a more traditional winery and event venue that just happens to be located in the middle of a city. These can be found throughout the country, and have generally been around longer.

“For a genuine urban winery experience, you would meet the winemakers, you would have the winemakers pour, and you would hear the story behind the wine,” says Louise Felsher, CMP, CMM, director of marketing for Treasure Island Wines—made in an old Navy post exchange on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay—and a Smart Meetings contributor. “It’s artisan wine, so it’s small batches. It’s where the exciting wine is being made now.”

Make sure that you’re choosing a genuine urban winery. You would ideally meet in a regular production room. You’re in the middle of the action, and wineries try to make that part of the experience, she adds.

Other San Francisco East Bay urban wineries include Rock Wall Wines, located in a converted 40,000-square-foot airplane hangar on a former Navy base in Alameda, and Periscope Cellars, which is named after the WWII submarine repair facility where it is currently located in Emeryville. It is moving to bigger facilities in Oakland’s Jack London Square this summer.

Across the country, the Brooklyn Winery opened in October in a building that was a former nightclub—and before that a creamery and a used-car showroom—in the hipster Williamsburg neighborhood. “We are a destination, and a lot of people are scared to cross the water, but it’s just six minutes from Union Square and right over the Williamsburg Bridge,” says Jenesy Claire, the winery’s director of events. Brooklyn Winery will produce its first wines in the coming months and has 100 clients who make wine on-site. It can accommodate 10–200 people in a variety of rooms or 300 for a buyout. Activities include tastings, blending sessions and trivia tailored to a group.

In Hudson Square in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, City Winery has a staff of three overseeing private events. An interactive space that often involves music as well as wine, it incorporates private dining rooms to accommodate groups of various sizes, from 75–100 people for sit-down dinners in the winery to 600 for a buyout. Groups first choose their wines, which are then paired with selections from the Mediterranean-inspired menu.

n the Cincinnati suburb of Westwood, 10 minutes from the city’s downtown, Henke Winery can be found in a building that began as a pharmacy in the 1880s and later became a candy store and a restaurant. The current owner purchased the building in 2001 and began to make wine. He now produces red, white and sparkling wines using grapes from throughout Ohio, as well as New York’s Finger Lakes region and an annual shipment from California’s Amador County.

“We can seat 130 people in five rooms, so most events are smaller. On average we do 40 or 50 people,” says Scott Guynup, executive chef and partner. “During the week it would never be a problem to get space, but the weekends could be difficult.” The winery has a room for entertainment, and its restaurant serves everything from pizza to filet mignon and fresh fish.

The San Antonio Winery, a massive winery and events center located in central Los Angeles, has facilities that can compete with the large wineries in California’s major wine regions—but it’s been around much longer than most of them. Today run by the fourth generation of the founding family, the winery has been in continuous operation since 1917, when founder Santo Cambianica immigrated from Italy and settled in what was then the Italian neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. Located in an industrial area, it is the last of more than 100 wineries that once lined the Los Angeles River Basin. One of the largest producers in California, the winery includes 14 different brands, and all wine that is labeled “Made in L.A.” comes from here.

A variety of venues, including the fermenting and crushing rooms, are available for groups of between 25–450 people. An on-site restaurant caters northern Italian cuisine and provides a great opportunity to pair pastas with the varietals made on-site.

Groups meeting in the Phoenix area can take advantage of Scottsdale’s first winery. Located on the ground floor of a four-story condo complex in the Arts District of downtown Scottsdale, Su Vino Winery produces a variety of reds and whites, along with a handful of dessert wines. It can handle groups of 100 people inside and 500 outside. Groups can bottle wine with personally designed labels or enjoy appetizers and wine tasting. Su Vino is just one more venue that offers meeting attendees an opportunity to raise their glasses and experience sipping in the city.