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This Weekend’s To-Do List: Start an Urban Winery

Natalie Burnham

For those who live near wine country, it’s hard to imagine a winery without vineyards. Enter alternative wineries, such as urban winemaking or even virtual winemaking. Though we often think of winemaking as a somewhat rural activity, making wine in the city is just as feasible.

glass of wine by candlelight in the city

How to start a winery without a vineyard

Alternative wineries are popping up around the world, bringing wine country into people’s backyards. Two common examples are urban and virtual wineries.

Urban Winemaking

As you might guess, an urban winery is found in an urban setting. Major metro areas around the world are seeing an uptick in these urban wineries. Urban winemakers will acquire the necessary winemaking technology (fermentation tanks, barrels, concrete vessels, etc.) and supplies (berries, chemicals, additives, etc.), and ferment their wine in their city-based locations. This allows a huge market to actually see the winemaking process without a true wine country. These can be similar to incubation wineries, in which a few (or more) winemakers share a small, urban space to create wine and a name for themselves.

Virtual Winemaking

Similar to the concept of an urban winery is virtual winemaking. Virtual wineries are created by winemakers working entirely virtually: berries are processed, crushed, and fermented by outside vendors, all under the direction of the winemaker. The virtual winery is housed online and can focus nearly all of its time on the marketing and selling of its wine, as the winemaking is done by other people in a separate location. Because the winery exists online and not in a physical place, this allows for virtual wineries to exist anywhere in the world.

Starting a winery without a vineyard is actually easier than you may expect. Without the costs associated with owning and farming a vineyard, a winery can focus on sourcing high-quality berries and the artistic process of winemaking. They may not have control over the viticultural practices of their fruit, but the extra funds that are typically dedicated to vineyard management can assist them in finding vineyards that work well with their short- and long-term goals.

Some wineries will even opt not to buy a vineyard at the beginning of their winemaking days to save money, but will buy one later on when it aligns with their goals.

barrels of wine in front of a cityscape

How to make wine without a vineyard

Making wine without a vineyard is actually not as unattainable as it may seem.

It is often wondered: do wineries buy grapes? The answer is yes!

Even wineries that do have their own vineyards will source berries from other vineyards. Some vineyards’ sole purpose is growing grapes for wineries. From large producers to boutique vintners, sourcing berries is a huge part of the winemaking process.

It is most common for winemakers to source berries from within their own AVA, or American Viticultural Area. For example, a winemaker found in the Rutherford AVA of Napa Valley is most likely going to source all or additional berries from other vineyards in Rutherford. This, however, is not a hard-and-fast rule.

As vineyards continue to grow across the United States, but especially across California, a winemaker may feel inclined to use berries from a different AVA, whether it is near or far. This goes for wineries with and without their own vineyards. Once berries have been sourced, they will process the berries, either by themselves/with their own technology or by hiring an outside company to complete this job.

Some vineyards will process berries (for an additional fee) and then deliver those berries to the winery. From there, the process of making wine is similar to making wine anywhere! Juice is pressed, additives are added, and slowly, but surely, wine is created.

Urban and virtual wineries are changing the ways we, as consumers, approach wine. Though the views of wine country are hard to beat, the accessibility of the location is a huge barrier to entry into the wine market. With the rise in alternative winery options, we may see a huge shift in the attitudes towards wine: one that feels closer to home.

For consumers, like yourself, it's difficult to know which wines in the store come from wineries with vineyards and which do not. Since we feature different winemakers every month, our wine club members get to sample a wide variety of wines, made using different techniques and locations. If you're interested in branching out your wine arsenal, be sure to check us out!