Rocky Mountain high: Ben Parsons and his Infinite Monkey Theorem winery in Denver.
Photography by John Johnston
The main entrance of The Infinite Monkey Theorem winery overlooks a rutted alley in a semi-industrial area of downtown Denver. A maid service's fleet cars are parked next door. Don't strain too hard to see the vineyards; they're more than 200 miles away.
What's nearby instead is an entire metropolitan area, which means that if you're on a working layover in Denver and have a free afternoon, you can visit a winery almost as easily as you'd stop into a Starbucks. Step into the Quonset hut that Australian-trained enologist Ben Parsons has filled with fermentation tanks and oak barrels and, instantly, you're in wine country. He'll take you through the vinification process, offer samples and sell you bottles (ranging from $15.98 to $49.98) if you're inclined to buy. All that's missing are the vines.
|First sip: Tours include a view of the vinification process, where you can sample the wine.|
Most of Infinite Monkey Theorem's wines are made from fruit that's grown on the far side of the Rocky Mountains and trucked in after harvest. That's a laborious process, but because Parsons is based in the heart of the city, he can cultivate relationships with the people most likely to buy--and sell--his wine. Sommeliers come in and help us bottle, he says. Some of the city's best chefs have come by and seen what we do. They help rack the wines. They taste from the barrels. And when someone sees Infinite Monkey Theorem on the wine list and asks them about it, they can tell the story because they've been here.
You'll find similar wineries (and even a few distilleries) across the country, some with restaurants, formal tasting rooms and even galleries attached, others mere storefronts with an open door and an enologist waiting to lead a tour. All are accessible for the business traveler with a few hours to kill before a flight or with downtime during a week on the road.
At New York's City Winery, in lower Manhattan, customers can dine on pomegranate-glazed chicken, sip wine that was made just a few feet away and watch top-flight performers such as Duncan Sheik or Suzanne Vega on stage in front of them. At Periscope Cellars in Emeryville, Calif., near Oakland, visitors typically stop in at the refurbished World War II submarine repair facility on weekends. They'll catch the latest art installation while enjoying a glass sourced from one of California's most famous appellations.
It's a different feel from the vine-covered hillsides of most wine regions and a different business model. You lose the romance of the vineyard, acknowledges Marco Montez, who runs Travessia Urban Winery in New Bedford, Mass. But the idea still amazes a lot of people. And then, when the wine is good, they get blown away.
A decade ago, only a handful of wineries could be found in major metropolitan areas (and most of those in the San Francisco Bay Area or Seattle), but they've proliferated from coast to coast since. Here are seven of the most enticing for the thirsty entrepreneur on the move:
Henke Winery. Ohio isn't exactly Napa Valley, but visitors are often surprised to learn that it has 130 wineries. Joe Henke founded his--in the leafy Cincinnati neighborhood of Westwood, 6 miles from downtown--in 1996, before the term urban winery was even coined, he says. The cheese trays and other snacks long ago evolved into a full menu that now offers everything from crab cakes ($10.95) to filet mignon ($29.95.)
What to do: About 25,000 visitors pass through annually, Henke says, and most end up eating, too. Try the Ziza Pizza ($8.95), hand-pressed garlic folded inside pizza dough, baked in olive oil and covered with Romano cheese, or a strip steak smothered in peppers and onions.
What to drink: The seven-wine tasting ($5) includes an Ohio-grown Vidal Blanc, a French hybrid grape common in the East and Midwest that makes a wine similar to off-dry Riesling, as well as a barrel-fermented Seyval, the closest that Ohio gets to white burgundy. Open evenings, Friday afternoons and all day on Saturdays. 3077 Harrison Ave., Cincinnati. (513) 662-9463.
|Vines not included: Fermentation tanks and oak barrels lend a wine country flavor, Parsons says.|
The Infinite Monkey Theorem. Ben Parsons' winery makes Colorado's best wines. An expanded facility that will include food, a rooftop bar with a mountain view and a larger retail area is coming in 2011.
What to do: Catch the party atmosphere of the First Friday Art Walk Wine Bar, which features free-flowing wine, catered deli food and a DJ punching up tunes once a month.
What to drink: Parsons' all-Colorado Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (both $29.98) are not only delicious, they also raise the bar for how good wines made from Colorado fruit can be. The Riesling ($19.98), made mostly from grapes shipped in from Oregon, has a touch of sweetness and tastes like ripe peaches. Open by appointment. 931 W. 5th Ave., Denver. (970) 260-0710.
Periscope Cellars. Just over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, midway between Berkeley and Oakland, a submarine repair facility has been transformed into a winery and art gallery.
What to do: The exhibit space showcases a different artist monthly, from the cut-paper works of Chris West to J.B. Lowe's science fiction illustrations. On the third Wednesday of each month, Periscope's reds are paired with a yoga session ($20 in advance, $25 at the door.)
What to drink: Brendan Eliason makes an array of California reds, from pinot noir ($24) to zinfandel ($20). His Deep 6 ($44), a blend of the six grape varieties he deems most interesting each year, takes on a different character with every vintage. Open afternoons Friday through Sunday, and by appointment, or sometimes not. I'm a one-man show, so it can be open as much as I'm around, Eliason says. If you show up and I'm not here, my cell phone number is on the door. 1410 62nd St., Suite B, Emeryville, Calif. (510) 655-7827.
New Beford, Mass.
Travessia Urban Winery. For two years, software engineer Marco Montez, a native of Portugal, has been buying fruit from both nearby vineyards and far-off California. He uses the local grapes to make three white wines and an off-dry rose and has started bringing in the West Coast varieties for a range of reds, all of which are vinified and sold at this compact facility off the brick sidewalks of New Bedford, an hour outside Boston.
What to do: Montez is available for tours and $5 tastings. No food.
What to drink: A rainy 2008 made the UnOaked Chardonnay ($14)--produced from grapes grown in Westport and Dartmouth, Mass.--even sharper and steelier, the perfect antidote to the flabby California bottlings that sell for the same price. Open afternoons Wednesday through Sunday. 760 Purchase St., New Bedford, Mass. (774) 929-6534.
City Winery. From winemaker dinners and a Klezmer brunch to a custom-crush program that lets members make their own wine from Napa Valley grapes in downtown Manhattan, City Winery has put itself squarely at the center of New York's sophisticated wine scene. It also may be the only establishment around that employs both a lead enologist and a music programmer. John Hiatt, Mavis Staples, Shawn Colvin and other national acts have played the cozy concert space, and entertainment and other special events are booked for several days each week.
What to do: Sit at the bar and pair the charcuterie plate with City's own Riesling ($10 a glass, $29 a carafe) or a bottle off the extensive--and well-chosen--wine list.
What to drink: The fruity Grenache/Syrah rose ($9 by the glass) is served at the bar from a keg, so it stays fresh. Open daily to midnight, except when closed for special occasions. 155 Varick St., New York. (212) 608-0555.
Park City, Utah
High West Distillery and Saloon. High West, set at the base of a ski run in this resort community outside Salt Lake City, is Utah's first working distillery since the 1870s. David Perkins' small-batch whiskeys (and the world's only oat vodka) have gained a cultish following since he set up his still in 2007. Hearty mountain food like elk with chanterelles ($29) and bison rib-eye ($26) attracts a steady après-ski and mountain bike crowd. People are interested in craft spirits all of a sudden, which is very exciting, Perkins says. And because of a recent law change, you can actually leave with a bottle of his finished product.
What to do: Come for one of the scheduled distillery tours, then head to the saloon for the scene, the small plates and the sipping.
What to drink: The Rendezvous Rye ($7 a glass) is an unorthodox blend of 6-year-old and 16-year-old Kentucky whiskey (High West's own whiskey is still too young to be released as an aged product) that competes with premium Bourbons. Open until 10 nightly. 703 Park Ave., Park City, Utah. (435) 649-8300.
Portland Wine Project. The Willamette Valley, home of some of America's best pinot noir, is just an hour down the road, so it's no surprise that the urban winery trend is big in Portland. This 10,000-square-foot facility may be the best of them. It's home to Grochau Cellars and Boedecker Cellars, which share barrel space and a tasting room and each produce their own wine using Willamette Valley grapes. Grochau's are bigger and brassier, while Boedecker makes understated pinot noirs from Burgundy's model, with nuance as a goal.
What to do: Tour the winery with--if you're lucky--one of the owners, John Grochau or Stewart Boedecker, as your guide.
What to drink: Try Grochau's Tempranillo ($25.95), a structured red that approximates the flavors of Spain, and Boedecker's earthy Stewart pinot noir ($34), the winemaker's favorite cuvee. Open weekend afternoons and by appointment. 2621 NW 30th Ave., Portland, Ore. (503) 522-2455. gcwinescom; (503) 866-0095.