Urban wineries are all the rage and it makes perfect sense. Not only because more and more people are choosing to live in urban areas but also because wineries tend to be in rural areas — a long drive for those lucky enough to live within driving distance, and a vacation for those who have to fly or seek overnight accommodations to enjoy visiting a winery. An urban winery by definition is accessible to many more, a winery visit that is an Uber ride away – maybe even walking distance.
I recently visited with Travis Green, Winemaker at City Winery Atlanta and even though I have visited City Winery several times (I’ve even written about it previously, read here), this visit was such an eye opening experience. I truly believe some of the best wine in Georgia is being made here, which is reason enough to visit. Couple that with City Winery’s intimate live music venue, a full service restaurant, event space and enough special events and classes to keep you busy all month and you quickly realize that City Winery is a jewel of a space in the heart of Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. It is located at Ponce City Market, right on the Beltline. Are you looking up directions yet? You should, because if you haven’t been to City Winery, you’re missing out bigly – like in ‘UGE way.
The City Winery Concept
City Winery marries wine, music, food and the social aspect of all of these things with great indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy time with friends, or with events – from classes to a book club. And yes Virginia, the wine is made here, on premise. It’s aged and bottled and labeled. Winery is not just a catchy title for a music venue – the space is first and foremost a winery.
The first City Winery opened in New York City in 2008. Since then, City Winery has opened in Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelpha, and Washington DC. Clearly the concept is a good one!
Travis is a north Georgia native who discovered his love of wine like so many, by accident. He was studying literature at graduate school in Boston when he found hemself taking classes at Boston Wine School. He convinced his parents to plant grape vines on their property in Hiawasee and that was the beginning of his first winery venture, Hightower Creek Vineyards. He garnered many awards and accolades at Hightower Creek.
Travis is an incredibly accomplished winemaker and a well respected and active member of the industry, especially here in Georgia. He was integral in helping Georgia receive it’s first AVA designation in 2014, the Upper Hiawasee Highlands. When he is not making wine, he is gardening, tending to his own beehives or planning his next trip.
Travis prefers to follow a low intervention style for his wines. About 40% of the wines he makes undergo completely natural fermentation. His hands-on experience growing grapes, working the land he grew up on and a deep love of nature and the outdoors, coupled with formal viticulture and oenology education parlays into beautiful results and the signature he wants as a winemaker.
When the opportunity at City Winery Atlanta became available it seemed like the perfect opportunity to have the best of all the things he loves – he could keep making wine with the Georgia grown grapes he knows so well, as well as grapes from other well known regions. Wine making aside, as much as he loves his hometown, he loves city life as well and this allowed him and his family to reside in Atlanta, once again making wine in his own backyard.
City Winery Atlanta processed 52.2 TONS of grapes for the 2018 harvest. About half of the grapes came from Georgia and the rest came from California, Oregon and Washington.
The grapes that come to City Winery are truly from some on the most coveted vineyards in the U.S. – Alder Springs vineyard in Medocino, Red Mountain in Washington, Hyland Estates in McMinnville, Oregon and or course Napa Valley. The vineyards in Georgia that City Winery gets grapes from are Kaya, Three Sisters and Frogtown.
The facilities are state of the art, about 80% of the wine is not bottled, but kegged and served on tap. If you are not familiar with this concept, you can read further here.
Travis was kind enough to take me on a tour of the winery, which also included some barrel samples from this year’s harvest and a comparison of their Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from this year and from last year – look at the difference in color a year of barrel aging makes – isn’t that fascinating? The taste difference was just as drastic. (2018 (L); 2017 (R).
We tasted a barrel sample of a Tannat — the grapes came from Frogtown Vineyards in Dahlonega. It is actually the Assistant Winemaker Faith who is behind this one and Travis tells me it won’t be ready for about 18 months. But let me tell you, after tasting the barrel sample I can tell you I will be watching for the release of this one. I told him I would drink it now and he gave me a “bless your heart” chuckle, but I’m telling you, it was already good.
If Cabernet Sauvignon is your wine, you definitely want to give City Winery’s offerings a try. Peach State Cabernet is made with grapes from Red Mountain AVA and the Reserve is made with grapes from an iconic Napa Valley location. Red Mountain is Washington State’s smallest AVA and the grapes from these vineyards are coveted by wine makers from all of the world. The name behind the Napa Valley location happens to be an iconic wine maker who is a little secretive about these grapes so you won’t find any reference to specific a vineyard anywhere on the label. But, if you wanted to read about an iconic winemaker and his famous vineyards, you can do that here. You are encouraged to make logical conclusions. Obviously you can’t go wrong with either choice and to me this is fascinating stuff. You can drink wine made right here in Atlanta with grapes from two of the best sites in the world for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Let’s go to the opposite end of the spectrum and talk about their award winning dessert wine, Gone With the Vin. This is produced like an ice wine with Vidal Blanc grapes from Three Sisters Vineyard in Dahlonega. Notes of pear and honey and maybe something nutty, this wine is incredibly interesting. Are you scratching your head about an “ice” wine in Georgia? Rather than late harvesting the grapes after they’ve frozen on the vine (not likely to happen here in Georgia), these grapes are harvested early and then cryogenically frozen! I bought a bottle of this wine for a Christmas present and I am so excited for the recipient to try it! The website description of this wine is so cute, I had to share:
If you don’t want to see a show, attend a class or have dinner, you can pop in to ABV. ABV is the tasting room space with a speakeasy vibe, where you can sample some of the wines City Winery has to offer, both bottled and on tap, or you can indulge in a beautifully crafted cocktail. Having the speakeasy vibe, it’s a little hard to find. Form the outside it does not appear to be attached to City Winery, but it is. The outside entrance is located to the left of art supply store.
You can purchase City Winery wines by the bottle or in a growler to take home – how fun is that?
There are not many things in life that go together better than wine and music in my opinion, and apparently other people agree. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two shows here — Donna The Buffalo and Brandy Clark — and it is truly a special experience. The seated capacity for a show is right around 300 and you can see from the seating chart, there really is not a bad seat in the house.
When I asked Travis what his favorite wine drinking music is he said it really depends. During harvest when they worked nearly around the clock, they played everything from classical to punk in the winery. I think we can all relate to that – it just depends.
Excellent food options abound, from tapas to dinner all prepared under the direction of an Executive Chef. And, there is a menu just for your dog – obviously this is for patio diners only but c’mon, this is pretty great. The menu even includes dog safe wine choices — CharDOGnays, ZinfanTails and MalBarks.
Check out their Brunch menu – time to celebrate the passing of the Brunch Bill with the create your own mimosas option!
If you can’t find an upcoming concert that suits your fancy, a quick look at the calendar will tell you there is a lot going on here, all of the time. There are special events, monthly offerings, tasting, pairing dinners, networking events, book clubs and more. City Winery can also host private events – including weddings.
Travis teaches a Wine 101 class every Spring so be on the lookout for that if learning a little more about wine – from someone who really knows wine – is something you would enjoy. He keeps it small and it sells out quickly.
Want a tour of the winery with Travis or Faith? Call or email and request the Saturday tour at 12:30 or 2:30, and either Travis of Faith will be your guide. There will be sampling of 3 wines and some cheese nibbles of course. You won’t find that on the website, you’re welcome;)
Plan Your Visit
Located at Ponce City Market, 650 North Ave NE, Suite #201. Atlanta, GA 30308.
Twitter and Instagram at @citywineryatl
Facebook at facebook.com/citywineryatl