What's an Urban Winery? Not Sure, But Now We Have One in Houston

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There are many things that make Houston a hip, cosmopolitan city. We have an incredible array of ethnic restaurants. We have a lesbian mayor. We have Johnson Space Center, the Texas Medical Center and plenty of universities.

And now we have one more thing to solidify our coolness: An urban winery.

Once we heard about this seeming contradiction in terms, we did some research and discovered that urban wineries have been around for a long time--in fact, they were more popular than rural wineries in the United States before Prohibition. Eater wrote about the resurgence of wine produced in cities back in 2011, stating that wine-makers have been moving back into cities to contend with the rising costs of land and due to the hipster trend of "urbanizing the pastoral."

But what is an urban winery, you ask? Well, it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

Solaro Urban Winery is located at 330 T.C. Jester--not exactly in the midst of rolling hills and lush vineyards. All of the wine available at Solaro for tastings and purchase is grown at the flagship estate and vineyard in Dripping Springs, about 30 minutes southeast of Austin. Unlike some urban wineries that call themselves "wineries" but really do nothing more than serve wine, Solaro will also be producing vino here in Houston at the location just off I-10.

"This new location is licensed as a full working winery, which means we will also be making our wines at this site," explains Barbara Haderlein with Solaro Estate. "Unfortunately, there would be nowhere to grow grapes in the midst of all the city concrete, but we do have all the equipment we need to make wine from the grapes we'll be bringing there."

The urban winery isn't open yet, but when it does, people will be able to schedule tastings any time during business hours like...oh...I don't know...their lunch breaks. Yeah, we definitely asked about that. The location also has conference and party rooms that can be rented out for events and offers tours of the wine-making operations.

This isn't the first urban winery in Texas, though it is the first estate urban winery, an interesting distinction once you understand what makes a winery able to use the "estate" label. In order to be considered an estate winery, a producer must source 100 percent of the grapes used from land owned or controlled by the winery, and the vineyards must be a designated viticultural area. The winery and the vineyard must also be in the same viticultural area, though it's not clear if this applies to the new Houston winery, as Houston doesn't fall into any viticultural area, as determined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The fact that Houston doesn't fall in a recognized wine-growing area shouldn't be surprising to anyone, but it does feel a little unfair, no?

We may not be growing grapes for wine in Houston any time soon, but now we are making it right here in the fourth largest city in the country. We imagine it won't be long before other urban wineries pop up in Houston. Then, who knows? Maybe Houston will be up there with Napa and Washington state as a great wine-producing region. And maybe not.

No word yet on when Solaro Urban Winery will open to the public, but you can bet when they do, we're scheduling a tasting--I mean staff meeting--post haste.

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