City Winery probably isn’t foreign to you. The 30,000 square foot venue on Randolph is in prime territory to get your attention, and its beautiful patio and constant stream of musical acts make it a popular destination. And while you know it’s a winery, you may not be aware of just how much work and care goes on to provide you with unforgettable glasses of pinot, syrah and riesling. Just beyond the dining room and concert venue lies barrels, vats, flasks and instruments meant to extract the beauty out of every ounce of fruit that passes through its doors.
Much like its compatriots on the Chicago craft beer scene like Two Brothers, Revolution and Half Acre, extreme care is taken to wines produced at City Winery. Fruit is sourced from reputable and even quite distinguished vineyards from Northern California and Oregon to Argentina. Every batch is carefully produced on site, under the watchful eye of Robert Kowal, the vintner/winemaker for City Winery Chicago. He’s a man with a real passion for wine, and a real knowledge of just how important the vineyard itself, the “terroir” is in the final taste, having worked in some esteemed vineyards in Oregon himself before coming to the winery. Says Kowal,”the fruit and the land make the wine what it is.”
Selecting the right fruit at the right time, growing in the right soil makes all the difference to the flavors that come out in the wine. Even then, a 2012 vintage pinot noir with the same grapes from the same winery may be very different from wine produced later that season or even later that year with the same fruit.
We were recently on-site for a tasting and tour, and got a chance to sample some truly fantastic stuff. We had some fruity chardonnays and a real showstopper of a riesling (a 2016 beauty that hails from Old Mission in Michigan) that rivals some of the best we’ve had. It was full of floral and succulent pear and apple flavor, and our perfectly chilled glass straight from the vats had us thinking we’d found the perfect summer patio sipper.
Some of our other favorites were the pinots, and it’s something that Kowal himself is a true lover of. It shows, even from young batches still in their barrels. City Winery tapped us a gorgeous 2016 Pinot Noir showing off grapes from the Springs Vineyard in Mendocino that was smooth, full and incredibly easy to drink, and though each one, and each vintage of the wines, were fantastic (and honestly, making us rethink our “regular” pinot choices) our top pinot was a bold and peppery 2012 pinot from the Hyland Vineyard in Willamette Valley, Oregon. A third standout was of a variety I particularly hold dear, the syrah. City Winery has a lovely 2012 also from Alder Springs in Mendocino that I’d love to have on hand consistently.
Another standout for us at City Winery was the demeanor of their people. Wine can seem insurmountable to understand, and oftentimes intimidating to learn about, with a special sort of pomp and circumstance around it. City Winery doesn’t stand on that, which makes it easier to ask any question you might have, no matter how much of a novice it might make you seem. Both Kowal, the official City Winery Chicago winemaker, and Aaron Mace, its Barrel Program Director, are approachable, easygoing, and knowledgeable. They also encourage people to try different things, and in the end, “drink what you like.”
Enjoying wine doesn’t need to be obfuscated by confusing terminology or slave to “the right” pairings, and you don’t need to correctly identify each individual flavor in a complex group of them that together create the symphony that is a wine. Says Mace “if you taste something, you’re right. Wine is complex, and its fragrances and compounds can evoke memories.” What you get out of it is for you. What you’ll get when you visit City Winery will be knowledgeable, approachable people who really want you to know what goes on just behind the scenes, who work hard to produce some of the most delicious wines in the area, and who genuinely want to share what they’ve made with everyone that comes through the doors.
That’s why we heartily encourage you to take a trip to City Winery, not just for a show, but for an adventure through their taps and what’s in season. With a fantastic venue and great menu, you really can’t go wrong “shopping local” and seeing the best of what Chicago has to offer in wine. We’ll see you there.