From the Perspective of a Self-Proclaimed Microwinery
I’m not sure if the term “microwinery” is widely used anywhere. It is akin to an “urban winery” but has a subtle difference. The wine producer at an urban winery grows its own grapes in remote locations and establishes its wine making facility and tasting room in an urban location. At Woodlawn Press Winery, we make and sell our wine in a small shopping center in Alexandria adjacent to Mount Vernon and Ft. Belvoir, but we get our grape product from third party suppliers, meaning we don’t own, grow, or harvest our own grapes.
Here are a couple more things we think define what a microwinery is based on our experience and why we’d like to see more of them in Northern Virginia.
1. Using Traditional Wine Making Methods
Our #1 question at the winery is “where do you get your grapes from?” You will often hear us explain to customers that we do not grow and harvest our own grape product, but many are surprised to learn we also do not crush and press grapes. Instead, we purchase grape juice from outside distributors and start fermentation with the juice to make the wine. Andrew’s recipes call for spices, fruit flavor, acid blend for balance, and even oak wooden staves to create the flavors you taste in our wines. For us, this is the essence of craft wine making at its best.
What we are doing at Woodlawn Press Winery is not a new or novel concept. In fact, it’s how my family made wine over 100 years ago. My grandfather and great-grandmother immigrated from Italy in the early 20th century and settled in Pittsburgh. Both of them made wine all their lives using similar methods Andrew is using to make the wine we sell today. My dad has vivid memories of going to the Strip District in downtown Pittsburgh with my grandfather to buy grapes that arrived on the produce trains. Neither him or my great grandmother had any control over what type of grape was available to purchase. They just knew how to make great wine that they could enjoy at dinner or with friends and would make enough to last the entire year. Unlike them, we do have control over what varietal we can purchase and do not have to press our own grapes thanks to technology, mass distribution, and global markets. In our opinion, it is a myth to believe that you have to grow your own grapes to make great wine.
We know this concept is very different from what most people are used to when they visit a winery, but we’re proud to offer a different winery experience rooted in our family traditions to make quality, craft wine.
2. Craft Beverage Production
I’m fairly certain people are familiar with the term microbrewery since there is a large market for craft beer in Virginia. Calling upon the microbrewery industry as an example, we drew a number of parallels that led us to identify as a microwinery. First, a significant common denominator and the most obvious similarity is that microbreweries make craft beer and we make craft wine. Second, we are a small production and independently owned. Third, we are using outside suppliers to create our product, which is not as popular with wine but is very popular with craft beer producers.
For us, producing quality, craft wine as our core product played a major role in us using this term in our branding. It is the cornerstone of who we are and what we offer as a small business.
3. Virginia Needs More Microwineries
Wine’ing out with friends is an extremely popular thing to do, especially in Virginia. However, us city dwellers have to undergo heavy traffic and long car rides to get far enough away from crowded real estate to enjoy a winery. Microwineries have the opportunity to provide a convenient craft wine experience that avoids the hassle of traveling long distances.
The craft beverage industry is growing exponentially in Virginia as shown by the boom in microbreweries over the last ten years. Virginia Senator Surrovell has introduced a bill (SB 441) to the Virginia legislature that would change winery licensing laws to allow limited winery licensees on-premise consumption to be on par with other craft beverage manufacturers, such as microbreweries. This change could remove a huge barrier to entry for those who want to offer craft wine using sources other than Virginia grown fruit. If passed into law, this would help craft wine producers create and expand their tasting rooms to be a more effective source of revenue, similar to microbreweries. We believe this will encourage more start-ups, create more small business jobs, add variety to local flavors, encourage tourism, and support local revitalization by providing a new and interesting way to experience a winery. All GOOD things in our opinion.
Until this happens, we’ll be holding down the fort at Woodlawn Press Winery.