2019-01-12 09:05:17

Even Ohio’s estate wineries that grow their own grapes don’t rely solely on Ohio-made fruits or juices. Urban wineries make their drinks locally, but import most of their fruit from elsewhere in the world, from California to Chile. 

The key difference between urban wineries and their larger, rural counterparts is scale. These small businesses don’t produce enough to enjoy strong margins on distribution, particularly when working with a large company the size of a Heidelberg Distributing Co. 

Trebets only sold wine wholesale for his first year with Urban Vintner, but he decided to open up his small production facility for tastings and private events by mid-2017 because sales alone weren’t enough. 

Others benefit from a similar approach.

Mansfield Frazier in 2010, through a nonprofit, started The Vineyards and Winery at Chateau Hough on a 1-acre plot off E. 66th St. The operation, which includes a small vineyard and biocellar, is unique in its social mission to employ formerly incarcerated people. In the last couple years, Frazier secured a winemaking license (through a for-profit entity he created) and has been selling mostly through local farmers and flea markets. His events business has been strong as well. 

While he doesn’t aspire to become a huge operation, Frazier does have his eye on vacant properties nearby that he wants to expand to in the future, land where he can install more vineyards.

“I might want to grow a bit faster. But the goal is to not be the biggest winery but to help as many people as we can,” Frazier said. “I can see in a couple years we will need a bigger site. That’s when I’ll move to get in there.” 

Vino Veritas also is seeing growth today. The business opened in 2011 in Little Italy as a restaurant with a small winemaking operation downstairs, followed by a yearlong stint in downtown Cleveland, all of which preceded its relocation to Old Brooklyn following a deal with the county land bank.

Owner Anthony Nunes Insana is investing heavily in the property to enhance its greenhouse, where wedding events are held, and other amenities. He has a tiny home being renovated into proper bathrooms for wedding parties (instead of temporary toilets) and is planning to build another pole barn to increase production space. He expects to distribute to Chicago, New York and China after production ramps up. 

He has received support from Cleveland Chain Reaction, which selected the urban winery last fall as one of the seven recipients of its small-business investments in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood. The property also includes a bocce court and a community garden. Insana said he hopes to plant some of his own grapevines there in the future as well, which will allow him to make his own ice wine, a higher-ticket item. 

Besides making wine people seem to like, Insana said his proximity to downtown is undoubtedly good for business. 

“It’s literally a $10 Uber ride from the city,” Insana said. “You don’t have to drive and hour east or west to get to a winery to enjoy yourself and then worry about driving home when you’re full of wine. I think it all only continues to grow.”

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