Urban Wineries

Urban Wineries

Wine and wineries were once tethered to stereotypes of majestic châteaus with tongue twister names, sprawling vines, manicured lawns, and labyrinthine cellars.

Urban wineries have put the cork on that outdated vision of yesteryear. We’ve known for a while that wine can be for everyone, whether sangria and frosé or bone-dry Bordeaux are more your speed. Now, wineries can also be for everywhere: ambitious oenophiles are bringing their barrels out of the countryside and into shopping plazas and Main Streets around the country. Perhaps this modern no-backyard-required approach is the future of wine. 

Pennsylvania Wineries: The Next Big Thing?

Nationwide, Pennsylvania is known for many things—among them, cheesesteaks and Hershey, the Declaration of Independence and Punxsutawney Phil, or Gettysburg and the Liberty Bell. When people think of Pennsylvania, though, they do not typically think of wine. Are urban wineries on track to change that?

Some grapes, such as Chambourcin, appear to thrive here, but others seem to struggle in the Keystone State’s terroir. While Pennsylvania was the fourth largest producer of wine in the United States last year, that only amounted to producing a mere 1.5 percent of the country’s wine—and local vines have yet to sway critics and connoisseurs the way that, say, the valleys of Loire and Napa have.

Urban wineries escape this geographic hardship by sourcing grapes from world-renowned soil instead of trying to grow them. One such pioneer is Stroudsburg’s Rowan Asher Winery, or RAW. Owner and winemaker Matthew Stallard gets grape deliveries from vineyards in California, Chile, and South Africa to create bold, dry beauties like the red blend standout “Misty Love,” which is aged in oak barrels for a year and a half.

“Our reds have a huge mouthfeel and long-lingering finish,” Matthew says. “Our whites are crisp with a lot of character.”

Of Lifelong Passions and Family Traditions

A winemaker of 20 years, Matthew went commercial in 2015 when he and his wife, Misty, opened RAW.

When they receive freshly picked grapes, they crush them and then press them in an old-fashioned wine press that uses a hand crank. Authentically handcrafted and small-batch by definition, the winery’s red wines are barrel-aged from anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. It has been a labor of love for the couple—Matthew is quick to mention that he spends many of his evenings and weekends producing and bottling—but the venture has been rewarding.

“There’s nothing better than serving your passion to someone in a glass,” Matthew says. “If you’re going to work, why not work on something that you love to do?”

Since opening, RAW has nearly tripled its initial annual production of 1,000 bottles. Hailing from Roseto, Pennsylvania, Matthew recalls the family’s basement as being the “second kitchen,” where everyone from his great-grandfather to his aunts would hang out, make wine, and, of course, drink it. Named for the couple’s sons, Jude Rowan and Zoan Asher, RAW is not only their love letter to wine, but their love letter to family and carrying on family traditions.

One wine that encompasses this mission is the “Roseto Effect,” a red blend named for the 10-year study performed on Matthew’s hometown.

Scientists noticed that Roseto residents were outliving the average American, but why? One early theory was that it had something to do with the abundant supply of homemade wine. (While that wasn’t the case—it was actually a phenomenon explained by the close-knit, supportive community—routinely sharing wine with friends and family certainly didn’t seem to hurt!) The medium-bodied red showcases the classic Italian winemaking style of Matthew’s great-grandfather, and is meant to be shared over a large pasta dinner with your family, as was the custom in Roseto.

The winery has also expanded to add a second location in downtown Stroudsburg. The new Main Street hangout feels like stepping into a thoughtful daydream. Everything is intentional, but nothing is fussy. Local art hangs on the walls, locally salvaged furniture is sprinkled throughout the tasting room, and touches of Misty’s woodworking make the space as hip as it is unique. In addition to its wines, the bar offers a small selection of their craft ciders, local beers, and cocktails made with locally distilled spirits.

The New Rules of Wine

The new rules of wine state that you can pair whatever you like together: white wine with fish is great, but if you’d rather sip it with steak or cotton candy, that’s your prerogative too. The new rules of winemaking state that perhaps you don’t need to be a sommelier to judge wine—or to make it.

“I don’t listen to what other people say is a good wine,” says Mark Gerencher, Sleepy Cat Urban Winery’s owner and winemaker. “Whatever you like the best is the best wine.”

In fact, Mark didn’t give wine too much thought until he attended a wine festival with his wife, Carrie, in his thirties. The couple left the event with 20 bottles.

A few years later, they spent a wedding anniversary at a winemaking class after stumbling across a Groupon. They brought a bottle to Carrie’s mother’s retirement party, where attendees asked where the wine was from, hoping that they could purchase it. That prompted Mark to wonder if he could sell wine. When he lost his job of nearly two decades shortly thereafter, it was time to answer that question. The pair decided to open Sleepy Cat, which specializes in sweeter, easy drinking wines.

As the business of cat enthusiasts, Sleepy Cat is full of feline references, from wines dubbed “Kitty Kisses” or “White Whiskers” to cat-themed gifts like cheese boards and wine stoppers available at the winery. Sleepy Cat doesn’t crush and press grapes on-site, instead opting to receive grape juice directly from suppliers in Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, and Chile. The juice is then fermented and bottled at the Allentown location, a process that typically takes up to three months.

Sleepy Cat offers 21 bottles, including “Pawsitively Peachy,” a fruit wine made with local peaches. (Carrie and her mother cut 350 pounds of peaches by hand to produce the wine—that’s dedication!)

RAW Urban Winery
616 Main St, Stroudsburg
103 Gypsum Rd, Stroudsburg
570.350.2697
rowanasherwinery.com

Sleepy Cat Urban Winery
1840 W Allen St, Allentown
610.351.2500
sleepycaturbanwinery.com

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