The rise of urban vineyards: this is how good wine is produced on 45-square-meter terraces, underground rooms or vertical plots | Architecture | ICON Design


Urban vineyards have continued to proliferate in the midst of the pandemic. Even in this exceptional year and a half, the vines have consolidated or made their way through the concrete in places like Madrid’s Salamanca district, the New York boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, the hills of Paris, London’s banks of the Thames, the islets urban areas of the Venetian lagoon, the outskirts of Vienna or the city centers of Melbourne, Palermo, Montreal, Avignon, San Francisco, Milan, Thessaloniki …

To produce good wine, it is not essential to have an immense terroir in idyllic corners of Tuscany, Burgundy, Rioja or the Napa Valley. A 45-square-meter terrace is enough, like the one at the Wellington hotel in Madrid, where vines were planted in spring 2016 and which is currently approaching its goal of producing a harvest of around one hundred bottles per year. In October 2018, they made their first harvest, somewhat late, and produced a red from Garnacha and Tempranillo grapes and an aromatic white with Verdejo and Muscatel that were auctioned months later, at a Wellington Foundation charity dinner.

Vines were planted at the Wellington hotel in Madrid in the spring of 2016. It is currently approaching its goal of producing a harvest of around one hundred bottles per year.
Vines were planted at the Wellington hotel in Madrid in the spring of 2016. It is currently approaching its goal of producing a harvest of around one hundred bottles per year. Hotel Wellington

The wine from above

At that time, José Ramón Lissarrague, professor of viticulture at the Polytechnic University of Madrid and consultant to the project, explained that they had made use on a small scale “of the techniques used by the most sophisticated vineyards”, reinforcing them with “techniques of continuous fertilization and in high frequency”. It was, in the opinion of the academic, “to pay tribute to Spanish viticulture using some of the most characteristic varieties of our country, as well as the most common forms of cultivation.” And to demonstrate, incidentally, that wine thrives in the most unusual environments, that a climbing vine can produce good wines even confined to the top of a rooftop in the center of a big city.

The Wellington started from a precedent that aroused remarkable expectation at the time. In 2015 was born Rooftop Reds, “The first urban vineyard installed on a New York rooftop” according to Devin Shomaker, promoter of the initiative with his brother Thomas and Chris Papalia. The three partners had the collaboration of Cornell University and the Finger Lakes Distillery on his project to plant vines on a 13,000-square-foot rooftop in the former Brooklyn Shipyard, a run-down industrial area for which the city was seeking alternative uses.

Clos-Montmartre, a vineyard in Montmartre, Paris.
Clos-Montmartre, a vineyard in Montmartre, Paris.hemis/Alamy Stock Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

Shomaker says they were inspired by artisanal distilleries in neighborhoods like Wiliamsburg to embark on the production of a “100% New York” wine. A countercultural idea, with a point of almost quixotic madness, in the opinion of those responsible, that today produces “robust and healthy wines, with a local denomination of origin and produced in a sustainable way”, with special mention for its Chardonnay and its dry rosé. Around their vineyard, Papalia and the Shomakers have created a playful space for lovers of wine culture in which they hold tastings, blind tastings, guided tours and even open-air cinema sessions and yoga classes.

Pedagogical vineyards

Wine is also grown in Floral Park in the New York borough of Queens. There the Queens Farm Museum, an urban garden didactic of 20 hectares, one of which is dedicated to the cultivation of vines. Gary Mitchell, vineyard manager, has been fermenting and bottling wine (labeled with a colorful sunflower inspired by those of Vincent Van Gogh) since 2008 and in recent years has started to sell part of his production, previously destined entirely to the store from the museum, to restaurants in the Tribeca neighborhood. But its main objective continues to be “to contribute to spreading the millenary culture of life and wine: how it is planted, how it is grown, how it is fermented, what is the secret of this essential product in the development of human civilization”:

A route through some of the most spectacular and exotic urban vineyards on the planet should undoubtedly pass through Melbourne, in South Australia. There, far from everything, but in a densely urbanized area, with more than 4,200,000 inhabitants, it has its headquarters Noisy Ritual, the company of two young entrepreneurs, Alex Byrne and Cam Nichols, who have been growing and fermenting red grapes on a small plot for six years.

As explained in The Taste The Venezuelan journalist based in Dublin Gaby Guédez, Byrne and Nichols settled in a house in the Thornbury neighborhood in 2014 and found an underground room that the previous owners, an Italian couple, had set up to produce wine. This fortuitous discovery was the trigger for a business adventure that consists, according to Nichols, “in buying the best vines in the Victoria region, planting them in our urban plot, which has very fertile soil, intervening as little as possible and producing a young wine. delicious that goes mainly to local customers ”.

Southern wines

Inspired by the example of Noisy Ritual, those responsible for Adelaide Botanical Garden, also in South Australia, they have just planted their own vines in the heart of this city of 1,300,000 inhabitants. They hope to harvest them in mid-September to produce at least a hundred bottles of dry and rosé wine that, according to the project director, Janice Goodwins, “will be very representative of what the Victoria region can give of itself, one of the first places in the world where the vine was grown and place of origin of more than 75% of the Premium national wine consumed in Australia ”.

Asphalt vineyards are grown in Sydney Specifically, in the newly opened Sydney Urban Winnery, which is nourished by vines from the valleys of New South Wales and is going to produce more than 50 tons of grapes this year, after a decade of intensive preparations.

The urban vineyard 'Clos-Montmartre', founded in Paris in 1933.
The urban vineyard ‘Clos-Montmartre’, founded in Paris in 1933.Steve Tulley/Alamy Stock Photo

An illustrious precedent

The great urban vineyard benchmark that still works today is the Clos Montmartre of Paris. Tourists wandering around the slopes of the Montmartre district, behind the Sacre Coeur basilica, are surprised to discover this vast and colorful vineyard located on a terrace between stately buildings, the only survivor of the network of urban vineyards that Paris preserved until the 1950s.

The grape has been grown on the slopes of Montmartre since the middle of the 10th century, the time from which the first reports of the existence of a locally produced wine date. The current vineyard was planted in 1933 as an emergency solution for the city council to rehabilitate a degraded public plot that had been used alternately as a landfill and as a playground and was becoming the object of desire for real estate speculators.

For decades, it produced very little wine and of rather dubious quality. But the modest rural farm received a decisive boost in 1980, when it became the site of an annual harvest festival that leaves it open to the public for a week at the end of September. Currently, the Clos produces more than a thousand bottles annually, which are auctioned to finance urban regeneration projects in its immediate surroundings, the 18th arrondissement of Paris. Parisians joke that the fruit of these vines, as much a part of Montmartre’s local pride, is one of the most expensive low-medium quality wines in the world.

Peripheral hills

Of much more contrasted quality is the Riesling which is produced in the urban vineyards of the suburbs of Vienna, a few metro stops from the city center. More than 600 hectares of vineyards coexist with the last buildings of the urban nucleus in soft hills of calcareous soil, much frequented by Viennese and tourists and that feed the nearby traditional taverns, the Heuriger.

Also among the hills, in the Enfield district of North London, in just four hectares of remarkable fertility, have their headquarters the Forty Hall vineyards, which have existed, although discontinuously, since the Middle Ages and today produce a wine that has been awarded in international competitions and to which biomechanical production techniques are beginning to be applied. The exploitation of the terroir is carried out by a non-profit association for which around 60 people work, mostly volunteers. Those responsible ensure that “the only sparkling wine faithful to the traditional London recipe” is produced here, so that a drink from Forty Hall is equivalent to “an excursion through the tunnel of time”.

On other slopes, a stone’s throw from a populous urban center, on the hill of Epanomi, in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, are the vineyards and bodegas Ktima Gerovassiliou, producers of an organic wine that has the advice of the Viniculture Laboratory of the agricultural school of the local university. Two acres of land that produce, among others, white wines of the Malagousia and Robola varieties.

Everyone’s vineyard

Slightly smaller is the parcel of neighboring vineyards in the Californian city of San Francisco, inaugurated in 2013 and open to the public since then. Elly Hartshon, founder of this project with municipal support in which both winegrowers, oenology students or ordinary neighbors participate, admits with humor that in its early years “we produced an infectious brew, a kind of voluntary homage to the Clos de Montmartree, which was my source of inspiration, but lately we have not put ourselves in good hands and, thanks to the generosity and goodwill of each other, a modest table wine comes out of our vineyard, but it can be drunk ”.

The recent success of these initiatives between willing and visionaries has motivated the existence of an international association of urban vineyards (Urban Vineyards Association) that brings together, for the moment, nine farms in Italy and France, starting with the Clos de Montmartre. Siena, Venice (twice), Turin, Milan, Palermo, Avignon and Lyon are the headquarters of its current partners.

Perhaps the most peculiar of these projects is that of the association of the Lagoon in the BichiereThe result of the efforts of a professor from Venice who has passed away, Flavio Franceschet, who in 1993 began to take an interest in the old vineyards of the Venetian lagoon, all of them abandoned. In particular, it made an effort to rehabilitate and re-operate the one in San Franceso della Vigna, on the island of Sant’Elena, involving students from various local institutes. Today, his school garden is a fully-fledged urban vineyard in which a strong wine with strong local roots is grown. One of many products of this unstoppable rise of the fertile coexistence between cities and vineyards.


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