Denver is experiencing an urban winery boom. Casual spaces to gather, taste great wines and grab a bite to eat are cropping up around the city, giving wine aficionados and those with a curiosity about beverages made from grapes alternatives to distilleries, breweries and the bar scene. 

VISIT DENVER talked with three of Denver’s urban winery trendsetters to get the inside scoop: Ben Parsons of The Infinite Monkey Theorem, which launched in the River North Art District (RiNo) a decade ago and now has locations in the Stanley Marketplace in the Stapleton neighborhood as well as Austin, Texas; Kevin Webber of Carboy Winery in Littleton and with a second location opening in Breckenridge; and Teara Walters of Deep Roots Winery & Bistro, new to Lower Downtown (LoDo) near Denver Union Station. 

Also don’t miss checking out Balistreri Vineyards, a two-decade-old family winery that was ahead of its time, and another newer player on the scene, Bigsby’s Folly in RiNo.

Why are people attracted to the urban winery concept?

Ben Parsons, winemaker and CEO, The Infinite Monkey Theorem (Established 2008) 
For IMT, it’s about making wine accessible and relevant to today’s consumer. People like to know where things they consume are made, and bringing the winery to their doorstep brings a level of transparency that had previously been lacking. Today, the customer can engage with the winery on a deeper level, understand its philosophy and even participate in the process. They can take ownership in a small way and relate to that.

Kevin Webber, director of sales & operations, Carboy Winery (Established 2016)
In our opinion, there is no such thing as an urban winery, just a winery. Up to 20 or 30 years ago, there was so much mystery to a bottle of wine, imagining the vineyards and the mystique about producing it. We are bringing the process to life in the city (and to the mountains with the upcoming opening of a location in Breckenridge). 

Teara Walters, co-owner of Deep Roots Winery & Bistro (Established 2017)
People like when the things they love come to them. Having a winery in the neighborhood that produces a quality wine is appealing, especially if it can be paired with a light meal. Sometimes you just want a small bite and a glass of wine and to get out of the house. An urban winery provides that, without the pressure of “going out to eat.” Also, people like the energy of a downtown environment where visitors can shop, dine and stroll, versus trekking out to the country for a full day of touring and tasting. 

Woman serving wine at Carboy WineryHow do urban wineries tend to be different than wineries that are in more of a country setting?

Ben Parsons, IMT
At IMT, our goal is to make wine without pretense. Our thought process is you don’t need the rolling hills or the fancy tasting room to create great wine. We believe the culture surrounding the winery helps define the wine’s quality. The wines are not only expressions of the local fruit, the process, and the personality of the winemaker, but also expressions of the people drinking the wine. We’re proud that our wine is a representation of the people that make up the Denver community.  

Kevin Webber, Carboy
I don’t think there is any difference between them. Winemaking is similar to making beer and spirits. With beer, none of the barley and hops are grown near the brewery, they come from the Cascades and Midwest. If looking at grapes in the same fashion, a winery is no different in country or city; you’re still making wine. One of the biggest misconceptions is that every winery has its own vineyard. The reality is that most wineries don’t own their own vineyards. We are one of those wineries and contract vineyards in Washington, Oregon, Colorado and California for grapes.

Teara Walters, Deep Roots
Most urban wineries source their grapes from established vineyards, rather than growing their own grapes. Some do own their own vines, but they are not right out the back door like traditional wineries. Urban wineries also tend to focus on doing a few wines really well at first, and then expanding because space is limited and you do not have the vines out back to go and pick from if something doesn't work out. There is a lot of logistical planning around getting the grapes in within a set time from harvest to ensure quality. We limit the number of different grapes brought in to make sure we can process them all.  

Are urban wineries bringing in a new type of wine consumer or is it more of a new way to socialize in the city?

Ben Parsons, IMT
Millennials are big wine consumers—in 2015, they consumed over 160 million cases of wine. Therefore, the demand for easier access to wineries is growing. This goes back to transparency and knowing how and where something is made. Doing this in a more casual setting (like a tap room) is more engaging and a welcomed alternative to the over-saturated bar scene in Denver.

Kevin Webber, Carboy 
Yes and no. Even before IMT, Carboy and any other Colorado wineries, you still have a population in Denver that has moved from somewhere else or travels avidly and knows wine. Bringing the process to the city engages people more as more casual wine drinkers and millennials want the honesty or transparency of their purchase. We have removed the pretentiousness from wineries and want both types of people to be able to sit by each other and at end of the day be happy with what they are drinking.

Teara Walters, Deep Roots
Urban wineries are making it easier for the new wine drinker to become a wine lover. Having a winery within walking distance of where you work or live lets people who don't want to spend $10 to $50 on a bottle of wine experience a number of wines without having to buy a single bottle. We spend the majority of our time pouring and explaining our wines over tasting flights. That leads to a favorite that they may buy a glass of or even a bottle. What I love most about what I do is getting to talk about wine with people who are truly interested in learning about wine. Wine is a beautiful thing, and there is a wine for every palette. I love helping people find what fits them.

Is the growth of urban wineries in Denver a response to the growing success of local microbrewery and distillery tasting and tap rooms?

Ben Parsons, IMT
Bringing wine to the people through the development of urban wineries is a natural progression in the evolution of the wine industry. IMT launched in 2008 and has looked to disrupt the industry since its inception with its no nonsense, no pretense attitude. There is no doubt that in many ways this movement has piggybacked off of the success of the craft beer boom with a tap room on every corner. This philosophy can be seen in our willingness to explore alternate packaging. IMT was the first winery to keg its wine in 2009 and the first winery in the U.S. to can its wine in 8.4 oz. cans back in 2011. And, of course, ultimately it just makes sense to locate within densely populated areas.  

Kevin Webber, Carboy
Yes, we have seen the entrepreneurism. In this business, we are turning our eyes to the next thing. Colorado wine in general is the next frontier of wine making. It took a while to happen, like a book that hasn’t been written yet but you have seen the cover. Carboy sells wine by the bottle, on tap and in 1-liter carboys (growlers) and hosts wine dinners.  

Teara Walters, Deep Roots
I don't think so. I think that the growth in urban wineries comes in response to the growth of Denver overall. Denver has more transplants then natives now and is seeing demand for a more diversified palette. Many come from cities/states where wine is much more readily available. But there is also a convenience factor. Denver has a population of professionals who work hard and play hard and love when life is made a little easier by having quality food and adult beverages near them. So, it makes sense to bring the wine to them. In addition, Colorado people like to support local artisans and small businesses. It’s preferred to have a homegrown experience where visitors can talk to the winemaker, see the winemaking process, and know that the business is a part of the community where they live and work.  

Infinite Monkey Theorem

Is the growth of urban wineries in Denver a response to the growing success of local microbrewery and distillery tasting and tap rooms?

Ben Parsons, IMT
Bringing wine to the people through the development of urban wineries is a natural progression in the evolution of the wine industry. IMT launched in 2008 and has looked to disrupt the industry since its inception with its no nonsense, no pretense attitude. There is no doubt that in many ways this movement has piggybacked off of the success of the craft beer boom with a tap room on every corner. This philosophy can be seen in our willingness to explore alternate packaging. IMT was the first winery to keg its wine in 2009 and the first winery in the U.S. to can its wine in 8.4 oz. cans back in 2011. And, of course, ultimately it just makes sense to locate within densely populated areas.  

Kevin Webber, Carboy 
Yes, we have seen the entrepreneurism. In this business, we are turning our eyes to the next thing. Colorado wine in general is the next frontier of wine making. It took a while to happen, like a book that hasn’t been written yet but you have seen the cover. Carboy sells wine by the bottle, on tap and in 1-liter carboys (growlers) and hosts wine dinners.  

Teara Walters, Deep Roots
I don't think so. I think that the growth in urban wineries comes in response to the growth of Denver overall. Denver has more transplants then natives now and is seeing demand for a more diversified palette. Many come from cities/states where wine is much more readily available. But there is also a convenience factor. Denver has a population of professionals who work hard and play hard and love when life is made a little easier by having quality food and adult beverages near them. So, it makes sense to bring the wine to them. In addition, Colorado people like to support local artisans and small businesses. It’s preferred to have a homegrown experience where visitors can talk to the winemaker, see the winemaking process, and know that the business is a part of the community where they live and work.  

What are some of the challenges and opportunities of being an urban winery?

Ben Parsons, IMT
There is a challenge to tell the story and make sure the customer knows that the wine is produced right here utilizing fruit grown on the Western Slope of Colorado. But that is also an opportunity. Ultimately, the benefits far outweigh any challenges! 

Kevin Webber, Carboy
There are more opportunities than challenges. Not owning vineyards provides opportunities. Working from vineyards from all over gives us autonomy, and we can source from regions where growing conditions are ideal for specific harvests and vintages. We are selective about our buying to get the highest quality fruit. 

Teara Walters, Deep Roots
One of the biggest challenges is finding the right location with the right amount of space. You need room for tasting, room for production and room for cellaring the wine. It took us two years to find the right spot. The other major challenge is time. Quality wine takes time, especially for big reds that need to age. You have to be willing to sit for a year or two on your wines to give them time to develop. This can be costly. When you can deliver a quality wine to an area that has been wanting but lacking, the reward is well worth it. We have been lucky enough to open in what I consider one of the best neighborhoods in LoDo. Our neighbors are amazing, and we love having them in. Plus, it’s always great when they tell us how badly they needed a local wine place!

Photo credits: (top) Deep Roots by Ryanne Burns; (middle) Carboy Winery by Greg Masinton/Wholly Grael.