You Never Forget Your First Crush – My Introduction to Winemaking

Hello to all of the City Winery Chicago blog readers out there! My name is Dori, and I am the new marketing intern at City Winery Chicago. First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to catch up on your City Winery news. We are glad to have you! Hopefully you’ll enjoy this post so much you’ll look out for next week’s as well. We will be getting blogs out a little more frequently in the next few months, so let us know if there is anything you’d like to hear about!

A fact you may not know about City Winery Chicago: we are the city’s first and only fully-operational winery. My first week on the job, I got to experience one of the coolest parts about working at a winery: grape delivery & crush. Part of our job as employees of City Winery is to be there for the delivery of these grapes, and we are actually the ones who sort and crush them! What a cool thing to see for someone like me, who has never been exposed to the winemaking world before. And now I’ve been assigned the task of letting you know all about how we make that delicious wine that you get to enjoy.

First off, fellow Bachelor/Bachelorette fans, I know what you might be thinking. When I walked into the winery on that Monday morning, the only image I had in my mind of grape crushing stemmed from the dates on The Bachelor/Bachelorette. Let me tell you (as if you didn’t already know), the standing-in-a-small-barrell-with-another-person-using-your-bare-feet method is not the most efficient (or sanitary). Therefore, you can assume, my grape-crushing knowledge coming into this was far from satisfactory.

To make sure you get the accurate information you deserve as dedicated wine-drinkers, I turned to one of our head winemaker here in Chicago, Robert Kowal. And here is what I learned:


We receive about six to twelve shipments of grapes from various vineyards around the country throughout the year. Eighty to ninety percent of our grapes come from vineyards in California, but we also get them from places like Michigan, Washington, and Oregon. City Winery has contracts with each of these vineyards that spell out each party’s responsibilities. Each vineyard is responsible for the cultivation and quality of the grapes, however, our City Winery winemakers have a lot of say in how these grapes are grown. Things like sprays, fertilization, and most importantly – the pick date – are up to the discretion of City Winery’s winemakers.

Because our winemakers are busy making your wine back here in Chicago, they are unable to visit the vineyards and give their personal opinion on the grapes. To combat this, City Winery employs men and women in different regions around the country who we call ‘vineyard liaisons’. Vineyard liaisons are in charge of visiting the vineyards, and deciding when the grapes are ready to be picked and shipped (otherwise known as, the pick date). These men and women are so crucial to our business back here in Chicago, even though they do their work hundreds of miles away!

Once the date has arrived, the grapes are picked into bins, put onto pallets, and chilled in a truck or packing facility until they are shipped. It is our goal to have them transported as quickly as possible to ensure quality. The majority of the time, the grapes are delivered to us by trucks, but can also be brought to us by train. These shipments are shared among all of the City Winery locations. Because we are the most western location, we normally receive the shipments first. We take our allocated number of tons of grapes from the truck, and then let them go on to the next location, whether that be Nashville, Atlanta, or NYC.

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Once the grapes have arrived at City Winery Chicago, they are unloaded by members of our team. Our sorting crew, comprised of City Winery employees, gets to work right away sorting the grapes. Grapes are sorted first by separating whole clusters from individual berries. Underdeveloped grapes, and MOG (material other than grapes; stems, leaves etc.) are taken out and composted.


The whole clusters are then put into a machine that separates the stem from the grapes. Sometimes, however, depending on what the winemaker decides, the stems are kept and become part of the wine. Now, don’t worry, this tactic is actually used to make more complex wines, not just to scare you. If winemakers do choose to keep the stems, they usually only make up only about ten percent of the actual drink! A small percentage, but it goes a long way in taste.

Once we have all of the good material (i.e. edible things…), huge forklifts move the grapes from their bins into the tanks. The material will sit in the tanks for 2-4 days in a cold soak; this begins the color and taste process without starting the fermentation process. Here, the juice will begin to soak out of the grapes naturally, but to get all that we can out of our grapes, we do a press run that removes the remaining liquid material after the cold soak period. When this is done, the wine is put into barrels, where we age it from anywhere between 8 and 24 months.

As a winery, our biggest priority is maintaining the highest quality of wine for our guests. Our greatest challenge, and thus where we exude our greatest care, is in transportation. We work hard to ensure that our grapes are transported as carefully and quickly as possible. Robert’s goal as winemaker at City Winery Chicago is to provide the “most complete, complex, satisfying drink” for our guests, and for those of you who have visited us before, we hope you agree with that. If you haven’t tried our wine yet, we hope that you will join us soon and be a witness to Robert and the rest of the winemaking team’s hard work!

As a winemaking outsider, I got to see the process from a whole new perspective. Watching the employees dedicate their weekend to sorting and crushing grapes showed me just how passionate this company is about giving you the best wine they can give. These employees are invested in City Winery way more than just a paycheck at the end of the week – they are here to serve you, our guests!

Knowing all that you do now about the winemaking process, it is only right that you come on in and test it out. Our restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight daily, so join us while we make some delicious food to pair with your glass of wine. Exclusive wine and restaurant tours are offered daily at 3:30 and 4:30 PM, and hour-long tours are given every Sunday, all day beginning at 10:30 AM.

To learn about all of the awesome opportunities we have for you at our winery, like tastings, classes, and clubs, follow this link:

Don’t feel like coming in today? Purchase a bottle of wine from our website and have it shipped to you! We are so excited for you to experience City Winery Chicago.

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