Boston Winery Is Bringing Wine Country to the City
At the DIY club in Dorchester, even beginners can learn to make wine alongside experienced winemakers, without leaving town.
Even if you’re an avid wine enthusiast, you’re probably more familiar with sipping reds and whites than making them yourself. But if you find yourself craving a hands-on experience that involves your favorite beverage, you're in luck. Boston is home to a winery where you can learn the art and craft of "grape to glass." You’ll be in good company, every step of the way.
Boston Winery, housed in an 8,000 square-foot Civil War-era building, is located along the western shore of the Neponset River in Dorchester. It’s the place to go if you’re eager to make your own wine in a state of the art facility. Using a co-op model that emphasizes learning alongside experienced winemakers, even the complete novice can dive in. As an added bonus, you get to enjoy the finished wines of staff and fellow co-op members as you wait for your own barrel or tank to mature. That camaraderie is part-and-parcel to the experience, and the family behind the business wouldn’t have it any other way.
All in the family
Vito Bruno, assistant winemaker as well as distribution and sales manager, is happy to tell the story of the winery. His grandfather, Ralph Bruno, a long-time Boston resident who hails from Abruzzi, Italy, was making wine at his Westwood home after selling his restaurant, Venezia, to his grown children. Realizing he was outgrowing the at-home arrangement, he renovated the brick-and-stone structure on the restaurant’s property and moved his winemaking there. “It was a social club for him,” says Vito. “He had no intention of starting [another] business.” Yet family and friends, eager for a space to make and enjoy their wine, pushed him to expand. He launched the winery in 2006. Over the last ten years, the facility — in addition to hosting tours, tastings and special events — has become the go-to spot for budding vintners. Members include everyone from weekend hobbyists to restaurateurs keen on making custom-crush bottles.
Enabling the DIY experience
Asked what makes vinifying grapes in the city different than in a rural location, Vito focuses on the fruit. “Obviously, we’re not cultivating our own grapes, so we are not dependent on our own vineyard,” he says. The family purchases most of the whole-cluster fruit from California and Chile, ensuring that grapes are available to their members year-round. They work with an array of vineyard partners, so if adverse weather affects the quality of fruit in one region, they can source from another with minimal disruption.
To get started, you purchase a membership and select the amount of wine you want to make. A full, half, or quarter barrel are among the options. If you choose to make a half-barrel (amounting to 144 bottles) you would pay $180 per month or $1,850 per year. That membership level allows you to receive a case (12 bottles) per month of finished wine made by staff and other co-op members. (In an average month, there are about 50 members who are on site — tasting, vinifying, and monitoring their wine.) And if you’re wondering about the quality of pours you’ll be sipping, you can rest assured. The process is guided and overseen by experts, including Vito's older brother, lead winemaker Ralph Bruno (the younger of the two Ralphs in the family) who guides members through every step of the process.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, a tour was in full swing. Ralph, the lead winemaker, was orienting a group of 50 to the winery, kept cool and dim when it’s not a hive of activity. He talked about the shipments of fruit, received in sturdy plastic lug baskets, and how members sort through the clusters before they go into the crusher-destemmer, then on through fermentation and aging. Peering around the room at the crowd — mostly 20- and 30-somethings enjoying glasses of made-on-site wines — it was easy to spot the folks most likely to sign up as new winemakers. They were the ones asking a lot of questions.