Crush Time in the City

"Last year was the first year we were a little profitable, on paper at least," says Lewis, who started Hip Chicks about seven years ago with partner Renee Neely.

Distribution remains difficult for small wineries that can't afford to spend a lot on marketing and advertising, says MKF's Insel. "It's much easier for the Diageos, the Constellations or the Gallos. They have a huge volume, so they can supply national chains. Distributors will make money on those people."

While the Internet holds great potential for sales, the onerous paperwork and restrictions surrounding direct interstate wine shipping even in states that allow it — and 30 do, theoretically at least — discourages online ordering. "It deters people," says Lewis.

Finally, there's the challenge of getting people to open their minds to the concept of a winery set in the city and not in the vineyard.

Eliason of Periscope Cellars admits he often meets with incredulity.

"Grapes are the first thing people ask about," he says. Customers worry that he grows his grapes in Emeryville, whose heady industrial past includes paint factories and ironworks.

"Even I wouldn't eat anything planted in that ground," Eliason says. "But once they get over that, it's everything they want in a winery, minus the drive. People stop by after work, taste a couple of things and buy a bottle for dinner. And I have a chance to have my winery in with my community, my friends and my neighbors."

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