Eight years ago, Mayor Shirley Franklin re-branded Atlanta as the city where "every day is opening day." But in 2013 it is also known as a city where every entrepreneur aims to be first. Adding their names to that pool are chef India Ramos and Rachelle Lovett of Urban Vines Wine Company.
Similar to the boom of micro-breweries that have been popping up in the city, Urban Vines is a micro-winery concept. They offer customized varietal wines and bottle labels, allowing the average consumer to create their own unique blends from juices sourced out of small boutique wineries and vintners out of California. They also provide winemaking kits and classes for people who want to try it themselves. The ultimate goal? Ramos and Lovett hope to open the first restaurant/micro-winery inside of Atlanta's city limits.
While opening a brewery is not without its legal challenges in Atlanta, there are "[no written laws specific to making wine," Ramos says. "You're either brewing beer or trying to open a restaurant to sell liquor."
While beer advocates have worked hard for legislative reform in recent years, for Ramos, the lack of a similar established legal framework for new wineries has been one of Urban Vines' greatest obstacles.
"[Atlanta's] laws are welcoming to micro-breweries, but not micro-wineries," Ramos says. "It's not even that they won't let us open one, it's that they don't know how to allow us to ... There are no laws or clear check marks."
In the meantime, Ramos and Lovett have gone about promoting their vision, hosting events, and launching other brands along the way. Since they started in 2011, Urban Vines has held wine tastings for events hosted by the United Way of Metro Atlanta and produced custom wines and labels for local businesses like Castleberry Hill's Boxcar Grocer and visual artist Paper Frank's recent "Pink Lemonade" art exhibit.
To date, their most popular effort is The Food Club, which combines the duo's three passions: food, wine, and music. (Urban Vines also releases a quarterly magazine, The Food Club, which features chef Ramos' recipes and interviews with local entertainers and Atlanta business people.) The concept began as a small party where Ramos would invite friends over to try her cooking as they drank and danced to a live DJ. As word spread, the themed party began to travel into other people's homes throughout the metro Atlanta area.
A native of Queens, New York, Ramos was raised in a family where many relatives were either cooks or owned restaurants — her father was a chef and winewmaker. She attended DeVry University and set out on a career in corporate America until a trip to Napa Valley inspired her to start her own wine company and eventually open a restaurant. Ramos honed her skills by taking night jobs in the industry, mentoring under chef Chris Rabideau at Cru Urban Lounge for one year, and chef Rob Echols at Ormsby's for two. She met Lovett, a Chicago native who was also toiling in corporate America, through a friend who invited her to one of Ramos' house parties. Lovett, who serves as Director of Sales and Operations for Urban Vines, was so impressed with Ramos' skills she suggested they team up and take the gatherings to the next level.
"We want to be known for providing an overall great atmosphere," Ramos says. "We want you to feel like you're missing something if you aren't there."
Their first big event was an upscale affair hosted in the Castleberry Arts District in 2011. But from there, they decided to scale down and make the experience (and price) more accessible to a younger demographic, specifically those of the hip-hop generation.
"Rappers are talking about food and wine, but no one has thought to make it into a brand," Lovett says. "There isn't one person alive that doesn't enjoy good food, wine, and music, or at least two out of the three. It's a recipe for good living."
Ironically, Urban Vines' next event will have them returning to the ritzier side of things. On Thurs., Aug. 8, Urban Vines, along with 5 Star Chefs, will launch the Great Taste Tour in Buckhead. With more than two-dozen food, wine, and mixology personalities, the centerpiece of the event will feature a 5-course tasting from celebrity chefs including Roshni Gurnani and Chez De Chellis. From there, the tour will head to Washington, D.C., Houston, Miami, New York City, Chicago, and Denver.Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the legal process surrounding new wineries.