MAYFAIR — A cavernous former ice warehouse on Montrose Avenue has been rented by a wine company that wants to turn the building into a winery, tasting room and event space in the coming year.
Meta Wine has been searching for a home for several years and recently signed a lease at 4300 W. Montrose Ave. The brown brick building sits just blocks from the Kennedy Expy. and Old Irving Brewing Co.
The company first launched in 2017 and uses the slogan “let’s make wine easy.” The goal, its founder says, is to be “the beer guys of wine” and create a winery with the atmosphere of a craft brewery.
Meta Wine plans to offer custom blends, personalized labels, wine in fillable growlers and more.
“We’re licensed as a bonded winery and don’t make wine in the traditional sense. Instead we source wine from a network of suppliers that we’ve developed over the years and continue to develop around the world,” said Walter Clements, Meta Wine’s founder.
Those wines are then used to create unique blends that can be customized to someone’s taste.
Until now, Meta Wine hasn’t had a home of its own. The company previously worked with partners at its licensed facilities in “alternating proprietor and production contract arrangements,” Clements said.
That changed on Nov. 18 when the winery signed a lease for the 14,660-square-foot property at 4300 W. Montrose Ave.
The building near the CTA Blue Line was marketed as perfect for “a brewery, distillery, roastery, etc.” by Strauss Realty with a listing price of $2.5 million.
Maplewood Brewery & Distillery was also eyeing the property earlier this year as a possible location for its expansion. The brewery was also looking at properties in Bridgeport, Pilsen and Back of the Yards.
The two-story Mayfair building was built in 1925 as a warehouse, first for ice and then carpets. Its history as an ice warehouse is why the interior of the brick building is so open— with 40-foot ceilings.
“Ice houses were built with high ceilings because heat rises and they didn’t want the heat to blanket the product which would then make it an indoor swimming pool,” Clements said.
Clements previously looked at a former theater space at the Main Street Metra station in Evanston as a possible location for the business in 2017. But those plans didn’t work out so he went back to looking for a space for Meta Wine to call its own.
“Evanston was a great option at that time, and the city was very easy to work with, but a breakdown in the final lease negotiation led us to look to Chicago as a larger market for us to launch our business,” Clements said.
When Clements and his partners — general manager Jennifer Crowley and head of operations Peter Reale — first looked at the Mayfair building a year ago, they thought the building’s “cavernous space” might be a bit too large.
So they continued to shop around but didn’t find anything quite to their liking. That’s when Crowley suggested taking another look at the warehouse.
“We came here again and there had been some work done to it. It just sang to all of us,” Clements said. “It looked like such a beautiful, unique facility and our business has grown in that time to where we can actually utilize all this space now.”
The first thing the partners will focus on getting up and running will be the production area on the west side of the building that will include 1,000-liter wine tanks. They plan to have all the equipment for the wholesale side of the business up and running by spring.
“Once we have our beautiful tanks in we want to start having events here on a regular basis,” Crowley said. “So someone can come in in this beautiful room and rent it out to have a wedding, bar mitzvah, cocktail party or corporate event.”
By summer, the plan is to open the retail side of Meta Wine on the east side of the building.
“It’ll be kind of like a craft brewery, but for wine. Customers can enjoy wine by the glass, they can buy wine in a bottle shop that’s in a bottle label that we create,” Clements said. “They can also come in and fill bottles of wine to reuse or growlers or whatever, which we encourage because we’re supporters of a green economy.”
A food menu is still being developed and once the retail side is open, people will be able to stop by and hang out for a drink, Crowley said.
When the large space between the tanks and tasting room isn’t being used for events, it’ll have games like bags, bocce ball, volleyball or even badminton.
Making high quality wines approachable is the goal of the company.
“You’re not going to see a bunch of people in vests wearing Court of Master Sommelier and drinking wine out of a necklace cup,” Reale said.
Part of that philosophy means not being tied to traditions most people associate with wine and selling their blends in cans, kegs and growlers alongside wine bottles.
Clements got the idea when visiting his wife in her hometown of Venice, Italy.
“It was New Year’s Eve day and I went with her friends to go get stuff for the party that night,” he said.
He purchased Prosecco from a store that sold “vino sfuso” wine, which translates to “loose wine.” Using a tap the employee poured the wine out of a tap from a keg and into a growler, which Clements thought was a pretty cool concept.
“Fast forward a few years and I just wanted to make a change to my career from a software consultant because I wasn’t happy,” he said. “So I thought of doing something like that weird wine business I saw in Italy, where you buy wine in growlers.”
To that end, Meta Wine likes to let its customers to do what they want with wine like offering a custom label program.
Cubs fans may have already tasted one of Meta Wine’s blends if they’ve stopped by Maddon’s Post, 1119 W. Waveland Ave., without realizing it.
“Joe Maddon, the former manager of the Cubs, his restaurant has a wine called Flock 70. We actually did that wine for them,” Clements said.
For more information on Meta Wine click here.
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