When Mural City Cellars co-founder Nicholas Ducos says he would love to be the first guy to “bring the five euro bottle of wine” to Philly, he isn’t referring to stashing a few bottles in a checked bag on the way back from France. Ducos and his partner, Francesca Galarus, are aiming to bring the concept of vins de table — or affordable, locally sourced table wine — to Philadelphia.
Taking a very literal cue from the garagistes, a group of renegade winemakers who set up shop in car parks in Bordeaux, France, Ducos and Galarus opened Mural City Cellars in a 1,200-square-foot garage in Kensington at the end of January. Located on Amber Street, just blocks away from Martha and St. Oner’s, it joins a neighborhood that’s something of a destination for locally made libations.
For those familiar with daytripping to bucolic locales for wine tastings, the concept of a winery within city limits is something new.
“The West Coast does a great job highlighting what urban wineries can do,” says Ducos. The couple cites Portland, Oregon’s ENSO and LA’s Angeleno Wine Co. as inspirations.
To better understand the idea of an urban winery, think of restaurants that highlight farm-to-table fare. These local spots seek out the best produce grown within a set radius of their restaurants, then create relationships with the farmers and bring in carefully sourced provisions as the basis for their dishes.
The mission at Mural City Cellars isn’t all that different. Ducos and Galarus seek out independent grape growers within a 300-mile radius of their winery and transform their harvest into the bottles for sale at the Amber Street production space and retail shop. The end product is a collaboration between farmers and makers, with the goal of bringing those products to their local customer base.
“We’re excited about what the northeast wine region can do,” Galarus says. At the same time the couple is well aware of the bad rap that Pennsylvania wines have garnered over the years. Off-putting packaging and overly manipulated, cloying juice has made local wine a hard sell.
With that in mind, Mural City’s debut run is made up of seven bottles of wines that were crafted to have a sense of place. “We want our wines to be expressive of where they come from,” Ducos says, summing up Mural City’s commitment to finding terroir in a region that hasn’t exactly leaned into the concept. Its wine labels are also designed by local artists.
Ducos and Galarus share a background in hospitality and met in Miami. Their travels have taken them around the world to learn about winemaking in California and New Zealand, before returning to Galarus’s hometown of Philadelphia. Seeing the city embrace close-to-home beer culture, the pair planned an adjacent concept. At Mural City, customers can pick up bottles of handmade wine directly from the makers, with locale decidedly top of mind.
Mural City’s most appealing offerings are their Community Supported Winery (aka CSW) wines. A red, white, and forthcoming rosé that speak to the idea of vins de table: easy-drinking, wallet-friendly bottles designated for everyday consumption. The concept may seem simple enough, and yet stateside, high-quality, locally made table wine isn’t all that common. Mural City has broached the topic in an untraditional yet spot-on manner. Its CSW wines come in under $20, a reasonable price, especially when it comes to wine made in Pennsylvania.
Touriga Nacional grapes hail from Portugal where they have historically made a home in hearty Douro reds and some legendary ports. Mural City’s take on Touriga Nacional — sourced from a vineyard in northern Virginia — is the CSW Red, a juicy, easy drinking bottle that pairs with pizza. The CSW White is made from vidal blanc, a hybrid grape that thrives in the mid-Atlantic region. “Think of it as a sauvignon blanc with a little more body,” Ducos says.
The rest of the lineup includes on-trend releases like a semi-carbonic cabernet franc, a pop-top sparkling chardonnay, as well as a skin-contact blend, and rosé slated for a spring debut. Every wine Ducos and Galarus offers is crushed and bottled by hand on-site.
Mural City Cellars’ wines are available for purchase in their shop, and those looking to further support the project can sign up for the CSW membership. For $400 a year, or $225 for half the year, members receive two bottles of wine a month and a discount at the winery. Plus, Ducos and Galarus are keeping the community in mind: For every membership sold, Mural City donates a portion of each membership fee to the East Kensington Neighborhood Association and Mural Arts.
Mural City Cellars is located at 2011 Amber St, building C. It’s open Thursday and Friday from 5 to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 8 p.m. Website.