An urban winery and ‘society’ in Los Angeles

Two of California’s most singular winemakers have formed an allegiance to open an urban winery and ‘society’ in Los Angeles

Words by Courtney Humiston

It’s not that surprising that former philosopher and rogue winemaker Abe Schoener, who has amassed both praise and criticism for his esoteric wine label The Scholium Project, would announce that he is moving his winemaking operation from Northern California to Los Angeles. As a founding partner in Red Hook winery in Brooklyn, where he continues to make wine with grapes from North Fork on Long Island, he knows the ins and outs of urban wineries.

Nor would it be surprising that this LA winery would serve as a gathering place: Schoener’s RSVP-only ‘metaphysical’ lectures (such as The Gastronomy of Spoilage and A Question of Time), tastings and dance parties, which he hosts around the world, fill up quickly and are followed enviably on social media.

California vineyard

What makes the prospect of this project particularly interesting is the partnership that has made it a reality. Schoener has teamed up with American-Indian sommelier Rajat Parr, whose Santa Barbara Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (Domaine de la Cote and Sandhi) and whose books, Secrets of the Sommeliers and The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste, hint at his more classic approach to wine.

Los Angeles River Company truck carrying goods

The Los Angeles River Company, as the joint collaboration is being called, will be a wine — made from exclusively Southern California fruit — but also a society, with membership limited to 1,000 people. “It isn’t that we want to exclude people, but we want people who are part of it to feel that they are inside something special,” says Schoener.

“Conversation, education, and bringing people together to create something… Community is key,” says Parr. After all, he laughs, “Wineries don’t make money.”

People working at Los Angeles River Company winery

What all of this looks like remains to be seen. The building, which is rumoured to have been built as a winemaking or distillery facility by a German settler close to the turn of the century, was most recently used as an art exhibition space. A recent show by the artist Shepard Fairey attracted Schoener, as well as hundreds of other Los Angelites, to a neighbourhood that Parr describes as “not posh, but funky.”

Commenting on the legacy of street art, and, it could be implied his own path, Schoener says, “There is a phenomenon of urban exploration: of capturing something underused, underrated. There is no hesitation to keep applying layers… no hesitation about painting over.”

The latest layer on this particular building will be minimal. The entire 6,500ft space will exist without a single wall: there will be no segregated tastings. “VIP spaces will be created by activity, not a wall,” says Schoener. “Winemaking and hospitality will be physically distinct, but there won’t be a wall separating them.”

Parr emphasized the “nomadic” commonality that he and Schoener share: everything in the building will be capable of being picked up and moved. Because neither Parr nor Schoener own any of the vineyards from which they source their wines or the buildings in which they make them, “these are wines of place, and wines of no place.” Or, in other words, maybe only the place can own the wine.