There are no sweeping vistas of vineyards on Amber Street in Kensington, only the new condos across the way, and the sounds are not trucks brimming with grapes but the Market-Frankford El.
It’s here where Nicholas Ducos and Francesca Galarus plan to open Mural City Cellars in January. Joining a burgeoning trend of urban wineries, the couple are working with small grape growers within 300 miles and are producing the wines onsite.
They want to be part of their community — they live nearby — and will offer CSW (Community Supported Winery) memberships. Much like a CSA farm share, members pay in advance to receive two bottles a month, access to virtual events, and discounts on wines. The couple say they will donate 15% of the proceeds from each membership to neighborhood initiatives and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Project.
Ducos and Galarus will sell three of their own wines at the outset, including New Jersey-grown chambourcin and cabernet franc, starting at $28.
Galarus, 35, grew up in Malvern and went to Drexel University, while Ducos, 30, was born in New York, grew up in the Allentown and Bethlehem area, and studied at the Culinary Institute of America. They met while working at Catch restaurant in South Beach.
The idea for an urban winery was Ducos’. By then, he had segued from the kitchen to beverage management as a sommelier and wine director, “but I definitely wanted to do something a little bit different — small-production winemaking. And I wanted to get more hands on it and learn more about it.”
“Nick surprised me with this idea one day” in 2016, Galarus said. “When you’re living in South Florida and want to make wine. ... Obviously, this wasn’t possible.”
Ducos set out. First stop was Napa, where he worked the harvest at Truchard Winery and said he got a good grip on red-winemaking. To learn more about whites, he went to New Zealand during a harvest.
“When he came back, he said, ‘I got it. I want to do this with you. I can do the winemaking part of it and you can do the hospitality part,’” said Galarus, who said she has done every restaurant job out there. “‘With our powers combined, we can create something really special.’”
Philadelphia was a logical location for an urban winery because of heightened interest in wines here. The couple said they want to correct “a lot of bad connotations with [local wines] being overly sweet and not high quality.” Ducos took a job as an assistant winemaker at William Heritage in Haddonfield.
Ducos and Galarus are working with their growers “pretty much hands on from the beginning to the end,” he said. “Francesca and I will put on our dirty clothes and go pick grapes with them and put them all in the back of a Penske truck and drive them back to the city.”
The winery is set up with an area for tours and tastings. They prefer to describe the public space as a cellar door — by classic definition, a part of a winery from which wine may be sampled or purchased. “I really do like that term,” Ducos said. “It’s kind of like inviting you into the cave.”
The vibe will be “eclectic,” Galarus said. “It’s an extension of our living room. Not literally, but figuratively. We’re going to be comfortable and vibey with recycled furniture.”
In addition to their wines, they will sell other local wines, ciders, beer, and spirits. They are talking about limited food to accompany tours and tastings, such as building a cheese board in real time in front of customers “just to really make it interactive and fun,” he said.