Food & dining


Private label wines blended exclusively in Dorchester

Michelle Penney

The next time you peruse a restaurant wine list, or walk into a wine shop, don’t be surprised if someone who works there waxes poetic about the house wine. They might even tell you they had a hand in producing it.

Around town, house-brand wines — also called custom crush or private label wines — are shedding their reputation as middling-quality quaffs, geared toward those with no interest in studying a wine list. One reason these pours are getting better has a lot to do with the winemaking team at Boston Winery. The Dorchester winery, open to the public, offers state-of-the-art facilities to make wine “from grape to glass,” as they like to call it. “The only thing we’re not doing here is cultivating the grapes,” says manager Brendan MacDermott.

Housed in a Civil War-era building, the winery is an 8,000-square-foot space, where grapes are brought in (primarily from Northern California), crushed, fermented, blended, aged, and bottled. Classes, special events, and tastings are conducted throughout the year and hobby winemakers purchase memberships to make their own wine on site.


For many area restaurateurs and wine shops, Boston Winery is a well-kept secret, the place where they have custom blends made with personalized labels (a minimum order is a half-barrel at $1,850, which works out to 144 bottles, or just under $13 each).

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Bruno Marini of The Varano Group, approached the winery to make a red blend for Strega Prime, an Italian steakhouse in Woburn. He worked closely with Ralph Bruno, the winery’s founder and owner, to make Strega Prime Red, a blend of syrah, merlot, and malbec, sold at the restaurant for $35 a bottle. The process, he says, is “more personal.”

For her retail shop, Sea Glass Wine and Beer, in Swampscott, owner Michelle Penney had two house wines made ($19.99 each): Fisherman’s Beach Blend with chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and viognier, and King’s Beach Blend with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. “It’s a great opportunity to work with a local winery and find a fun blend to distinguish the store,” she says. She sold eight cases in two weeks. One perk Boston Winery offers is warehouse storage space, so Penney doesn’t have to take her wine all at once.

Bambino, a cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend, named for baseball legend Babe Ruth, who once resided in Sudbury, is one of the house pours at 29 Sudbury, an Italian-inspired restaurant in the town of the same name. The restaurant also offers Tinker’s Ghost, a petit verdot. Both reds are available by the glass ($12) or bottle ($42), and at Kappy’s in Sudbury.

Before they launched the new program, 29 Sudbury servers toured Boston Winery to learn how the wines are made, and even do some hands on work, including labeling bottles. “It gives our servers a story to tell,” says restaurant co-owner Greg Hill.


And when you’re recommending wines to diners, there’s nothing like a good story.

Boston Winery,

Ellen Bhang can be reached at