The Fall Grape Crush at City Winery

I'm a wine lover through and through. I even have a small wine collection in my cellar, though I doubt many of my bottles are getting any better with age. I've attended many wine classes and tastings, but I've never experienced wine-making firsthand, that is until now. City Winery, an actual winery, music venue, and restaurant, makes wine on premises in Soho. The grapes arrive mostly from the West coast. The winery has only been open since 2008, but they have had a grape crush every year since. This past Saturday, my friend Amanda, The Undomestic Goddess, and I attended the crush. I couldn't believe that our tickets included grape crushing, a visit to the barrel room, brunch, and tastings of five of their wines, all for a bargain at $30.

The man behind City Winery is Michael Dorf, the former owner and founder of the music venue the Knitting Factory. After seeing the wine-making process first hand in California, Mr. Dorf was inspired to open City Winery, an urban winery designed for wine enthusiasts living in the city who want to enjoy the experience of making wine without leaving behind their lifestyle. The winery offers a custom wine-making program that takes the urban winemaker on a journey through the process of making wine from the crush and barreling to the blending and bottling. One can choose to be involved as much or as little as desired. Entire barrels or just a small case of bottles can be purchased for oneself, groups of friends, or for celebrations such as weddings. The winery also offers a place for friends to gather and enjoy food in a convivial setting with live music.

The grape crush is an open event. Ticket holders are welcome to drift as they please and eat while listening to a live folk band. The grape crush takes place in a large room right behind the main entertainment/dining space. The grapes this past Saturday Sauvignon were Cabernet from Haystack Peak vineyards in the Napa Valley. The grape bunches go through a machine that removes the stems. A group of us were inducted to help sort out debris such as small twigs, leaves, and stems from among the grape berries, as they are called. The berries are then lifted on a conveyor built and dropped into the large tank in which they will be "pressed," though no actual pressing takes place. Winemaker David Lecomte says that much care is taken not to overhandle the grapes so that they enter the tank mostly uncrushed.

Once the tank is full, the grapes macerate with yeast and are mixed periodically to reincorporate. The mixture is then allowed to settle and a cap of debris forms on the surface. Once the cap is removed, the liquid is ready for the barrel where it can spend up to 20 months depending on the varietal. The winery also offers free-flow wines that do not have sulfites (preservative) added. If you are one of those people who gets headaches from wines with sulfites, free-flow wines are just right for you. These wines are held in kegs and are pumped to the restaurant bar from the cellar below, much like with ales.

We had the opportunity to taste two white wines and three red wines. The Varick and Vine Chardonnay (Los Carneros, Napa Valley, CA) is very fruity and flavorful. The Downtown Local Roussanne (Alder Springs, Lake County, CA) is lightly oaked with subtle fruit flavor and a scent of vanilla. The Spring Street Pinot Noir was my favorite. It has a ruby color and a warm spice and caramel aroma. It's medium body and fruity flavor make it a good choice for many dishes. I bought a bottle for Thanksgiving. The Houston Street Red (North Coast AVA, CA) is a blend of Cabernet, Syrah, and Merlot. It has a good flavor not unlike an everyday table wine. The Leftover Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend from three vineyards in Napa Valley. It's full-bodied, very aromatic, and flavorful. If not for the $48 price, I would have bought a bottle of it too.

I love the entire concept of City Winery, if only I would have thought of it first. It's great for a city person like me, who has never been to an actual vineyard, to see the process of wine-making. Even though a very important step is skipped, that is the growing and nurturing of the grapes, City Winery still offers a unique experience that is not to be missed. Though it's not the most responsible to be shipping wines all the way from the West Coast in the fall or South America in the spring, this does allow for an expansive offering of grape varieties for making wine. Any urban wine-maker has the chance to create a custom wine, single varietal or blend. It's worth attending a crush at City Winery to see the entire wine-making operation in one small city building just without the vineyard. Or simply go for a good time with friends, drinking and enjoying a selection of wine while listening to live music.

City Winery
155 Varick Street, on the corner of Vandam Street
New York, 10013
Open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight, and Saturday and Sunday from 5 p.m. to midnight.