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Few labels surprise wine-savvy New Yorkers. A Chardonnay from Virginia? Had it. A Cabernet Sauvignon–Shiraz blend from India? That too. But this year more than a few eyebrows may cock at the sight of bottles that read ‘Made in Manhattan’, or ‘Made in Brooklyn’.
The locavore trend, which has infected every part of the New Yorker’s diet from greens to cheese to beer, has finally hit the cellar. Urban wineries have arrived, in places as far flung as San Francisco, Kansas City and, now, New York. Former music impresario Michael Dorf has erected the sleek City Winery in Tribeca. And Mark Snyder, another music industry refugee (he designed sound for acts like Billy Joel before becoming a wine distributor), has created the more rustic Angels’ Share in Brooklyn’s desolate Red Hook district.
‘It’s very timely,’ said Leslie Townsend, former director of Astor Center, the liquor education institute connected to Manhattan’s Astor Wine & Spirits. ‘People want to reconnect with the things they’re consuming.’
LeNell Smothers, owner of LeNell’s, a liquor store near Angel’s Share often identified as the best in New York, also believes urban wineries are viable propositions. ‘The whole eat and drink local slow-food movement has become part of New York City fashion,’ said Smothers, who bottles and sells her own rye whiskey. ‘It’s sexy to support local projects.’ She plans to carry Angel’s Share wines at her store, as does the celebrated nearby restaurant The Good Fork.
While often lumped together, City Winery and Angels’ Share are as different in character as the neighbourhoods they call home. Snyder sources grapes solely from the nearby North Fork of Long Island, and has enlisted the skills of Californian winemakers Abe Schoener and Robert Foley to create idiosyncratic wines in a drafty, bare-bones warehouse near the Brooklyn Waterfront. The wines will be made available to the public through restaurants and wine stores. Snyder hopes they will serve as examples of what can be done with Long Island fruit.
Michael Dorf’s approach is as much about wine lifestyle as wine. Subscribing to the ‘wines are made in the vineyard’ theory, he has trucked in grapes from California, Oregon and elsewhere. Barrels are privately owned by winery members who pay $5,000/£2,025, plus fruit and barrel costs. Moreover, the winery is part of a larger complex that includes a coffee bar, cheese case, restaurant and music stage. A music line-up will feature artists drawn from Dorf’s connections as former director of the downtown Manhattan concert venue The Knitting Factory. A fifth of the wine stock will be available to customers by the glass and bottle. Snyder expects his first bottling in April (perhaps a rosé or Sauvignon Blanc); Dorf in May. Both men are hazy on prices, but pledge to price ‘competitively’, to introduce people to the wines.
But New York City wines have a hook beyond low cost and local appeal, according to Belinda Chang, sommelier at The Modern, a wine-destination restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art. ‘90% of a wine sale is what you can tell the guest about the wine, and these have a pretty great story. If the quality is there, people will definitely want to try them.’