Eating + Drinking

Crushing on Urban Wineries in NYC

No need to go to the Finger Lakes or the North Fork for some of New York’s best wines anymore.

Photo by Jeff Waugh

My appreciation for wine dates back to way before I was legally allowed to enjoy it. My mom had a robust selection of chardonnays, Pinots, and specialty bottles from her travels (her bottle of Pineapple Crush from MauiWine is one of her most prized possessions), so I started learning about different varietals at an early age.

Running through lush vineyards is limited to annual trips to the North Fork, but at least I have a few reliable standbys in my own backyard to fulfill my need for freshly crushed grapes. Here are some of the urban wineries I like to frequent when I’m craving a little bit of Napa Valley.

Brooklyn Winery, 213 North 8th Street, Williamsburg
Cofounders Brian Leventhal and John Stires were fermenting and barrel-aging their own blended wines in Brooklyn long before urban winemaking became cool in the five boroughs. Now in their second decade in Williamsburg, the team of passionate vintners continues to be “committed to pushing the boundaries of winemaking by blending traditional old-world methodology with a modern perspective.” Case in point, their complex Gewürztraminer—a wine-rack staple in my apartment—is rich with hints of nectarine, elderflower, and lemongrass.

Chances are you’ve been to this beautifully rustic space at least once in your adult life, whether it was for your friend’s baby shower, a friend-of-a-friend’s wedding, or behind-the-scenes tour on a Saturday. My favorite way to experience the winery, though, is with a glass of Cabernet Franc during happy hour at its reclaimed bar, fashioned out of old church pews and surrounded by wine racks made with World War II ammo boxes.

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Winery

Red Hook Winery, Pier 41, 175-204 Van Dyke Street, Building 325A, Red Hook
I love a compelling comeback tale, and Red Hook Winery crawled back in momentous fashion. After being wiped out by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the tight-knit community came together to clean up debris left by extreme flooding and rebuild the winery to a point where it could begin crushing and barreling again (local blog Bedford + Bowery notes that the vast majority of its 2010–2012 vintages were lost as a result of the storm).

Nowadays, owner Mark Snyder along with winemakers Abe Schoener, Christopher Nicolson, and Robert Foley are riding a reinvigorating wave back to normalcy. The tasting room is consistently busy with avid wine tasters from around the neighborhood and city. Here, you can gaze at the nearby Statue of Liberty while sipping your way through the collection of reserves and vintages made after the big storm—one merlot–Cabernet Franc blend from 2012 is even named Survivor. While the tasting menu is both generous and affordable—four two-ounce pours are only $15—the barrel tasting and tour is particularly unique; you don’t often have the opportunity to walk through hundreds of wine barrels while drinking straight from them.

Photo courtesy of Red Hook Winery

Rooftop Reds, 63 Flushing Avenue, Building 275, Downtown Brooklyn
If I ever directed an indie romantic comedy based in Kings County, I’d want to have the two main characters end up here for their first kiss. Of course, they’d have to explore the labyrinth of Brooklyn Navy Yard and climb up five flights of stairs to stumble upon this discreet gem. But they’d eventually be cozied up on one of the ruby red hammocks with a bottle of Finger Lakes rosé watching the sun set over the Downtown Brooklyn skyline. The bartenders would have witty side banter while pouring vino made from grapes sourced from rooftop planters. I, of course, would make a cameo as a patron poorly playing cornhole with a group of strangers (you’d think playing here so many times would make me better, but alas).

Like most rom-coms nowadays, my imaginary movie would probably bomb. At least it would give this rooftop reprieve a bit more attention; it’s one of those gems I actually want people to discover for themselves.

Photo by Jeff Waugh

City Winery, 155 Varick Street (at Vandam Street), Tribeca
Manhattanites looking to have the full vineyard romp without leaving home only have to travel on the 1 train to Houston Street. City Winery—self-described as “a vibrant, interactive space in the heart of a cosmopolitan city where folks can not only make wine, but also meet friends new and old while indulging their passion for quality food, music, art and life”—and its founder, Michael Dorf, and his team set out to transform the typical wine tasting into something more experiential.

What makes this urban winery stand out from the rest is that it pairs deep reds and whites with a unique blend of cultural experiences. On one visit, I was greeted by a special screening of Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense and a Q&A with Talking Heads’s Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz; another instance involved me sitting mere feet from a banjo-strumming Jeff Daniels performing a collection of bluegrass tunes onstage. I never thought I’d utter this sentence in my life, but that’s New York City for you.

My recommendation: Go for a barrel membership here and take part in the full winemaking process, including choosing your grapes, creating a custom label that perfectly defines you (and your vintage), and an exclusive tasting in its private dining room when your prized wine is fully aged.

Photo courtesy of City Winery

Village Winery Club, East Village
I barely have room in my one-bedroom apartment to host an intimate wine and cheese party, but urban winemaker Matt Baldassano manages to run a grape-to-glass members-only business out of his 550-square-foot East Village haunt. Baldassano has two tons of grapes dropped off on his sidewalk regularly. He lugs the booty inside and utilizes every inch of his living space, from the kitchen to the backyard, to crush, ferment, and bottle 10 types of additive-free Cabernets, Malbecs, and merlots yearly. He even names some vintages after the community he holds dear in his heart (one former wine was called the Loisaida Sirah).

What’s tempting me to become a member—once my next paycheck gets deposited, of course—is that Baldassano allows loyal customers to come over and stomp their own grapes during twice-a-year crushing parties in his humble abode. Who wouldn’t want to re-create the famous I Love Lucy grape-stomping scene in somebody’s backyard?