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Travel Tip: Drink Brooklyn

A new wave of urban wineries welcomes thirsty travelers

Ben O'Donnell
Posted: March 31, 2014

Note: This is an excerpt of an article, "Drink Brooklyn," that originally appeared in the April 30, 2014 issue of Wine Spectator.

BROOKLYN OENOLOGY ˜

209 Wythe Ave. #106, Brooklyn
Telephone (718) 599-1259
Website www.brooklynoenology.com
Open Monday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday, 2 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday, 2 p.m. to midnight; Saturday, noon to midnight; Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.

"This is the original art piece right here," Alie Shaper says as she gestures to the Julie Combal canvas in her tasting room; covered in rapids of black and blue, it matches the label of the 2010 Long Island Merlot on the table. Combal's work decorates the walls, but in a few weeks it'll be replaced by pieces from another Brooklyn artist: The cozy space functions as a gallery for the artists who design the winery's labels. Every release sports a new work. The labels can be peeled off and saved as stickers. "You should see our refrigerator," Shaper says. "It's ridiculous."

For about four years, Shaper pulled night and weekend shifts in wine retail and restaurants, then woke up to engineer "weapons display and targeting systems for military aircraft" at her day job. She set her sights on winemaking, and with the 2005 vintage, BOE took off. Shaper works with eight to 12 New York vineyards each year at a custom-crush facility on Long Island's East End. (They plan to move production into the borough as soon as possible.) Her initial Merlot and Chardonnay lineup has expanded to more adventurous excursions, such as a Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc rosé.

BOE's tasting room bar, designed to look like a pried-apart stainless-steel vat, carries a banner for state pride. From $7 to $12 a glass (or $3.50 to $4.50 for 1 1/2-ounce tastes), Shaper serves her wines and a rotation of about a dozen others from New York. There are also spirits, beers, ciders, bottles to go, meats, cheeses, mustard and more—all made in New York.

BROOKLYN WINERY ˜

213 N. 8th St., Brooklyn
Telephone (347) 763-1506
Website www.bkwinery.com
Open Monday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight.; Friday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to midnight; weekends, free tours 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

There are logistical hurdles to making wine in a building that at various times housed a creamery, a pickle factory, a funeral home and a dive bar. "Back where the barrel room is, there used to be a stage and a hole in the wall where the foam would come in for the rave parties," says Conor McCormack, Brooklyn Winery's winemaker.

When McCormack arrived in 2010, he had four months to build a winery in the busy, chic Williamsburg neighborhood, as the owners wanted to work with fruit from the 2010 harvest. The tanks came in two days before the first grapes. McCormack says he's been "way more challenged here than I ever was in California," where he worked at the now-defunct San Francisco winery Crushpad, because of the vintage vicissitudes of New York terroirs, with frosts and hurricanes in the state's recent past.

Today, you can visit the tasting room any night and try a dozen or so selections made on-site. The split-level space is kitted out like a pub, with sepia-hued photos, a wooden bar refashioned from church pews and boardwalk planks, and a window looking over the barrel room. McCormack has shifted production toward his goal of making two-thirds of the wine from New York and one-third from California; by-the-glass prices range from $10 to $16, and there's a full dinner menu (at the top end, a rack of New Zealand lamb is $18).

"A huge component of what we do is educational," says McCormack, an ideal reflected in the flight offerings (from $14, for three 3-ounce pours of Finger Lakes wines, to $30 for any six). A Riesling comes three ways: made in stainless steel, in barrel, and with skin contact. "So they're all the same vineyard, but they're just night and day."

Because people come to Brooklyn looking for a taste of the outré, McCormack tried to find an orange wine for a recent visitor. Alas, he'd sold out.

RED HOOK WINERY 

Pier 41, 325A, 175-204 Van Dyke St., Brooklyn
Telephone (347) 689-2432
Website www.redhookwinery.com
Open Daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; free tours, weekends 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

"This is where we do our crush, so it's pretty awesome. If you want to define New York, this is the spot." Mark Snyder, owner of Red Hook Winery, is out behind the vat room, and the Statue of Liberty is right there across the water. To the north, lower Manhattan lights up the night sky. It's not hard to see how Snyder lured eminent California winemakers Robert Foley and Abe Schoener, the latter of the Scholium Project, out to Red Hook to make wines from a state dramatically different from their home terroirs.

Snyder is a musical technician by training, building guitar rigs for Billy Joel, Peter Frampton and Ringo Starr. But, he says, "I was sick of being on tour buses for 11-plus months out of the year." Along the way, he had developed a twin passion for wine, and a friendship with Foley, a guitarist himself.

Having started an import/distribution company in 2004, Snyder found that many wine directors at top New York restaurants had visited Burgundy or Napa a dozen times yet had never driven the 90 miles to the East End of Long Island. Snyder, Foley and Schoener wanted to help serious growers. "If we put [a winery] in Brooklyn, the wines would be judged with the wines of the world here in New York, " says Snyder. In 2008, Red Hook Winery was born.

You can explore their approach in tastings ($5 for three 1 1/2-ounce pours to $25 for six; cheeses and other snacks are also available). Red Hook Winery produces fewer than 1,000 cases, but at press time had 70 separate bottlings on offer (this will probably decrease; Hurricane Sandy washed out 90 percent of the 2012 vintage), including microcuvées such as the botrytized Riesling.


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