Urban Winemaking with Brooklyn Winery

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This past October, Wine Awesomeness took a trip to Brooklyn Winery in Williamsburg to get an up-close look at an urban winery harvest. Now, thebacklabelTV has released its first ever short-feature documentary showcasing our experience.

Harvest on a vineyard is both the most exciting and most stressful season of the year. Grapes need to be picked at just the right moment – one day too early or too late could throw off an entire vintage. Add in the fact that even the slightest bit of rain can halt the entire harvest schedule, and you have the worst case scenario that keeps winemakers up at night.

At Brooklyn Winery, though, there are no vineyards. No vines to tend to, no pests to worry over and no grapes to check for ripeness. The winery was founded in 2010 when co-founders Brian Leventhal and John Stires quit their jobs at a Manhattan tech startup to pursue their passion for winemaking. Their entire operation is nestled in the heart of bustling Williamsburg, and the space was formerly used as a nightclub.

“Brooklyn adds more of an attitude, an approach in creativity with a definite edge to it. That’s where the Brooklyn terroir comes into play.”

So, rather than vineyards, Brooklyn Winery has a giant, 53-foot tractortrailer filled with grapes, which squeezes onto a narrow side street down the block. The grapes are then carried by forklift up the street to the winery’s storefront where the winemaking process begins.

One challenge to this process unique to their location is that the tractor-trailer and forklift have to share the street with pedestrians and bikers that whizz by, making it just that much harder to get the grapes safely to their destination.

“The key thing for getting grapes to Brooklyn is that it’s done carefully – that’s my one word answer,” says Brooklyn Winery winemaker Conor McCormak of the process. “The grapes are very carefully packed into small boxes, we’re talking 36 – 40 pounds each, and the boxes have holes in them so the grapes can breathe. Then they get stacked on top of each other.”

The reason behind all of this, Conor explains, is so the grapes arrive at the winery in as perfect condition as they left the vineyard, not smashed into each other and losing their juice.

“The grapes actually show up looking better than if they were fresh off the vine,” jokes Brian.

The grapes used at the winery come from as close by as Long Island and as far away as California. Grapes from the West Coast can take up to seven days to arrive, so the truck has to stay refrigerated the entire way. Conor says that he does feel a responsibility to respect the terroir of the regions the grapes come from, so if he puts the wine’s place of origin on the label then he would never cross blend the juice with grapes from a different part of the country.

“And we’re not really adding a ‘Brooklyn terroir,’” he says, “Brooklyn adds more of an attitude, an approach in creativity with a definite edge to it. That’s where the Brooklyn terroir comes into play.”


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