At City Winery, You Don’t Just Enjoy the Product, But can Make Your Own Wine as Well

City Winery in Manhattan, the borough’s first winery in 40 years, includes a kosher wine facility under the supervision of the Orthodox Union. At the same location, separate from the winery, City Winery is also a special events venue with live music and private event space. Billed as “New York’s innovative winery and seated concert venue,” it’s a 21,000 square-foot space filled with an eclectic range of music and wine-related activities, many with Jewish themes.

“It combines a lot of my interests,” City Winery’s founder and CEO, Michael Dorf, said with a smile. “It’s probably the most self-indulgent, selfish project I could ever come up with. I’m a Jew. I try to incorporate Jewish identity in everything I do.” And the haimish (friendly) touch is evident throughout City Winery, from the weekly Sunday klezmer brunch, featuring artists from all over the world, to the kosher winemaking classes. (Please note that only the kosher winemaking unit is under the OU’s supervision.)

The Soho-based establishment is now Manhattan’s only kosher wine making facility since the Schapiro Wine Company closed its doors on the Lower East Side. “I love the fact that we’re making kosher wine,” Mr. Dorf said. “It’s giving people who drink kosher wine the opportunity to have the winemaking experience.”

That experience is all-encompassing. Grapes are imported to and crushed at the Tribeca facility under the able guidance of the Head Winemaker David Lecomte, and in the case of the kosher barrels, handled exclusively by Orthodox Union kashrut supervisors. A native of the Rhone Valley in France, Mr. Lecomte most likely has grape vines entwined into his genetic code. He received undergraduate and graduate degrees in viticulture and winemaking from universities in France and began his wine career at the age of 22. His past experience includes work for Herzog Wine Cellars in California. As a result, he has an in-depth knowledge of the winemaking process and its particular kosher permutations. That experience comes in handy every day.

“It’s very easy to mess it up. It’s really easy to make kosher wine unkosher,” Mr. Lecomte said about the difficulties, logistically and in Jewish law, associated with the process (timing the winemaking and fruit delivery around the Sabbath and around Jewish holidays is only the tip of the kosher iceberg). “But if you have that in mind, it’s just mental gymnastics. You have to think about it constantly.” The mental gymnastics of the kosher winemaking process, plus the logistical calisthenics of getting grapes from thousands of miles away, make Mr. Lecomte’s job a veritable intellectual Olympics.

If consuming and enjoying wine is not enough, City Winery presents connoisseurs (known as members) with the opportunity to make their own private-label product. “City Winery offers the opportunity for its members to see (but not touch) first-hand the kosher wine process – in Manhattan! Processing areas are carefully cordoned off to ensure an unviolated kosher control area,” reports Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, Orthodox Union’s Senior Rabbinic Coordinator who oversees kosher wine production.

The ability to make your own barrel of wine at City Winery — everything from choosing grape varieties to working with Mr. Lecomte on decisions of barrel selection and blending — costs in the range of $6,000 – $10,000 (as little as $30 a bottle), depending on the member’s grape and oak selections. Mr. Dorf pointed out that all the kosher barrels sold out in 2008, and Mr. Lecomte said that he hopes to make some more kosher varietals for the upcoming harvest.

The wine being made at City Winery is from grapes that are sourced at some of the most premiere vineyards in California and Oregon, making the kosher production some of the most exclusive and limited batch premium kosher wines around. Check out City Winery today and become a kosher barrel member to be able to serve your own private label wine for Shabbat guests, holidays or your next celebration!

OU Kosher Staff