A lot has changed in Brooklyn over the past 60 years: The beloved Dodgers deserted Ebbets Field for the west coast; a vibrant restaurant scene has usurped the likes of Juniors, Lundy’s and Nathan’s Famous and there has been an influx of artists, brewers, vintners and assorted hipsters. But one thing has not changed; Brooklyn is still part of Long Island. So, it must be included in my grand tour of the wineries of Long Island. And while there are no vineyards in Brooklyn, there are three urban wineries: One in Red Hook and two in Williamsburg. Today I’m visiting Brooklyn Winery on North 8th Street and Brooklyn Oenology on Wythe. The two wineries are about 10 blocks apart (a 10-15 minute walk) and are easily accessible by the L Train subway stop at Bedford.
After making wine in a facility in New Jersey, Brooklyn Winery founders Brian Leventhal and John Stires decided to take the plunge in 2009 and open an urban winery in the heart of the Brooklyn’s vibrant Williamsburg section. Today Brooklyn Winery is an integral part of the revitalization of Williamsburg and produces small batches of premium wine. And because the winery does not have a vineyard, they must source their grapes, which they acquire from various regions of New York State and California. That enables Irish-born, California-raised Winemaker Conor McCormack to make a variety of different styles, including wines like Zinfadel, which cannot be grown locally. Conor started in Northern California in 2003, working for a negociant who focused on sourcing premium grapes from the best vineyards in California and is doing much the same thing since moving to Brooklyn in 2010 when he helped create Brooklyn Winery’s first vintage. Conor focuses on producing fine wines from distinct regions in a wide range of styles. “I strive to make elegant wines that showcase a particular site from a particular year. I want to highlight each region for what it can do best.”
After a tour of the facility conducted by Conor and marketing manager Shelby Hearn (daughter of winemaker Russell Hearn), we did a complete tasting of all 12 wines available. We started with a trio of Chardonnays from the Finger Lakes: Unoaked, barrel-fermented and skin-fermented. An interesting exercise in how wines made from the same grape in the same year can produce strikingly different wines. Not better or worse, just different. We continued that theme and tasted a pair of Rieslings from the Finger Lakes, one was stainless steel and the other was a barrel-fermented. We then tasted wines made from grapes from Sonoma, Russian River and the Mokelumne River California. We ended our tasting with Fortitude, a spectacular dry fortified dessert wine made from Zinfandel.
Half way between the two wineries is Peter’s, a restaurant on Bedford Avenue, between 7th and 8th that has been serving “the comforts of home” since 1969. Maybe it’s the friendliness of the staff. Or perhaps it was all the Le Creuset ovenware dishes lined up and filled with collard greens, sautéed okra, mac & cheese, cabbage salad and other assorted down-home side dishes. But when I entered the restaurant I had the feeling I had wandered into somebody’s private kitchen. I was tempted to get the rotisserie chicken, one of their specialties, but after much deliberation I opted for the meatloaf sandwich, a side order of the yellow rice and homemade mint lemonade.
A short walk down 7th and then a left on Wythe brought me to Brooklyn Oenology, the second of the two urban wineries in Williamsburg. Brooklyn Oenology (or BOE for short) is a locally-focused winery that was founded in 2006 by winemaker Alie Shaper and is one of the many additions to the burgeoning “Made in Brooklyn” alcohol movement. Her love of science led Alie to become an aerospace engineer and work for a military contractor in San Jose, California. But her passion for wine, art and thinking local, convinced her to change directions and become an urban winemaker. In addition to sourcing all the grapes from New York State, BOE continues the “Brooklyn Terroir” theme by showcasing Brooklyn artists. Not just on display in the tasting room, but right on the wine label. The tasting room, which opened its doors in 2010, also offers many other culinary treats from the State: Whisky, cheese, ciders, local beers and assorted wines from across the state.
My tasting started with the 2013 Broken Land, a blend of approximately equal parts of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris (both from the Finger Lakes). Broken Land, which is the English translation of ‘Breukelen,’ the original Dutch name of the borough, is a distinctive wine using on-skin maceration during fermentation. The wine has a deep golden color and aromas of orange zest, lychee nuts, and jasmine tea. David Kramer’s “Good Listener” is featured on the label. Next was the 2014 Viognier, made from grapes from the North Fork of Long Island. This wine is full of ripe melons, nectarines, passionfruit, grapefruit and chamomile. The high acidity of the wine makes it a perfect paring for a variety of dishes or can be also used as an aperitif wine. “Dill Blossom’s by local photographer Cara Enteles is featured on the label.
For my last tasting, I went with two wines (Serendipity and Courage) from As If Wines, the new private label from Ali Shaper. The 2014 Serendipity is a white blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc and was just awarded 90 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Courage is a full-bodied Bordeaux Blend rosé made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot. These wines were well suited to the cheese & meat plate I ordered. And I was well suited to the 1960’s music (Stones, Hendrix, Beatles, Kinks, CSN, etc.) playing in the tasting room.
Discussing Alie’s answers to personal questions about life, the As If website states: “Through Serendipity, Courage and Persistence, she became a pioneer winemaker, entrepreneur, and consultant. “ Alie has moved well beyond the pioneer phase and is now one of the most well-respected winemakers on Long Island. And “as with” the wines at BOE, the As If wines are very, very good. For those of us that don’t live in Brooklyn, a day trip to visit these urban wineries is definitely worth considering. You will not be disappointed.
Today’s Line Score: 2 wineries, 16 wines and 161 miles
Season Statistics: 17 wineries, 55 wines and 663 miles
To read the previous blog in this series:
To read the next blog in this series click here