Be the Vintner


The crush

Last summer, Thomas Gayno, a Google employee who lives in Williamsburg, was walking home with two bottles of wine. As he passed what used to be Supreme Trading, he heard a voice. “You like wine? Come check this out.”

Beyond a fury of construction, several guys were hard at work, including Brian Leventhal and John Stires—two young New Yorkers who had given up their desk jobs to open a winery; and Conor McCormack, a brainy winemaker from San Fran’s urban winery Crushpad, whom they hired to run it. The three men, plus friends and workers, were busy transforming the formerly gritty bar/club into the 8,500 square-foot, high-end Brooklyn Winery. Everything, including the floor, was gutted; black walls were replaced with tall windows and expensive winemaking equipment was brought in, such as a massive metal de-stemmer, huge fermenting vats and a custom-made Italian grape-crushing machine. Although the place was not yet finished, Gayno immediately signed himself and 11 of his friends up to make their own wine.

The year-long process begins with a planning session in which the seriously knowledgeable McCormack asks the group questions to determine their ideal wine. Red or white? Dry or sweet? New world or old? Crisp or soft? Eventually the group votes on a grape (varietals from the Finger Lakes, North Fork and California include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Reisling.) Then the group decides on style and taste—which is influenced by a series of factors including yeast type, fermenting and pressing time, and barrel type. Don’t worry about not knowing your stuff—McCormack is patient and generous with both experts and novices.

When the grapes arrive via temp-controlled trucks, the group returns to the winery to destem and ferment. “The process is very hands on,” says McCormack. “Everyone gets dirty.” Ten days later the grapes are crushed and put into barrels “the old fashioned way—no fork lifts here.” After one to two months, the wine is racked, i.e., the clean wine separated from the resins. Next the group comes up with a name, a label and a bottle type for their wine and once the wine is ready, works as an assembly line to fill, label and pack the bottles.

Hands on winemaking

Anyone who wants to make wine from fall grapes has until the end of this week to sign up, otherwise you can start the process this spring with grapes from the Southern hemisphere. Groups (from 2-12) can participate in as much or as little of the process as they like. The cost ranges from $5,700 for a full barrel (300 bottles) to $3,550 for half (150 bottles), and there is also the option of Community Barrels ($600 for 24 bottles), where individuals are assigned to a group based on their preferred varietal.

You could also sit back and enjoy the work of other vintners: The front of the house is a gorgeous “midcentury industrial” wine bar opening later this month. Built with reclaimed wood and weathered, pressed tin ceilings, the bright room has a cozy back area with couches and long tables for tasting the wine on tap. (The selection will start with wines from New York and around the world until the housemade wine is ready to pour.) There’s also a small private event room with glass walls that overlooks 100 giant oak barrels—though the space can hold 500. It’s an unusual and very welcome view for Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Winery Urban Winery + Winemaking Center; 213 N 8th St. between Driggs and Roebling Sts.; 347-763-1506

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