Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Juiced up.

Let’s face it- wine is pretty fantastic. Thousands of years' worth of people around the world join me in this belief. It’s not only delicious, but it’s become somewhat of an art form. It’s a socially acceptable method of focusing on the range of beauty and variety of tastse that one alcoholic beverage can possess. “Wine: how classy people get drunk.” A friend of mine owns that refrigerator magnet. It’s pretty on point. Booze that's also tasty, creative and a conversation-starter/activity? No wonder it inspires so many match.com dates. You can do and learn so much with it....including drink 'til your blues become reds. Ok, bad joke. Wine induces shivers in the already-cold hearts of vodka bottles everywhere. Alcohol isn't just a tool anymore for high school kids to entertain themselves while rebelling against their parents. It isn't just the bonding course for college kids at fraternity parties. It's growing up with us. Well, most of us.

But, really, from growing the vines and dirtying your hands, to corking or uncorking a first bottle, to tasting wine, socializing and learning about the balance of science, natural elements, and passion- there are so many aspects, people, and places involved. It involves people. It's all about people.

In New York, our “wine country,” if you will, predominantly refers to Long Island, and particularly, the North Fork. Hundreds of local vineyards and family-owned wineries span throughout. It’s unbelievable. It felt like an East Coast miniature version of California’s Napa Valley the last time I stopped at a few of them on my way to Newport, Rhode Island this summer.  

         With that said, New York City and wineries aren’t exactly synonymous. Actually, the first grapes ever planted in New York State were done so right in Manhattan by Dutch settlers in the 1600s. Shocking. Although not commonplace, a handful of wineries actually do exist in New York City and the boroughs- eight of them, total, to be exact. One of them, the Brooklyn Winery, is just a few blocks away from me, located here in Williamsburg. I’ve stopped in a few times before with a few friends and had a glass or two of their in-house wines. They hold movie nights, wine tastings, and seasonal events here, which are, for the most part, free. The space itself is open, simple but beautiful with sunlight peeking in on summer afternoons. They typically are completely booked every weekend for weddings, receptions, and any number of work or social parties. I didn’t know that much about this winery, though, until Saturday. I went on a free tour, which they offer on Saturdays and Sundays (2, 3, and 4 p.m.). Key word- free.

      The two gentlemen who founded the winery, Brian and John, began making wine on the weekends in New Jersey, of all places, at a “make your own wine” facility. Finally, sick of shuttling between Brooklyn and New Jersey to do this, they began contemplating bringing this wine-making a bit closer to home to the big BK.  The winery's location had served as a parking lot, textile factory, warehouse, funeral parlor, and an art gallery/bar (I remember when it was- if only those walls could talk…actually, I’m glad that they don’t).
             Obviously, they don’t grow the grapes here in Brooklyn, but all of the grapes are local, mostly from Long Island vineyards. They do sell a few bottles of wine from other parts of the country and world, but those are limited. So, a large number of wines they sell are actually made in the back facility. On the tour, we actually viewed the grapes coming in, saw the de-stemming and cleaning machines, some of the oak barrels for aging, as well as the steel tanks for fermentation. Whites, reds, and rose...all are created here in Williamsburg. It’s really remarkable that in such an urban environment, this entire operation is occurring, thriving and flourishing and by people who simply love creating a unique and quality product: wine.
      Sitting at their extensive mahogany bar, you’ll notice that the bartenders pour many of their in-house wines out of a tap just as they would a Bud Light. Ok, not exactly the same. Much, much more complex. The woman guiding us through the tour explained that it simply makes more sense for them to store the batches of wine into kegs and move them the distance of twenty feet, literally, from one room to the next, rather than bottle it all and carry each individual one to the next room, where their bar is located. How much more local can you get? With a reason like that, I'll gladly accept and thoroughly enjoy wine out of a keg. It sure beats drinking Franzia out of a plastic bag shoved in a cardboard box, eh?
You too could be sitting at a rustic dining room table in Brooklyn, New York, knowing that in the next room over, they’re making the glass that you or I will be sipping on in the New Year.
To learn more about the Brooklyn Winery, visit their site: http://bkwinery.com/, attend one of their many free events, or just take the darn tour, like I did.
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