“A winery in New York City. I can already see the expression on their faces,” says Shlomo Lipetz, programming assistant at City Winery, explaining the difficulty of convincing vineyards to take an urban vintner seriously.
It’s launch night for Michael Dorf’s ambitious new wine and music venue, and the space does seem a little incongruous. It runs nearly the full length of a Soho block. The south windows are filled with gleaming fermentation vats, flashing a degree of industry generally departed from Manhattan. The back views inside are of oak wine barrels, suggestive of a Burgundy or Napa backwater, not the outskirts of the Holland Tunnel.
As uses for ground-level Manhattan real estate go, winemaking has to be pretty far down the efficiency chart. In an era of hedged bets, though, City Winery is opening itself to multiple possibilities. The 21,000-square-foot space is large enough to host a society wedding. A central stage will hold intimate concerts. (Steve Earle, Joan Osborne, and Philip Glass are already booked.) Wine-world rock stars like Alvaro Palacios and Robert Foley will lead tastings, and the kitchen will serve lunch and dinner, featuring the Mediterranean taverna fare of chef Andres Barrera.
The interior is understated, a lack of showiness that keeps the focus on the music and the fruit of the vine. The main elements are century-old wood columns, which until recently held the ceiling up for newspaper El Diario. Three mirrored brick arches at the back of the main bar reference a cellar feel. Wine bottles wind along a staircase that accesses a private space downstairs. A raised platform in the middle of the main room provides V.I.P. concert access, while bar stools in back serve as cheaper seating.
Michael Dorf originally opened the Knitting Factory in 1986, at a time when downtown Manhattan was all about art and indie music. It seems fitting that the downtown of 2008 now welcomes a winery selling corporate barrel ownerships that start at $12,000. (You do get 250 bottles at the other end.)
“There wasn’t a place for the music fan who wants to sit in an intimate space and enjoy some great wine in a real glass-not a plastic cup,” says Mr. Dorf, describing the niche he hopes to fill.
The actual winemaking, from crushing to pressing to fermenting to tasting to bottling to labeling, will be overseen by Head Winemaker David Lecomte. The process is professionally monitored, disappointing those indulging visions of purple-stained Dionysian debauches. “No I Love Lucy,” explains Mr. Lipetz.
Grapes will be selected as seasonal logic dictates, shipped in from Oregon, California, and upstate New York in the fall, and from Chile and Argentina in the spring. Stems and skins will be sent back upstate to be used as organic compost, Soho not being the most convenient place to dump wine dross by the ton. Mr. Dorf’s long track record has already come in handy with his new operation: One vineyard owner recently escalated City Winery to receiving its top grade grapes. He’d met his wife at the Knitting Factory.