Ever Had a Nice Bottle of Greenpoint?

Bringing the wine to the people: the new generation of urban winemakers

Drinking at Bridge feels more like a night out at a wine bar than a traditional tasting-room experience. You sit at the bar or a table and choose either a small taste of wine for about $5 each, or a flight of three tastes, which ranges from $14 to $18. The lights are low, which is unusual for a tasting room, and the staff doesn't explain much about the wines unless prompted—although Sandor says that will change as the employees go through training. The wines come in tumbler-style glasses on butcher paper with the name inscribed. And these are usually very good, especially Bridge's Merlot and Cabernet (buy a bottle of these for $20—actually a better deal than the tasting).

Bridge also offers small plates of food, including New York–made cheeses and a delicious white-bean-and-garlic dip. They stick to local food wherever possible, although the cured meats are from Italy.

The current interest in eating local is one of the forces behind urban winemaking. Says Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation: "People want to know where their wine and food comes from, and they want to meet the people who make it."

Michael Dorf prepares to uncork City Winery.
Clare Carter
Michael Dorf prepares to uncork City Winery.

Or maybe they want to make it themselves. That's what Michael Dorf is banking on with City Winery, a sprawling custom-crush facility and wine bar that will open this fall in the West Village. Here, the customers themselves will be the winemakers, paying a hefty $5,000 to craft a barrel of wine.

The customers will choose the grape—pinot noir or Cabernet or Riesling, and so on. Then they'll age and blend the wine, tasting it along the way. The result is about 250 bottles of wine per barrel. To make sure no one screws it up too badly, Dorf is hiring an expert winemaker to oversee the process.

City Winery is making good use of an antiquated federal law that says each citizen has the right to produce 200 gallons of wine for personal use (not for sale) each year—enough for about 14 glasses a day, which should be ample for most people.

"People ask me which I like better—getting Mick Jagger into the Knitting Factory or making wine," laughs Dorf. "I think I might like the fruit better."

Although the barrel ownership is expensive, Dorf says he's already sold 50 of the first 200 slots—and he thinks that City Winery will be recession-proof. "But when one considers real-estate prices, it doesn't make that much sense to open an winery in Manhattan," he says. "You have to be a little meshugenah."

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