After Starving Artist and Garret-Dwelling Writer, Winemaker may well be the most romanticized profession. That mystique was what City Winery owner Michael Dorf was counting on to sell 200 barrel memberships to individuals and corporations able to pony up the hefty annual fees ($5,000 to $15,000, plus extra for grapes, barrels, and fancy bottles and labels) to join his urban winemaking club. Then Wall Street crashed and with it the viticultural fantasies of Dorf’s target demographic. Now, as Napa Valley and Finger Lakes grapes ferment in stainless-steel tanks in City Winery’s low-slung red-brick West Soho building (left), Dorf has introduced a discounted membership level: $1,000 for a sixth of a barrel, with each barrel yielding about 250 vanity bottles to share with five other wine obsessives.
Dorf’s idea isn’t as outlandish as it sounds. Wine has long been made within city limits, from places like Schapiro’s on the Lower East Side to the backyards and basements of Italian-American hobbyists. Expect more to start flowing soon: Williamsburg’s Bridge Urban Winery launches its own barrel owners’ program next year, and out in Red Hook, distributor Mark Snyder has built a yet-to-be-named winery with West Coast grape nuts Abe Schoener (of Scholium Project) and Bob Foley (famous for his claret and other big reds). Theirs is a much less commercial venture than City Winery, where Dorf combines a live-music venue, a Murray’s Cheese bar, and a series of classes starting November 18. In fact, the Red Hook site is not even equipped with a tasting room for parched Ikea day-trippers. Rather than become a tourist attraction, says Snyder, who’s using Long Island grapes exclusively, “we’re going to push the boundaries of phenolic ripeness,” harvesting fruit as late as possible and skin-fermenting some of the whites. That might sound like wine-geek-speak to you, but to the Urban-Wine Romantic, it qualifies as sweet talk.
143 Varick St., at Vandam St.
For information on barrel membership, call 212-608-0555