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From vine to glass, we visited the passionate crafters at District Winery to learn more about the multi-faceted winemaking process. Co-founder Brian Leventhal gave us the inside story!
Tell us the background of District Winery. What’s the story behind the brand? My business partner and I worked together at a tech start up in NY City and started making wine for fun. We didn’t know anything! We went to a vineyard in Northern New Jersey, where they taught us the process. We’re both entrepreneurial spirits, and we asked ourselves: why can’t we start a winery based in New York? Fueled by passion, we had a crazy sense of naivety that helped us get through. We hired a wine maker and opened our doors as one NY’s first wineries in 2010. We felt strongly that we wanted to bring that concept to DC. Why did you decide DC was the right choice for the next city-based winery? We scouted all over the nation, and quickly knew that DC was the perfect match for 100’s of reasons! We connected with the developer of The Yards and it was great for both of us. The land is gorgeous, and right on the water. We’ve been working on this for a long time, and it was so important to us to make sure that this is DC’s winery. This project is so critical for all of us, that we’ve moved our lives to DC and given up our New York residences to be here full-time. We’re completely invested and all-in with this project. We want to give it its own identity – this isn’t Brooklyn Winery. It’s all about DC! People here have a great sense of pride for their city, and we’re so excited to be a part of that. Where do you source your grapes, and how does the selection process work? You can have the best winemaker in the world, but it all starts with the grapes. We’re very fortunate to have an extremely talented maker, who also knows the culture. Connor McCormack, our head winemaker was actually our first employee! He sources all of our fruit and has West Coast ties. He spent his early career working in vineyards throughout Napa and Sonoma before he joined us, where he studied and learned the urban winemaking process. We work directly with farmers, and he understands the process of choosing the best grapes, walking the vines with the farmers, and deciding what we want to make wine out of. Everything’s hand harvested and chosen with care. What happens with the grapes arrive from the vineyard? Grapes arrive at different times, as varietals have different harvest dates. The grapes are shipped once a year, and it ranges from September through the end of October. We’re heading into the winemaking season right now, which is so exciting! We’ll get anywhere from 3 to 15 tones, which is a lot of fruit. The process of making wine is a bit different from red to white varietals. Overall, wine grapes are a bit smaller and sweeter than the ones from the supermarket. The sugar is the most important part!
District winery offers a space for celebrations and private events, from birthdays to weddings. Tell us more! As with Brooklyn Winery, we hope District Winery will became a large hospitality venue where we have the space to focus on everything from weddings and corporate events, to intimate dinners and small celebrations. We also focus heavily on curating our space with a wine tasting bar just like you’d find within visiting a vineyard. We surround the winery with elements of hospitality. It’s all about celebrating the wine, marrying it with food and the components that we believe in. We’ll have distinct parts to that here, including a traditional winery and tasting bar, where you can have flights and try some different wines. At the end of the day, the wine is always the priority. As the first-ever commercial winery, how will District Winery change the scene here? The hospitality world in DC is very much driven by the demographic. People in this city care about the food and drinks they’re consuming, and we decided we wanted to be part of that. Adding a fresh, new winery to the landscape here is so exciting! The location also that we were able to secure with beautiful waterfront views is just incredible. We can’t wait to see what the future holds. What will District Winery bring to the city of DC? I heard a stat the other day that DC has the highest per capita wine consumption in the country, which is amazing! We want to expose the concept of wine making to people living here. You don’t need to be on a vineyard to make wine – we’re able to source exceptional grapes for production and bring them into the city environment. This adds such character to the food and beverage landscape because it’s more about the process and learning about the product you’re consuming. It’s about the history of the wine and where it came from. District Winery will make everything here in DC, just like any other winery would. We can create a premium product, and it all can be done locally. Our goal is to craft something that the people of DC can joyfully embrace and have pride in. Do you have any tips for drinking wine? People always ask me what my favorite wine is! It depends. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned with wine is to always keep an open mind. Be open to experiencing and things you’re not sure about. Wine is such a magical beverage — it’s essentially made of one ingredient. Based on what happened to the grapes climate wise, or where it grew, or even with time, the taste can completely change. Honestly, there’s nothing like it! I will always, constantly try new things. the moment you say you know everything about wine, is also the moment you realize you know nothing! We love taking people out of their wine comfort zone and opening their eyes to new varieties that they might enjoy. That’s the best part of it all. That’s what we love most.
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