Manhattan’s Only Crush

This time of year is always a busy one at City Winery. Summer is over, and the crowds return to the city, the holidays are just around the corner and with thema flurry of events, and, most importantly, it’s harvest time. This past Sunday we received our third shipment of grapes, about 6 ½ tons of Syrah and Viognier grapes from Alder Springs Vineyards in Mendocino, California. The grapes were picked in the middle of the night when the grapes are at their coldest, driven in refrigerated trucks by two drivers (so the truck never stops) and arrived at our back doorstep here in Manhattan. The grapes we’re greeted by a crew of winery staff, loaded onto a grape elevator, called a “giraffe,” and dropped by the cluster into a destemmer. From there they traveled onto a sorting table to be examined by at least six pairs of hands and cleared of any “MOG” – Material Other than Grapes – stems, leaves, or the errant bad grape. Once the winemakers were sure the grapes were ready, they were dropped onto another giraffe and into the fermenting tanks, where they began the maceration process. With this batch of grapes the winemakers are using a classic technique that most likely originated in the Northern Rhone region of France. They combined 90% Syrah with 10% Viognier– the former being red grapes and the latter being white. It may seem strange to combine red and white grapes, unless you’re making a “blush” wine, but the winemakers had a very particular goal in mind. Syrah grapes themselves are very thick skinned and dark red, creating a big, masculine and tannic wine. By adding Viognier the winemakers are able to create a more mellow wine with lower tannin, and some floral, feminine notes. In the end, we will arrive at a deep red wine full of complexity, but without the possible jarring aspects of a Syrah macerated and fermented on it’s own. These grapes will spend about four days soaking and becoming juice before fermenting for two to four weeks, followed by aging, which can take anywhere from seven to eighteen months. In the meantime, as we wait for this year’s grapes to become wine, we are reveling in current triumphs. City Winery was most recently recognized for its 2012 Reserve Chardonnay from Scopus Vineyards in Sonoma, California. The Beverage Testing Institute awarded a Gold Medal and 93 points to our Chardonnay, which they described as “a fantastically flavorful chardonnay with great structure for the table.” As harvest comes and goes and new grapes begin their journey, it is always a proud moment to know that once they reach the glass our City Winery wines will prove that all this hard work does not go unrewarded!

The Beast – Our New Press

As mentioned previously, our first shipment of grapes this fall was accompanied by our new 12hl (317 gal) press, affectionately known as the Beast. Well, last week we let her loose. She is more than double the capacity of our old press, and with the ability to be programmed, the operator is now free to press more grapes, rather than buttons. Pressing grapes is actually a complex, multi-step process. It must be done very slowly, building up pressure gradually so that juice extraction is maximized. With each stage of the pressing, there is an interval of relief to allow juice to flow through open channels in the pomace. Without this, the channels would close and much of the juice would be trapped in pockets. Our current process builds up hydraulic pressure in 10 bar increments (one bar equals one atmosphere, or 14.7 psi). We go up to about 90 bar this way. This is actually the pressure of the hydraulic fluid, not that on the pomace, which tops out at around 4.5 bar.

The first step is to bleed juice from the tanks beginning the day before, so that when the door is opened, there is not a gushing flood. The wet pomace is then shoveled out of the tank into half-ton bins that can be moved by pallet jack to the loading dock. The empty press basket is removed from the press by forklift and placed just below the loading dock to be filled. After pressing is complete, the process is reversed: the dry “cake” is removed from the basket and shoveled for a third time into composting bins. The pressed wine is divided into two parts: light press and hard press. Usually, only the light press is aged in oak barrels. If you look in our barrel cellar, most of the wine from each vineyard is marked as “FR” for free run (the wine which freely flows out of the fermenter during the bleed) and “LP” for light press. The hard press is stored in stainless steel kegs and used for a variety of purposes.

Use of the Press Wine

As you might expect, the press wine is rich, dense and as Robert Parker might say, “backward”. It lacks the aromatic complexity of the free run and is fairly harsh and unbalanced all by itself. It is also slightly sweeter than the free run. Some of the sugars locked up in the pulp are released by pressing, and often the press wine will resume alcoholic fermentation until this residual sugar is consumed. The dried pomace has some alcohol left in it as well: this can be distilled into Grappa or the french l’eau de vie de marc most notably. As our wines are aged in oak, they are constantly evolving. Our head winemaker, David Lecomte, monitors each wine assiduously in barrel right up to bottling. Sometimes press wine is added to the free run if he wants to add a bit more depth or structure. Various combinations are tried until his palate is satisfied with the final result. Care must be exercised because adding too much of the press wine could produce harsh tannins and reduce acidity. This is where a winemaker’s talents play a critical role. Only after many years of experience can a winemaker taste a immature barrel sample and know what needs to be done in order to achieve a final result that is worthy.

Check out the gallery below for illustrations of the various steps mentioned above:


Our Big Crush Last Weekend

Close to one-quarter of our entire fall harvest arrived last Saturday. Needless to say, it was a long day for us, but it was also filled with high expectations. We were not disappointed. The grapes arrived in top condition ready to fill our hungry tanks. In the Pinot Noir department, we received grapes from the Bien Nacido vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley and the Bacigalupi vineyards in the Russian River. Petite Syrah and Zinfandel arrived from Lodi as well.

Assistant Winemaker Bill Anton delivered pallet after pallet of grapes to the loading dock where Sikou Nakate and his trusty pallet jack were waiting to lift and pull each one-ton stack to the loading station. In the case of the Petite Syrah, whose clusters tend to run somewhat large compared to other varieties, the stems had to be snipped into smaller pieces so that they would go through the destemmer properly. Working in shifts, the sorting table was kept busy all day long, with only short interruptions in order to move from one tank to the next. Purple hands and sticky fingers were in abundance.

With our second crush of the season now finished, three-quarters of our fermenters are already full.  It is now up to the hard-working yeast cells to transform all that sugary must into wine. We tend to them day and night making sure they complete their important task on schedule. This means regular pump overs, punch downs and temperature regulation. Our lab technicians are busy monitoring the progress and if all goes well, we will start to press and barrel down during the next two weeks. As you can see, timing will be very important so that tanks are available for more crop as it comes in. We are excited about breaking in our new press that will make this process more manageable. Stay tuned for updates.



World’s Fastest Winery

Last Saturday we had one of our largest crushes ever — 20 tons of grapes! Thanks to our dedicated members, staff and friends, it was processed in record time without a hitch. In fact, they managed to sort the grapes with such precision and care that David’s high standards of winemaking were held in the highest regard. In the time lapse video below, you will see most of the day’s effort compressed into two and a half minutes.


The World’s Fastest Winery from Hank S on Vimeo.


First Crush of the Season: 2012 Carneros Vineyards

This past Sunday we arrived in the pre-dawn hours for our first crop of the season: 6 tons of Pinot Noir grapes from Carneros. Within the Carneros AVA, these grapes were harvested from two vineyards: Poseidon and Beckstoffer. They were in excellent condition and the sweet aromas made us feel like a part of each vineyard came with them! As a matter of fact, if you closed your eyes on this quiet Sunday morning and felt the warm, bright sun shining on the pallets loaded high with moist grapes, you might have thought you were in the middle of a vineyard.

This delivery was more than just grapes, however. It included our new 5-ton press: we call it the Beast. It will allow us to dramatically increase the amount of grapes we can press in one day. Pressing is actually one of the most time consuming and labor intensive procedures. With our old press, which was quite a bit smaller and not programmable, it would take much longer to press a tank than to fill it with the crush. Below you will find our gallery of photos from the day.


The Grapes are Coming! The Grapes are Coming!!

Poseidon Vineyard-Pinot Noir 2012


As I sit here at my keyboard in Soho, our first crop of the season is being hand harvested at the Poseidon Vineyard in Napa. These luscious Pinot Noir grapes have reached the point of optimal ripeness and will soon be on their way to City Winery. The small yellow bins that you see above will be stacked high in a refrigerated tractor trailer and covered with a protective blanket of argon gas to retard oxidation. If all goes as planned we will have them in our hands this Sunday! Six tons are expected and will make for a gentle opening to our fall crush (We have been known to crush as many as twenty tons in one day!).

The Poseidon Vineyard, situated in the Carneros AVA at the northern end of San Francisco Bay, was first planted by the Molnar family in 1973 where the cooling winds from the Pacific temper the summer heat. This maritime climate is ideal for growing Pinot Noir grapes so that they ripen slowly and develop phenolic ripeness at the same time as sugar ripeness. Phenolics are a vast group of organic compounds that are responsible for the color, tannins and complex flavors found in wine. Over the years, the quality of this vineyard has been so remarkable that many of the big names in Napa purchase grapes from it, including Joseph Phelps, Heitz Cellars, Sterling, Pride Mountain, Acacia, and Mumm (The PinotFile, Volume 9, Issue 11, September 11, 2012).

Those of you who read my last post know how busy we have been preparing the winery for the biggest crush of the year. Time is of the essence so that when the grapes arrive they are crushed and placed into fermentation tanks without delay. Today we finished cleaning and reassembling our conveyors and made sure the tanks are fully cleaned and sanitized. As you can see below, these are big tanks (6,500 liters or 1,717 gallons) and require a person to actually get inside to do the job thoroughly.

Sikou Nakate preparing to clean one of the 6500 liter fermenters


Cleaning a stainless steel fermenter in preparation for Sunday’s crush


Work schedules are being drawn up and provisions made to have the fermenting juice, pulp, and skins, aka the must, attended every day from early morning to late at night. For the next two weeks or so, it will be like incubating very precious farm eggs: keeping the temperature just right, making sure there is proper ventilation (or circulation in this case), and constantly monitoring the development. And this is only the beginning of what we hope will be our most phenomenal harvest to date!


ALL HANDS ON DECK! Preparing for the 2012 Fall Crush

As August draws to a close here at City Winery, word is arriving that our fall crop is going to be extraordinary this year. The growing season in California has been nearly ideal so we are expecting to have our fermenters filled to capacity in the next few weeks. Crushing up to one hundred tons of grapes takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears so we reach out to many of our staff, members and friends to pitch in. In other words: ALL HANDS ON DECK!

The work itself is quite exhilarating for those who appreciate the art of winemaking. Seeing the freshly picked grapes as they arrive opens a new window into the enjoyment of wine. Suddenly you make a direct connection between these luscious, aromatic fruit and the flavors that make wine such a distinct and delightful experience. Tasting a Pinot Noir grape and comparing that to a fresh Cabernet Sauvignon grape immediately reveals the source of their differences. The Pinot Noir’s bracing acidity and crispness contrasts with the thicker-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape that is rich and chewy.

But the real miracle is to witness the transformation from juice to wine. The combination of crushed grapes and juice, known as the must, begins it’s metamorphosis as a beautifully sweet and intensely flavored mixture. As the yeasts begin their work, the sugars are replaced with a complex variety of compounds that add a wide range of new tastes and aromas. Gradually the must becomes more wine-like over the roughly two-week fermentation process. During this period, the must is tasted and analyzed twice a day in our lab. Adjustments are made in order to insure the best possible outcome.

The preparations for the crush are moving into high gear. The fermenters need to be thoroughly inspected and cleaned, as do all the conveyors, destemming machine and sorting tables. Pumps, hoses and fittings are being put in order for managing the must. New barrels are being acquired and must be tested for leaks and other imperfections. Existing barrels are undergoing a thorough inspection, then washed and set in racks for receiving new wine. Our basket press will be taken out of storage and similarly prepped. Once a crush begins, there are no timeouts, so everything must be in near perfect working order. In the event of an equipment failure, we review our backup procedures. As they say, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” is the order of the day.

The winery is a hub of great activity and anticipation as we strive to improve every aspect of vinification each harvest. David Lecomte, our head winemaker, is never satisfied with just maintaining the status quo, no matter how diligent. We have been upgrading and intensifying our laboratory analyses with new staff and protocols. This will allow David to prevent or more quickly correct any must issues before they cause a wine fault. A week ago we received a new bottling machine that will allow us to substantially increase our capacity. This is important for the harvest because it will free up barrels and rack space as the aged wine can be put into bottles more quickly.

September marks a new beginning for City Winery with its sister facility in Chicago now open and ready for its first harvest. Together we watch the ripening grapes in California, Oregon, Washington and elsewhere with renewed excitement. With our combined knowledge and experience, this fall offers us an opportunity to make the best City Winery vintage yet.


Malbec Crush Video: May 10, 2012


This was a very exciting day for all of us here at City Winery. We reached out to many of our good friends and staff to mobilize for the arrival of twenty tons of Malbec grapes from Argentina. This is the most labor intensive aspect of winemaking, and it was “all hands on deck.” Even those not directly involved in the effort came to watch and photograph. It seems that there is something alluring, almost mysterious about seeing fresh grapes transformed from a simple ripe fruit into a product that many regard as a work of art. The draw is even more intense because of the location: right in the heart of New York City!

In this video, you will see the tractor-trailer arrive with its precious cargo, followed by David Lecomte, our head winemaker, doing a quick inspection before the first pallet is removed by forklift. Some of the pallets had to be restacked for greater stability. Once they are placed inside the winery, the grapes are unboxed and loaded onto a conveyor to the destemming machine. There is some interesting slow-motion footage of the destemmer in action. From there the grapes travel onto the sorting table and any remaining pieces of leaves and stems are removed. You will see the whole process taking place for both the kosher and non-kosher wines.

Finally, as the grapes begin to ferment in stainless steel tanks, there is the first of many “punchdowns” of the cap after about four days to ensure an adequate extraction of flavor and color from the grape skins. The fermenting juice and skins, called the “must”, undergoes a schedule of multiple “pump overs” every day to further aid extraction, mixing and to aerate the yeasts that need oxygen to thrive. It is no wonder that the making of a fine Malbec, or any wine for that matter, requires intense labor and attentive nurturing.

Note:  For the highest quality video, please view on YouTube and select 1080p from the settings menu (gear icon)





Malbec Grapes Arrive from Argentina

Twenty-one Tons of Malbec Grapes

Twenty-one Tons of Malbec Grapes

This May at City Winery NYC we received a twenty-one ton shipment of Malbec grapes from the Mendoza Valley in Argentina. Since our Spring corresponds to the Fall harvest season in the southern hemisphere, City Winery has the benefit of two harvests this year. This allows us to make better use of the Winery and gives our members the chance to make wine twice a year if they choose.

Malbec was the dominant grape variety of Bordeaux in the 18th century. Unfortunately it fell victim to phylloxera, frosts and the vicissitudes of fashion. In France today, its use is best known in the Cahors region of the southwest, not far from Bordeaux, where it produces a rich, meaty and somewhat tannic wine in its youth. The grape has seen a remarkable renaissance in the Mendoza Valley of Argentina where it was probably introduced through pre-phylloxera cuttings. The wines are generally more ripe, fruit forward and less tannic than their French counterparts. The grape is known for its deep purple-ruby color, medium to heavy body and notes of cedar, blackfruit and earth. It is a great wine to pair with meat dishes, especially a summer barbeque.

Packaging to Maintain Freshness

Packaging to Maintain Freshness

Our Malbec originates from the vineyards of Dr. Nicolas Catena, one of the best known Argentinian producers who has partnered with the Rothschilds of Lafite, City Winery and others in order to bring as much respect for Malbec as Cabernet Sauvignon enjoys in other parts of the world. Since our crop comes to us as an international traveler, special care must be taken to make sure it arrives fresh and in peak condition. Once the grapes are harvested, they are immediately placed into special containers that prevent oxidation and refrigerated to maintain optimal ripeness. Three levels of protection are utilized: a few clusters are placed in their own small bag that prevents separation from the stem while allowing excess moisture to escape that otherwise could lead to rot. These bags are then placed in a low-sided box that prevents the grapes from crushing under their own weight. A layer of special paper impregnated with a small amount of sulphur is used to retard oxidation. The entire package is then wrapped again in plastic.

As you can see in the photos below, the crush begins with a team that unboxes the grapes. From there they are loaded onto a conveyor belt to the destemmer. The grapes fall onto the sorting table and undergo one final inspection before being placed into a fermentation vessel.

Unpacking the Grapes

With so many layers of packaging, we found it necessary to setup tables just to open and unpack the grapes. One team of workers carefully removes the grapes so they can be readily placed into the hopper.

Loading for the Non-kosher Wine

Loading for the Kosher Wine

Loading for the Kosher Wine

From the hopper, the grapes ride up the conveyor belt to the destemmer. From there they fall onto the sorting table where two teams of workers, one kosher and another non-kosher, inspect and remove any remaining stem fragments or leaves before the final ride into the fermentation tank.

Sorting for the Non-kosher Wine

Sorting for the Kosher Wine

Sorting for the Kosher Wine

For more information about the resurgence of Malbec via Argentina, Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times, wrote this article in 2010: Here are a few highlights, including a review of the 2006 Catena Zapata, one of the many vineyards owned by Dr. Nicolas Catena:

. . . Over all, these wines were juicy and straightforward, emphasizing fruit flavors with occasional nuances. They were consistent, generally unchallenging and crowd-pleasing. In short, what’s not to like? That really depends on your point of view. Malbecs’ emphasis on soft, ripe fruitiness over more polarizing flavors and their velvety textures make them safe and reliable for people . . . 

Like our top two, the other wines we liked showed admirable balance, and just enough accents to the core of fruit flavors to keep our interest. Malbecs from two of the bigger names in Argentina showed well. The 2005 Viña Francisco Olivé from Trapiche had bright, spicy flavors to offset its jamminess, while the 2006 Catena Alta from Catena Zapata was fresh, mellow and pure.

As the outdoor cooking season gets under way in earnest, with its plethora of grilled and roasted meats, malbecs would make fine choices. I tend to think of them the way I did of zinfandels, before so many zinfandels became top-heavy with alcohol. They are likable and powerful enough in their own right. And if you served them slightly cool, as Florence suggested, well, then you have a fine summer party wine.

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F R O M    A L L    O F    U S    AT    C I T Y    W I N E R Y ,    E N J O Y    T H E    R E S T    O F    Y O U R    S U M M E R ,

A N D    D R I N K    P L E N T Y    O F    M A L B E C !


The Grapes Are Coming!! Harvest Has Finally Begun.

The grapes are coming! The grapes are coming!!

Harvest 2010, delayed due to strange weather.

(October 4th , New York City ) – After an unseasonably cool summer in California we have received word that our first grapes are expected to arrive this week.  This first shipment will be 2 tons of perfectly ripe Pinot Noir from our growers in Mendocino County. We expect the bulk of our fruit to arrive over the next few weeks to City Winery from California and Oregon for our 3rd harvest since opening in 2008

This year we have contracted for over 75 tons of grapes, from Santa Barbara in California to Willamette in Oregon.  With our growers spread over such a long range of longitude, we typically pick the fruit starting in the south and moving north. Due to the weirdness of weather this year, that has resulted in fruit ripening 2 weeks later than usual in California, we are getting some fruit from Oregon before California for some of the early ripening varieties.

The later ripening varieties like Syrah and Petite Sirah are a full three weeks behind schedule with some only starting veraison a week ago. This heralds lower that usual yields, but the longer growing season bodes well for complexity and purity of fruit development. David Lecomte, our winemaker and Michael Dorf our CEO, spent a few weeks in California recently meeting with growers and other winemakers and the news out west says consumers can expect some great wines from this vintage.

Read a great article in the LA Times here

To celebrate the harvest and our annual bounty of perfectly ripened fruit that makes all of the late nights, long hours and hard work worthwhile, we’ll be hosting our 3rd Annual New York City Cab Crush on Saturday Nov 6th. This will be our 5th crush and is looking better than ever. Doors open at 11am and the crush will be occurring all day until 4pm. Your ticket includes a hot and cold buffet, wine tasting tickets, activities for the kids, tours of the winery and most importantly a chance to get your hands on our fruit. This is a unique experience in Manhattan and the only one that brings wine country to you.

Come in and celebrate harvest with us and get your hands dirty.

More Info and Tickets  –