Love Wine and Cheese

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stephanie Johnson, Wine Director, City Winery

City Winery's Master Winemaker David Lecomte, and Wine Director Stephanie Johnson
Perhaps like me, you have only been to City Winery for one of the many spectacular wine tastings that is hosted there.  You arrive by taxi, subway, maybe even by foot on the fugitive Varick street, which  leads the traveler to the Holland Tunnel smitten with traffic, and ends shortly after at Leonard street where the lovely West Broadway takes over its course . . . and there it is, easy to find, City Winery.  It stands bold on the corner of Vandam and Varick, amassing almost the entire block.  Many a time, I've taken this trip, delighted always to see a hustle and bustle outside as if City Winery was the Bloomingdales of the food and wine industry.

During a wine tasting, after opening the big front doors which you amazingly do not struggle with, your eyes cast upon two to three hundred food and wine lovers sauntering through clean, well organized rows of wine from the eclectic to the noble, dotted with super spreads of the ultimate antipasti.  It's exciting.  You can't wait to get started, and any worry of orientation is quickly satiated once you find that there are still plenty of clean wine glasses to snag.  At this point you might not be surprised if someone told you there was a sauna and turkish bath around the corner in another room. . . but it is NYC, so be careful if you hear that rumor.

Yet City Winery is not only about their ultra-perfect venue for wine events.  Go to their website City Winery and notice the options: winemaking; music & classes; membership; and your eyes will even stroll below to a 70s looking poster image: "Make Wine Not War."

                                                                                                                                                                         
How do they do it?  How do they fuse together a concert hall, a restaurant, a winery -- and not feel disjointed?


City Winery Wine Director, Stephanie Johnson
Being the wine director of City Winery, I imagine, is no simple task.  I was amazed to find out that Stephanie Johnson had been in the publishing world for 15 years, had lived in Japan, has three children, and is currently studying for her masters of wine.
She has worked with owner Michael Dorf (also owner of Knitting Factory) since he opened City Winery.  What challenges has she had trying to create a notable wine list for a venue that has two different dining rooms and turns into a music hall at night?  Not to mention they have their own in house wine maker, David Lecomte.  "He's from Hermitage," Stephanie whispered to me when we entered the cantina to meet him.  


Consider this, it's difficult enough for me to write about all the different levels and ways to get involved with wine that City Winery offers -- now picture running the whole program.  Stephanie has created a four hundred and twenty -ish bottle wine list organized by old world geographically and new world by grape  -- even offering quite a selection of Kosher wines.  
She then raised her concern of presenting this list to three hundred plus customers arriving almost all at the same time for a concert venue. . . she calls this "unique service challenges."


So she fashioned another list called "Sommelier's Selections, Ask To See Our Full Wine List," divided very playfully as "Uptown Whites and Downtown Reds."  It's a simplified one page list which even offers an adventurous category -- for those who are in the mood for a Moschofilero from Greece while watching David Grisman from your pre-selected seat (I was even more amazed to discover that you can choose your seat like you are going to a broadway show when purchasing your tickets).

So if you have ever dreamed of trying your finger in making wine, but you live in NYC and never imagined it to be possible. . . City Winery offers a variety of different classes and memberships where you will have the opportunity to work with their winemaker David Lecomte, choosing from fifteen different vineyard sites from NorCal, Oregon, and Washington -- of whose grapes are picked and then directly transported to City Winery within 5-6 days after harvest, delivered in "an 18-ton refrigerated truck. . .sealed with CO2 or Argo" (from their website).  Ladies and Gentleman, this is the real deal winemaking, and not different than many wineries around the globe who source their grapes and make the wine in their own cantina.  City Winery will even help you to create your own label for the wine you make.










And the Barrel Room, perhaps my favorite spot in the restaurant.  It reminds me so much of being out west, or outside of Manhattan.  It's cozy, the staff is nice, the room is warm. . . and look at the three large barrels in the left corner.  That's not beer on tap. . . that's wine on tap.  In the Barrel Room, brilliant yes, City Winery only sells their own cellar wine by the Tap "City Winery On Tap."  You will be handed a list of twelve different choices, from stainless steel, to barrel fermented, predominantly international, Northern California grapes. . . which adds to the sensation of being on the west coast.  You can also choose flights, regular or reserve.  Gosh there are so many wonderful options.
Jared Longoria the manager in the Barrel Room pouring a City Winery 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

In Finale, I'd say that Michael Dorf was lucky to find not only a passionate and intelligent wine director who is studying for the masters, but to get someone who has worked in the publishing business for fifteen years and knows how to filter, organize and market all of the above amazingness is quite spectacular.  I would recommend you to go to City Winery just to see how beautifully composed the four hundred plus bottle list is. . . it was one of the first things I noticed.

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