When District Winery Co-Founders Brian Leventhal and John Stires first thought about making wine, they were a consultant and a product manager, respectively. Winemaking to them started as a weekend hobby with friends to get away from the hustle and bustle of New York City and escape to New Jersey farm country. That was in 2007. By Feb. 2010 they knew they were onto something, so they quit their jobs and went all in. In the eight-month whirlwind that followed, Leventhal and Stires had hired Conor McCormack to be their winemaker, found an industrial warehouse in Brooklyn, and were in and operating. After a few years of tweaks and changes, the group was hosting 100 weddings a year and offering turnkey private events in their space. The wine business took off as well.
McCormack got his start in northern California making wines from grapes sourced from Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. If you saw his workspace you would think he’s a chemist, as his lab is full of beakers and science equipment, instead of a winemaker who is always testing the boundaries. McCormack has an aptitude for creation. Whereas he once used grapes from three counties in one region of one state, the winemaker now sources grapes from all over the country. His goal, however, remains the same: Make the best, purest, most unadulterated wine possible. “I strive to make elegant yet intense wines that showcase a particular site from a particular year. I want to highlight each region for what it can do best, while also pushing the boundaries of what is often expected,” McCormack says.
When you see the winery’s latest venture in Navy Yard, you would think the space is nothing more than a pretty building offering nice wines to match the amazing view over the Anacostia River. That could not be further from the truth. The team sources the grapes from across the United States, but every wine sold at District Winery is produced in-house by the team. When the grapes arrive at Navy Yard, they are still on the vine. When they leave, they are in your glass. Everything is done in-house.
If you can’t wait until you get home to sample the goods, District Winery offers wine tasting in its expansive, open lobby or at the on-site restaurant, Ana. Ana is named after the Anacostia River, which the restaurant overlooks. With dishes like crab beignets, pig shoulder confit, and the corn and grayson cappelletti, you are sure to find something to pair with each and every wine—all 14 of them currently available. And the results are impressive. Some favorites include a 2014 “skin-contact” Riesling, produced from grapes sourced from the Finger Lakes region of New York state, which McCormack made at their Brooklyn Winery and is a high seller in Navy Yard. It’s not sweet, making you take a second taste to make sure you did not miss anything. The 2015 unoaked Chardonnay is actually crisp and not buttery at all. The 2014 pinot noir, sourced from the Columbia River Gorge in Washington state, comes off dry and earthy. The 2014 Long Island-sourced Cabernet Franc is dry with a hint of spiciness. The top of the class, however, might be the 2015 Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California, with grapes off 1916 and 1965 vines.
With nine white wine and six red wine fermenters, McCormack and his winemaking team are always pushing to see what they can do next. The District Winery crew is sure to keep the hits coming, bringing in grapes from Virginia, like the petit manseng, which is sure to be a hit. The skin-contact, white grapes will produce an orange wine that the waterfront will be talking about in the seasons to come. The same holds true for diners at Ana, where the menu will change over time. With the 2017 harvest season at District Winery just wrapping up, be ready to see those fine grapes in liquid form as early as 2018 and for many years after at Navy Yard’s newest gem.
By Shannon Vaughn