Most wine-loving locals are familiar with Virginia wine country: Tasting rooms in the midst of expansive vineyards, with rolling hills and the Blue Ridge Mountains as a stunning backdrop. District Winery and City Winery, on the other hand, bring winemaking downtown. What these urban wineries lack in scenery they make up for with convenience; you can easily get an Uber to take you home after a day of sampling. (Try to do that after visiting Middleburg.)
District Winery, an offshoot of New York’s Brooklyn Winery, opened a sleek winemaking facility in the Navy Yard neighborhood in August. On Sunday, it’s throwing a party to celebrate the release of its first D.C.-made wine, which is, naturally, a rosé — since, as Food & Wine reported last summer, Washingtonians drink more rosé per capita than any city in the nation.
On April 25, City Winery opens the doors of its winery/restaurant/concert hall in the Ivy City neighborhood with a festival honoring winemakers from Sonoma County, Calif., before singer Suzanne Vega takes over for a weekend residency. Washington’s is one of six City Wineries across the country, joining New York, Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta and Boston.
District Winery, City Winery — the unimaginative names make it easy to confuse the newcomers. Here’s a quick guide to help you keep track.
Where is each winery?
District Winery: In a glass-walled box on the edge of Yards Park, with views of Nationals Park and the Anacostia River. Whaley’s, which plans to reopen its perpetually packed waterfront Rosé Garden this spring, is a few hundred feet away. 385 Water St. SE.
City Winery: In the former Love nightclub in Northeast Washington. The four-story behemoth is in the middle of the city’s distillery district, within a grape’s throw of Republic Restoratives, New Columbia and One Eight. 1350 Okie St. NE.
Who’s actually making the wine?
District Winery: Conor McCormack, the head winemaker for the original Brooklyn Winery. A veteran of traditional Napa and Sonoma County wineries as well as Crushpad, a since-closed urban winery in San Francisco, McCormack also sources the grapes for both the D.C. and New York sites. He says he tries to make wines “that represent the place the grapes were grown along with varietal character, low levels of new oak and balance in structure.”
City Winery: There are six City Wineries nationally, each with their own winemaker, so don’t expect the cabernet sauvignon in the District to taste the same as in New York or Atlanta. “Winemakers are not applying the same recipe,” says David Lecomte, the winemaker overseeing all branches. “They do what they think is the best, to their style.” In the District, that falls to Pascal Valadier, who has worked at wineries in France and the Pacific Northwest and consulted for Virginia wineries. “I can see a fierce local loyalty” to Virginia wines, he says, which is one of the reasons he’s hoping to making white and rosé wines with Virginia-grown grapes from this summer’s harvest.
Where is the wine from?
District Winery: With the exception of the rosé, the current wine is made in Brooklyn using grapes from New York, California and Washington state. In the future, McCormack wants to make wines with Virginia grapes to give more regional appeal.
City Winery: City Winery sources grapes from vineyards across the United States, Argentina and Chile for all of its locations. The D.C. outpost will begin making wine in-house after this year’s harvest. Until then, Lecomte says he’ll source wine from other City Winery branches: If Chicago has extra pinot noir or New York City can spare some Riesling, they’ll send it to Washington.
Is it all just pinot and chardonnay?
District Winery: No. In addition to the new rosé, McCormack makes on-trend orange wines using chardonnay and Riesling grapes from New York’s Finger Lakes region. (The skins on the grapes provide the color.)
City Winery: Not really. City Winery may offer familiar styles, but not the way you’re used to them: Because most of the house wine is served on tap, Lecomte offers it unfiltered. There might be a haze to your chardonnay, but it’s also more flavorful.
What about tours and tastings?
District Winery: Tours, which are limited to 12 people and include a tasting of seven wines, cost $35 and are offered at 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. (Reservations are recommended.) The drop-in tasting bar is open from noon to 9 p.m. daily, and guided tasting flights cost $12 to $15.
City Winery: Tours will be offered daily beginning in May. The $35 fee includes a flight of three wines paired with bruschetta. Reservations can be made online. In the future, look for winemaking classes, wine dinners and festivals focused on particular winemaking regions: The first is a showcase of the West Sonoma Coast on Wednesday. (7 to 9 p.m.; $50.)
What’s the best reason to go other than wine?
District Winery: Ana, the winery’s restaurant, is a destination in its own right. Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema gave it 2½ stars, or “good/excellent,” in a November review, calling it “hands down, the most impressive food and wine pairing in Washington right now.” Ana — short for “Anacostia” — also has a full bar with cocktails and craft beers.
City Winery: Beyond the wine, the star is the intimate 300-seat music venue on the second floor. Customers are seated and shushed (a la the Birchmere), and upcoming performers include Joan Armatrading, Shooter Jennings, Eric Roberson and a D.C. JazzFest showcase with the Baylor Project. A stage on the yet-to-open third floor will welcome crowds of 100 for up-and-coming acts.
What’s the view like?
District Winery: Ana, the restaurant, has outdoor seating with waterfront views.
City Winery: The third- and fourth-floor decks, which are set to open next month, offer views of Ivy City and the communities beyond, framed for sunsets. (Just pretend you don’t see the parking lot full of school buses in the foreground.)
What are the chances you’ll show up and find a wedding or bachelorette party going on?
District Winery: High, but you might not notice. The entire second and third floors of the building, which include the rooftop deck, are reserved for private parties and are rarely open to the public — except for events like Sunday’s rosé release.
City Winery: Good. Founder Michael Dorf estimates that they’ll have private events most weeks, though it varies: Some may take over the entire third floor, others may book a private room that looks out over the concert venue or main bar. Still, he says, private events represent more than 30 percent of business.