On April 22, District Winery is throwing a party to unveil its 2017 dry rosé, an easy-sipping, crisp and acidic pink wine with notes of strawberries and green fruit. The real occasion for celebration, though, is that this is the first wine to be produced and sold in the District of Columbia since Prohibition.
But when you visit District Winery, which overlooks the Anacostia River from Yards Park, you won’t see acres of grapevines. Instead, District Winery sources its grapes from vineyards across the country, then ships them to the District to be crushed, fermented and aged.
Serious wine drinkers romanticize the idea of terroir — the notion that a wine should be a pure expression of the place where it is made, with its flavors shaped by the climate, the soil and the age of the vines. A red wine made solely with pinot noir grapes in a vineyard in Burgundy, for instance, will taste very different from a red wine made solely with pinot noir grapes from an estate in Sonoma County.
So what does “Made in D.C.” taste like? In the case of District Winery’s rosé, like “where it was grown, and that’s California,” winemaker Conor McCormack says. The Grenache grapes come from a vineyard in Madera, Calif., that was planted in the 1940s. (McCormack seeks older vineyards — the kind that are rare on the East Coast — because he finds that the fruit has “more flavor, more intensity.”)
For the winemakers at urban wineries such as District Winery and City Winery, which is opening a D.C. outpost on April 25, the source of the fruit is less of a priority than the quality of the final product. McCormack views his winery as part of the ecosystem of creative Washington, and that can affect the wine he makes: “It’s about being different, being new and open. Food culture is being embraced, including beer and wine. I’d say that’s where the sense of place comes in.”
City Winery founder Michael Dorf sees purchasing grapes from suppliers as an advantage. A vineyard in California or Virginia might be able to grow only a few types of grapes, because of the climate. For City Winery, which makes wine in five other cities using sourced grapes, not being tied to a plot of land “allows us to go to where the terroir is best suited for the varietals,” he says. They can purchase pinot noir grapes from Napa Valley, syrah from California’s Central Coast, or Riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes region.
Pascal Valadier, the winemaker for Washington’s City Winery, thinks guests will view his wine the same way they see what’s produced by the nearby breweries and distilleries in Ivy City. After all, no one turns their nose up at Atlas Brew Works for not owning a D.C. hop farm or scoffs at New Columbia for not using D.C.-grown juniper in its Green Hat gin. In fact, when New Columbia does use local ingredients, such as cherry blossoms in its spring/summer gin, they’re lauded.
“It’s more that people like to consume what’s made right there,” Valadier says. “You can have the wine at the bar, and then look 150 feet to the left, and that’s where the wine was made.
“They know it’s not exactly the same way: The grapes are coming in a truck through downtown versus coming in a tractor up from the bottom of the field. But for the consumer in the city, they don’t have to drive two hours to get to Charlottesville. The proximity and ease are a big part of it. They’re not focused on where the grapes are grown, so much.”
District Winery rosé release party: April 22 from noon to 3 p.m. or 5 to 8 p.m. $75, includes three drinks, hors d’oeuvres and entertainment. $95 adds a bottle of rosé to take home.