Experience the second annual gathering of grapes at Washington’s first winery.
In its second year of production, District Winery is allowing guests special behind-the-scenes access to its wine-making processes with Harvest Tours. From now until the end of October, guests can witness the very heart of the Navy Yard based winery and its in-house production as workers sort, destem, crush and ferment grapes. Each tour is concluded by a tasting of seven District Winery’s whites, reds and rosés. We stopped by the winery to observe the process.
Holding old-vine Grenache grapes from Madera, head winemaker Conor McCormack shouts over the destemming machine as he and his crew unload a large 21-ton shipment of hand-picked grapes from his native West Coast.
“Grenache is typically a very sweet grape and will be used to make our signature Dry Rose,” he says. The 2017 Dry Rose was the inaugural vintage for District Winery, highlighted by flavors of “strawberry, guava, and spice.” The rosé currently in production will be bottled and ready to taste by spring. The winery’s 90-ton 2018 harvest is exclusively from California; reds and whites from the West Coast will produce more than 60,000 bottles of wine this year.
The operation occurs in the single workroom, whereupon entrance, one is immediately hit by the smell of fresh grapes and wines aging in stacked oak barrels. Once destemmed, the fruit and liquid are removed from the tannin-inducing skin by gently piercing the grape. Rather than the traditional foot-stomping procedures à la “I Love Lucy,” a machine trots the grapes. After pressing, the wine is stored in steel tanks: roses and whites for 6-12 hours and reds for two weeks to develop the tannins.
After fermentation, reds are stored to age in the stacked barrels, reaching the ceiling. Half of the barrels are exposed to the natural temperature of the complex, the others stored at an optimal 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Visible down Water Street, the aesthetic adds a rustic element to the contemporary, modern atmosphere of the 17,000-square-foot waterfront building overlooking the Anacostia River.
As they require a longer aging period, 2018 reds will not be available for at least two to three years.
“I typically age red wine for 23-24 months in 30% oak barrels. The barrels increase oxygen to the wine, allowing for a smoother, rounder flavor,” McCormack explains. “That percentage of oak, I find, optimizes the wine, putting a greater emphasis on the flavor of the grapes and the tannins, rather than the oak-y, nutty flavor of what it is aged in. Sometimes, I will even age white wine in barrels to introduce new flavors. It’s a style preference.”
An exclusive and niche subject like wine making can be intimidating. One may feel the pressure to taste the various notes or know what pairs well with what. The team at District Winery make it their mission to create a welcoming atmosphere and bridge the process with the product.
“There are no dumb questions,” McCormack assures. “I have been making wine for 15 years and I am always learning. In opening up the workplace for people to see the process, it allows guests to see the work that goes into making good wine.”
McCormack and his team highlight flavor profiles of America’s wine country, while using the dynamic setting of Washington to spur creativity in experimenting with new flavors and grape varietals. The Spanish and Portuguese Albariño have optimum growth in the sunny San Joaquin Valley, CA yielding light, citrusy white wines. Virginia’s weather is similar to that of the Burgundy, France, ideal for full-bodied reds and chardonnays.
“Virginia produces beautiful Merlots and Petit Verdot that naturally grow great in the area. We have worked with Virginia vendors and we are looking into Maryland as well,” McCormack says.
In highlighting the unique profiles of individual regions, District Winery respects the traditions of wine-making while also experimenting with new techniques in viticulture. Such practices have created a unique terroir to the Washington region, whose residents embrace the history of wine-making – one that is rich as the wine itself – and invite new flavors to the tasting bar.
“I have noticed that Washingtonians are more experimental in the varieties they want to try.” McCormack says, noting that Orange varietals are particularly popular. “They’re open to new flavors and combinations. It motivates us to see what else we can do with the product and expand our offerings.”
District Winery, 385 Water St SE, Washington, DC 20003 U.S.A. | P: 202-484-9210 | Harvest Tours: Through end of October; Monday – Friday at 6:00 pm, Saturdays 1:00 pm and 6:00 pm, Sundays at 1:00 pm; $40 per person; Limited to 12 participants per tour | districtwinery.com