Conor McCormack of Brooklyn Winery Talks Urban Winemaking, the Science in the Glass & Why Winemakers Are So Beer Happy
Just a few blocks from Brooklyn Brewery is -- wait for it -- Brooklyn Winery. Or rather, Brooklyn Winery Urban Winery + Winemaking Center. The bespoke winery is the brainchild of Brian Leventhal and John Stires, who wanted to bring the experience of winemaking to Brooklynites. As the winery prepares to open officially, winemaker Conor McCormack explains the concept.
photo by Ben Kilgust Conor McCormack with founders Brian Leventhal (left) and John Stires (right).
This the second DIY winery in the city. Is two a trend?
I think so. It's becoming a trend all across the States, and I think people are definitely interested in it. I recently came from one out in San Francisco where it was very, very popular and I think it's made its way to New York, and people are loving it.
How much involvement would one have as a customer?
You have as much involvement as you want, basically. So, we try to make it a highly customized experience where we're choosing everything from the varietal, the vineyards, how hot we're going to ferment, what kind of yeast to use, and for a lot of these I'm making recommendations for people and walking people through the process, but teaching them about every single process every single step of the way. So, it's highly customized.
Do you expect more novices or professionals to use this service?
We've actually had a blend of both. I'd say it generally leans more toward novices, people who are coming in to learn about winemaking and have the general experience of the entire process.
What do you think are some of the common misconceptions of wine?
As far as winemaking, it would be that it's glamorous. It's actually not. It's a lot of hard work. You can equate it to working in a kitchen where it's hard work -- especially during harvest season, it's very intense, long hours. A lot of cleaning, but then you get to blend that with the science portion and you're doing all the back end numbers, making sure the pH is where it should be. Things like that. I really enjoy it. That's why I do it.
What's been your biggest winemaking mistake?
I've seen much more than I've done. Mine was probably very, very early on. I was doing filtration and spent about eight hours filtering this wine through the improper filter. I had to go back and do it again. It was fine. It didn't really impact the flavor. It just beat up the wine a little bit. The aromatics disappear when you filter, but then they end up coming back. I've heard much worse stories like guys in the cellar who back up a forklift into a tank door and said tank door opens up and five thousand gallons of wine spill out on the floor. Much more disastrous.
What made you decide to become a winemaker?
I kind of fell into by accident, actually. Way back when I answered an ad to work a harvest, and since then I just totally fell in love with it. Kept on growing, learning more. The amount of learning you can do is a life-long process. It's just never-ending. And I just really, really enjoy it.
What do you think you'd be doing if you weren't making wine?
I don't know. Be a monkey astronaut.