Fall means harvest season at vineyards — even at DC’s urban winery

In Southeast DC, it's harvest season at a city winery

WTOP's Rachel Nania

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WASHINGTON — At the vineyards surrounding the D.C. area, fall is harvest season — a time of year when the grapes are picked, pressed and turned into wine.

But inside a 17,000-square-foot building in Southeast D.C.’s vibrant Yards Park neighborhood, Conor McCormack is proving that you don’t have to be knee-deep in vines to be in harvest mode.

This fall, he and his team at District Winery are turning 90 tons of red and white grapes into more than 60,000 bottles of wine.

“It’s a good season so far; quality is really high,” said McCormack, while surveying a recent 21-ton delivery of Grenache and cabernet franc grapes.

The urban winery — which includes a production facility, tasting room and restaurant — opened on the Anacostia waterfront in August 2017 by co-founders Brian Leventhal and John Stires, who are behind the New York-based Brooklyn Winery.

McCormack, head winemaker at District Winery, sources his grapes mostly from California (this year’s rain made it impossible to buy Virginia grapes), and coordinates their transport in carefully monitored refrigerated trucks.

Once the palettes and boxes of grapes are offloaded on the 4th Street dock and sorted, the process is the same as it would be on an actual vineyard. McCormack and his small staff load the fruit into destemmers, crushers and presses, and pump the juice into tanks for fermentation.

The rosé McCormack is currently making will be bottled in February or March and ready to drink by spring. The reds underway won’t see the shelves of the tasting room for at least three years. (Last year’s reds are still lined up in barrels to age and are visible from the production facility’s Water Street entrance.)

If you want to get in on the harvest action, but don’t have time to make a trip to a Maryland or Virginia vineyard this fall, District Winery is hosting harvest tours through the end of October. Visitors can get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how the wine is made and taste a selection of the winery’s available varietals. Tours take place Monday through Friday at 6 p.m., Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m.; tickets are $40 and include a tasting.

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