Photo: Courtesy of District Winery
Photo: Courtesy of District Winery

District Winery: Winemaking In The Heart Of The City

District Winery has officially opened its doors as the first winery in DC, and marks the second location for friends and entrepreneurs Brian Leventhal and John Stires. The business partners left jobs in the tech sector to open Brooklyn Winery in New York City’s Williamsburg neighborhood in 2010.

“It was nerve-wracking, but invigorating,” Leventhal says. “We soon eighty-sixed our original ‘make your own wine’ model and rewrote our business plan to evolve to a full-service event venue in New York City.”

District Winery is their first expansion from New York, making its debut at the end of August. The partners recruited winemaker Conor McCormack from Northern California to join the team at Brooklyn Winery, and he’s now moved down to DC to lead winemaking operations at the new venture. The expansion to DC has been in the works for almost four years, with more than 20 cities considered.

Leventhal and Stires were drawn to DC for a number of reasons, but chiefly, as Leventhal puts it, “because it’s a city drawn to innovative food and drink […] that has become less transient.” The 17,000-square-foot building was designed by architect Peter Hapstak III, whose work can be seen among many of DC’s top restaurants such as Pineapples and Pearls and Rose’s Luxury. The building is more than 60 percent glass, complemented by gorgeous, dark, Brazilian hardwood on the exterior. The 20-foot glass wine towers visible throughout the venue are worth a visit alone. 

Tasting Room & Winery

Production is already underway at the fully operational winery. Pinot noir grapes from Suisun Valley and grenache grapes destined for rosé have arrived, but the first wines produced at this facility won’t be available until next spring at the earliest. Given the substantial lead time before opening District Winery, McCormack and his team were able to craft a number of wines at the New York facility that will be exclusively available in DC. Expect to see a wide variety of wines made from grapes sourced primarily from California, New York State and Washington State.

The tasting bar is open seven days a week and is the first thing guests see when entering the building’s grand foyer. You’ll be able to choose from a couple of preselected flights, create your own custom tasting and purchase bottles to enjoy at home. No time to make it out to wine country? District Winery has taken all the enjoyment of visiting a winery and made it Metro accessible.

ANA

Named in honor of the Anacostia, Ana is a bright, airy restaurant that offers sweeping views of the eponymous river. When you first walk in, you’ll notice the high ceilings and the welcoming quartz bar that’s designed to resemble marble (without the upkeep!) Ana is focused on seasonal, New American fare to match District Winery’s selection of wines, but don’t expect to get a stuffy wine dinner here. The staff receives a broad education on the wines and foods, and there is no set pairing menu, which allows the staff to “share pairing preferences without dictating,” explains general manager Sean Alves. The restaurant sources from a number of nearby farms, and as such the menu will change often to reflect what is available and delicious.

Though the restaurant – only accessible through the main winery entrance – is beautiful, it’s the artwork featured on the main wall in the space that will certainly provide lively conversation throughout your meal. Artist Damon Dewitt created a 45-portrait gallery of our nation’s presidents, with each whimsical portrait completed using a different medium to reflect the “style” of the respective presidents.

Private Event

DC is a city of special events, and while District Winery is committed to being a first-class winery and restaurant, it is also a full-service venue, offering a number of unique private spaces for any size party or occasion. The two upper levels and rooftop offer impressive views of the river, barrel room and production areas, and are reserved for such events, allowing the tasting bar and restaurant to remain open to regulars at all times.

New alcohol laws within the District have allowed such operations to open up within the city, so we can expect to see similar ventures popping up in the near future. There is certainly something to be said for being the first, and District Winery is already proving to be an exciting addition to DC’s burgeoning dining and drinking scene.

District Winery: 385 Water St. SE, DC; 202-484-9210; www.districtwinery.com

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Tess Ankeny

Tess has been writing wine-related features for On Tap since 2014. She is a Certified Sommelier (CS), Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and a Certified Wine Educator (CWE).