Michael Dorf’s dream of quitting New York City to become an Oregon winemaker began and crashed in a car in Oregon’s Dundee Hills.
An entertainment executive with a taste for winemaking, Dorf was vacationing in wine country with his wife and children when he spied “For Sale” signs during outings to taste his beloved Willamette Valley pinots at Domaine Drouhin and Domaine Serene.
Family, he asked, should we sell our Tribeca apartment and move to Oregon to till the soil?
“No freaking way are we moving from New York to here,” was the unanimous response.
Undaunted, he went home and established an urban winery that depends heavily on Willamette Valley for its grapes. Dorf recounted the role Oregon pinot and Willamette Valley play in his business this week when he visited Portland to speak at the Oregon Wine Symposium, a two-day event held at the Oregon Convention Center.
After that fateful visit to Dundee Hills, Dorf, founder of the Knitting Factory, established City Winery. The music venue doubles as a working winery and is the prime sales outlet for its own wines.
Among its many innovations, City Winery avoids bottling its wines when they’re done barrel aging. Instead, it puts it into stainless tanks, which it taps at its own venue.
It sells approximatively 1.5 million glasses through its venue, with 700 to 1,500 on a good night.
“Doing it as tap wine is more efficient and much more environmentally friendly,” he said. “Think how many bottles that would be.”
One of the more interesting aspects of his Oregon relationship is the physical challenge of moving 10 to 20 tons of Oregon grapes per year to New York without sacrificing quality.
It turns out getting the temperature down is the key.
The grapes are harvested at night, when temperatures are cooler, and get packed into small, aerated boxes limited to about 25 pounds, which avoids the crushing that happens in larger bins.
Grapes go straight into cold storage to reduce the temperature to 35 degrees, and are shipped to New York by way of Chicago on refrigerated trucks and trains.
The grapes begin fermenting immediately after they get to the winery.
Dorf said the grapes are none the worse for the journey. Tests and comparisons with wines made from the same grape lots have found no difference in quality.