See Kelli Crush

… Or How I learned to stop worrying and let Michael Dorf steal my squeegee.


Given my penchant for braggadocio, anyone who’s spent more than five minutes with me learns a couple things: 1, that I worked a crush in Burgundy and 2, that once upon a time I was in a band that played the Knitting Factory – two huge highpoints in my little life. So it was with a hiccupping heart that I, last Friday night, found myself at City Winery hosing freshly pressed Cabernet skins off a sorting table alongside Michael Dorf, owner and founder of the Knitting Factory and now owner and founder of Manhattan’s only winery.

City Winery is an actual wine-making facility located on Varick street at Vandam in SoHo, specializing in custom barrel production for consumers and groups. Let me reemphasize: this is an Actual Winery in MANHATTAN. You can take the SUBWAY there.

The idea behind CW is elegant in its simplicity: they circumvent existing wineries and work directly with the vineyards (just California and Oregon thus far), purchasing fruit and shipping it in meticulously temperature controlled trucks. The grapes arrive in pristine shape in the same tiny crates that workers laid them into 4-5 days prior. These crates are then unloaded onto a sorting table where, as a consumer, you can sift through your own berries, discarding the unripe and Reagan-shaped alike. Then, under the supervision of head winemaker David Lecomte (a Rhône-native whose resume includes Chapoutier and Herzog), it’s off to the crusher-destemmer followed by tank or barrel– wherever your variety of choice is destined to matriculate.

When my friend Alyson started working there I confess I was a bit skeptical. Big deal, I thought, someone’s making wine in New York. There have been far too many social situations wherein someone’s uncle finds out I’m in the wine industry and suddenly I’m hearing all about his bathtub Zinfandel and would I like a bottle? So I envisioned an upscale New York version of that—some business man’s Basement Merlot glory project. In my mind I imagined they were purchasing juice or must, stirring in some dried brewer’s yeast, and sitting back bobbing their heads to the rhythmic thwacking of a back well-patted.

But that was before I stepped foot in the place.

City Winery is not necessarily a new concept. It seems that as recently as the year 2000 there was a kosher winery (Kedem) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The novelty lies in the totality of the vision. Given Dorf’s lauded musical past, it naturally follows that the winery would be attached to an events space that looks, in all its raw and sawdust-coated glory, like it will rival the most established downtown venue. I got a sneak peak at the tentative performance line-up for 2009 and it is nothing short of star-studded. Even if there wasn’t a fully-functional winery behind door number one, you would still find my fanny regularly parked on one of the many curvilinear booths (VIP, surely) that demarcate the stage area.

And now we arrive at the point of the whole darn thing. After years and years of washing down great music with cheap beer and Jack Daniels, Dorf, a long-time wine fanatic, just wanted a place where, when the music stopped, the libation could share the ovation. Couple that with a mind wired towards the creative process and voila: City Winery is born.

In addition to a world-class stage and sound system, the space will also include a restaurant with a comprehensive wine list and a long, winding Murray’s cheese bar. Illuminated behind the VIP area is a glass-enclosed barrel room where expectant parents can pat swollen oaken bellies and listen to the crooning yeast between sets.

But, you may argue, its one thing to dazzle the Professional Dabblers of the Ultra-Elite, but what about us die-hard wine snobs? What about us brutes of the restaurant industry whose sweat-blinded eyes can barely read the labels of the 82 Bordeaux that pass from our hands to these same potential barrel-owners? How will you impress us? What about localism and Small is Beautiful and nerdy indigenous varieties and our right to hate anything that smacks of accidental entrepreneurialism? I know many a wine professional who, upon hearing of City Winery, dismissed it out of hand with a shrug and a roll of the eyes. I know, because I was one of them. But no one who’s actually spent a minute inside the place has walked away with anything other than a sense of awe. It feels like a winery, it smells and sounds like a winery, and if you stand around dumbly for long enough you WILL get yelled at in French….

…which brings me back to Friday last. I entered the winery innocently enough, intending simply to pick up said friend Alyson, maybe to go out and get a few drinks, some pizza…. Next thing I know the two of us are pushing grape skins around the concrete floor in shoes that, properly ebayed, could buy and sell the whole crop a few times over. My attention was split between avoiding the spray of the power-washer and attempting to choke down the chicken bone of hero-worship caught in my throat when Michael Dorf, ghost writer of so many of my favorite New York nights (no matter which side of the guitar monitors I found myself on), turns to me hands-out and demands my instrument. Confused and thinking I had perhaps failed some sort of manual labor exam, I wondered aloud as to why the progenitor of such an operation would require my mop mid-task. He faced me squarely and explained,

“Because I LIKE to squeegee.”


This is not just a blog post, this is an invitation!

Please join me this coming Wednesday from 10pm- 12am for a midnight crush at CITY WINERY. This event is specifically organized to help you wine professionals get your hands dirty. We will be crushing two different batches of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Napa Valley. First will be a Kosher Krush (yes there will be a Rabbi on hand!) from the Bertinelli vineyards in Oakville followed by Atlas Peak’s Haystack vineyards.

You can read more about the vineyards mentioned at

I hope to see you there!

City Winery
143 Varick Street • New York, NY 10013 • 212-608-0555 •


One response to “See Kelli Crush”

  1. Kelli,
    I hear ya’ sista! We love to squeegee as well. It’s infectious! Check out our wall of squeegee!!!

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