Words by Kaylee Dugan
Photos by Nicholas Karlin
The District certainly has its problems, but man do we do booze right. There’s our ample craft beer scene, our burgeoning liquor scene and our brand new wine scene, which technically kicks off today with the grand opening of D.C.’s very first winery. Located right in the middle of Navy Yard, District Winery is a 17,000 square-foot juggernaut that features a full scale wine production facility, a vast private event space and a 1,800 square foot restaurant, all housed in a stunning combination of glass and exposed wood that looks right out on the water.
Seeing the meticulously designed space, it’s clear that this is not anyone’s first rodeo. Owners Brian Leventhal and John Stires hail from New York where they opened their first winery (the concisely named Brooklyn Winery) in 2010. Beforehand, they were both working at the same startup and had struck up a friendship. They, along with a few other friends, started making regular trips out to New Jersey, where there was a company that allowed you to make your own wine. After a couple years of crafting their own bottles they grew tired of taking the trip, but their passion for wine had only grown stronger. They both quit their jobs and started working toward the goal of opening their very own winery.
While they originally planned to be focused on helping customers make their own wine (just like their favorite New Jersey spot) that quickly fell by the wayside after numerous people had began asking if they could rent their 8,000 square-foot space for weddings. That changed everything. Leventhal and Stires scrapped the make your own wine component and dove head first into creating their own wine and running an events space.
After researching different cities and settling on D.C., they’ve brought that successful formula to the District, but not without making a few tweaks. Their Brooklyn space isn’t large enough be both a wine bar and a wedding venue at the same time, so every time a wedding is booked, they have to shut down the bar. Likewise, their Brooklyn restaurant, BKW is also at another location due to the lack of space. With its ample square-feet, two full floors and tall ceilings, District Winery is a game changer for them, allowing all three concepts to harmoniously exist under one roof.
And it honestly seems like it’s going to work pretty damn well. The second floor is where all the events live and it features a green room, a huge patio, its own kitchen and rooms that can be configured any which way thanks to the help of folding doors. That leaves ample room for the winery and the restaurant to take over the first floor, which also features a cute little tasting bar for those of you interested in grabbing a bottle and heading out the door.
Speaking of the wines, District Winery has been stocked to the brim with rosés, pinot noirs, chardonnays and more, all of which can bee seen through the huge glass storage spaces. Of course, all of the wine available right now has been produced in their Brooklyn location, while their head winemaker Conor McCormack works crushing, fermenting and aging their D.C. wine. If you’re looking for something interesting to try, go for the Cabernet Franc. Made with grapes from the North Fork of Long Island, it’s a pleasant mixture of pepper and fruit.
If you’re looking to spend a little more quality time with the wine, their restaurant Ana takes over the remainder of the space. Focused on new American cuisine, the menu is both designed to go well with the wines or allow you to completely ignore them, depending on your preference. It’s clear that executive chef Michael Gordon and chef de cuisine Benjamin Lambert have had fun with this menu. All of the dishes, no matter how simple they seem, have a their own little creative twist, from the more subtle and locationally appropriate crab beignets to the beautifully presented charred broccoli steak. Although we’ve only tasted one dessert (the Passion Fruit Entremet), we can tell you right now, this is not the kind if place where skipping dessert is optional. Not to mention, there’s also a strong cocktail and beer menu, if you’re looking to mix it up.
District Winery may be trying to do a lot of different things, but if they can make the combo work anywhere, it’s here.