Crush Time in the City

Amid the drilling and hammering of ongoing construction, the new urban home of Bridge Vineyards emerges from the dust — a wine-tasting bar on one side, redbrick walls, the proverbial barrels.

Within the next few weeks, this New York winery moves its tasting room and sales — and eventually its winemaking — from the pastoral lanes of Long Island's North Fork to an edgily chic stretch of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where old machine shops and graffiti meld with a Pilates studio and a smattering of storefront galleries.

There's not a rolling hill or trellised vine in sight.

That its new location is 85 miles from the 20-acre vineyard that provides the grapes for its "handcrafted" merlots, chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons matters little, says co-owner Greg Sandor.

"To truck grapes into Brooklyn is nothing," he says. "I could be picking grapes at 5 a.m. and have them into Brooklyn at 8 p.m. that night. And we could crush all night if we needed to."

Subway Close

What's more important is that Bridge's new urban home, tucked into the ground floor and cellar of a luxury condo building, is within subway — or elevator — reach of customers.

With the move, Sandor and co-owner Paul Wegimont become part of a fledgling but growing urban winery experiment, a trend that first took hold around San Francisco's East Bay. It has since edged its way into other parts of California — including Sacramento, Santa Barbara and San Diego — and to such cities as Seattle, Portland, Ore., Denver, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Raleigh, N.C.

"In some ways it's an outgrowth on a commercial scale of winemaking that goes back to Prohibition days, when a lot of people made wine in cities with purchased fruit," says Paul Lukacs, author of "American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine" and "The Great Wines of America." "It also reflects the increased American interest in wine."

To some extent, the trend is a response to a demographic turnabout. Wine drinkers are getting younger, according to the Wine Market Council, which attributes much of last year's record-setting level of U.S. table wine consumption to the wine-drinking habits of those just under 30.

"The growth of wine bars, wine shops and tasting rooms is driven by this younger demographic, who do tend to live in urban areas," says Wine Council President John Gillespie. Ten years ago, the 35- to 44-year-old set dominated the market.

The way wine is sold — through a three-tier system of intermediaries — also figures in. As large wineries and distributors consolidate, it gets increasingly difficult for boutique-style operations "to funnel into the system to sell their wines," says Barbara Insel, managing director of research at MKF, a wine business consultancy in California's Napa Valley.

"The fastest-growing segment of the wine industry is selling direct to consumers in the tasting room," she says. "That's why this is taking off. Going urban "is really just going to where your customers are."

Like Bridge Vineyards, which has been in business since 2001 and has released a Brooklyn red and a Brooklyn white in time for its opening in early 2008, most urban wineries are within a few hours' drive of established grape-growing areas and emphasize local grapes. But not all.

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