City Winery to Open at City Foundry STL
By Rachel Huffman
With an unrivaled music history, St. Louis is vital to the story of popular music in the U.S. Today, the region welcomes up-and-coming artists as well as music superstars, including Beyoncé and Metallica who will both perform at The Dome at America’s Center in 2023. Although you can find stages small and large across the region, there are still opportunities for unique venues to bring even more live music to St. Louis audiences.
Enter City Winery, which opens at City Foundry STL on March 18.
The brainchild of Michael Dorf, who founded the first location in New York City in 2008, City Winery delivers an indelible experience where guests can enjoy intimate performances, upscale dining and, of course, wine.
“I sucked as a musician – to call myself a musician is even a stretch,” Dorf says. “I sucked trying to play music, but my friends were natural, gifted musicians. When they formed a band in high school, I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be the promoter, the roadie, the sound guy, the fifth wheel, anything – I wanted to be in the band!”
As an adult, Dorf’s passion for music – and comical lack of musical chops – motivated him to find unique ways to put on shows.
In St. Louis, City Winery seats 225 people for live performances, and Dorf aims to host approximately 200 shows a year. Gilbert O’Sullivan, Shemekia Copeland, The Verve Pipe, The Magnetic Fields and Avery Sunshine will be among the first acts to take the stage.
With each ticket, you get a reserved seat, and throughout the show, you can enjoy food and drinks. The food menu is globally inspired, nationally developed and locally sourced, whenever possible, and beginning in June, it will focus on tapas-style dishes. Oenophiles can also preorder wine to have a bottle waiting at their table when they arrive.
“City Winery is an amalgamation of my interests,” Dorf says. “It’s a hedonistic, selfish project because I wanted a perfect place for me. That said, you have to love what you do and believe in what you sell, and I do.”
A functioning winery, as well, City Winery evokes the warmth of wine country in an urban setting. After buying grapes from world-class vineyards in California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Chile and Argentina, City Winery ferments them on-site. From the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to the Finger Lakes Riesling, all the wines are crafted with terroir in mind.
David Lecomte, who trained in France, has been the head winemaker since the founding of City Winery. As he’s a native of the Rhône Valley, the team jokes that he has grape vines entwined in his DNA.
Lecomte combines traditional wine-making methodology with 21st-century technology to deliver top-notch wines – and great value – to your glass. Together, Dorf and Lecomte also came up with the idea to serve wine on tap.
“The first year, I bought almost all of our grapes with cash up front, and then – to make my life more frenetic and tense – the financial crisis hit,” Dorf explains. “Our first grapes arrived in the same week that the Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy.”
By the spring of 2009, Dorf had 250 barrels of wine in his cellar, and he was ready to start selling it. When he suggested as much to Lecomte, the winemaker fired off reasons why they couldn’t bottle it. So, Dorf suggested tapping the barrels – which Lecomte explained would make them explode. If they moved the wine from barrels into kegs, however, they could tap the kegs.
“I was like, ‘Let’s do that!’ because we needed cash flow,” Dorf says. “For a year, we didn’t move much wine, but then we outfitted a wall with barrel heads, poured the wine from there, and it started selling.”
Since then, every City Winery, from Chicago to Boston to St. Louis, has been built with a gorgeous bar, where housemade wine flows from camera-ready barrel heads.
“We’ve [messed up] along the way, but we’ve learned from our mistakes,” Dorf says. “Now, we’re scaling the intimate, environmentally friendly experience, and I’m excited about St. Louis because it’s the manifestation of a bunch of ideas, including the idea to have a smaller footprint and a more efficient package.”
Dorf lived in St. Louis during college, and he still feels a strong connection to the city. “It feels right to once again join the incredible community within the historic building of City Foundry STL,” he says. “I also give Steve Smith of City Foundry a lot of credit. He courted me. He laid out his vision – we even nerded out on a couple big developers – and we agreed that City Winery would be a great addition to the other ‘eatertainment,’ including Alamo Drafthouse and Puttshack, at City Foundry.
“The COVID-19 pandemic taught me that there are some landlords who only want to extract rent and there are others who want to build an experiential center,” he continues. “Steve is the latter, which helped put St. Louis ahead of Pittsburg, Columbus, Detroit, etc.”
When City Winery opens, there will be 10 wines on tap, with more varieties available by the bottle. You can also choose a wine flight, which comes with four 2-ounce pours.
“I love Pinot Noir, and traditionally, it pairs well with fish or meat,” Dorf says. “One of my favorite white wines is Roussanne. It has a big mouth feel, with exquisite secondary flavors that linger.”
Designed to pair with the wine, the food menu draws from Mediterranean cuisines, which generally feature a lot of fish, olive oil and salt. Even if you don’t have tickets to see a show, City Winery’s Barrel Room Restaurant & Wine Bar invites guests to unwind in a relaxing setting.
“City Winery offers a unique experience with intimate entertainment, real food and great wine – to me, that’s the perfect night,” Dorf says. “When we get it right, it’s magic.”