by Hans Baldauf, March 2, 2016

Sustainable food culture has long been an influence on BCV’s work. We find inspiration in the terroir of our project locations, and in celebrating the interconnectedness of a place and its food shed – the 150-200 mile area around a metropolitan center that has traditionally provided that city’s food.

Megacities such as New York present a unique problem of understanding what constitutes their food shed, and what it means to eat locally. We began to explore this idea when designing Hudson Eats at Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan.

We explored the notions of the larger New York food shed:

and studied the centuries-old system of public markets that have served the city – vestiges of which (such as Essex Street Market) remained after the city moved its food distribution to Hunts Point in the 1960s.

But what of the agricultural land in close proximity to the city? Having opened our office in New York, the opportunity to further explore this question was brought into focus in a conversation with Karen Karp of Karen Karp & Partners. We talked of the disappearance of Long Island potato farms and the birth of its wine industry, particularly on the North Fork over the past 30 years. The phenomenon of a region preserving its agricultural identity through the creation of a value-added product has been pursued for the past fifty years in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys – so it seemed only natural for us to go explore the region.

It might seem slightly crazy to have planned our visit for the week after a major blizzard, but it provided the perfect opportunity to meet with growers and vintners at the quietest time of year, and begin to understand this complex area where sound, land and sea meet and serious wine is made.

Prior to leaving the city we visited Brooklyn Winery and met with founders Brian Leventhal and John Stires, as well as winemaker Conor McCormack. The winery, housed in an old industrial building in Williamsburg, provides about five thousand cases a year. The project was born out of a trip to a New Jersey vineyard where over the course of a year you could make a barrel of wine. Former tech workers Brian and John were hooked, and they found Connor (previously of Crush Pad in San Francisco) to be their wine maker. Their initial vision was of a Crush Pad type project where individuals could make their own wine; they have since abandoned this strategy in favor of creating wine under their Brooklyn label.

Conor sources grapes not only from Long Island (Merlot) and upstate New York, but also from California and Washington. Grapes arrive by truck and are off-loaded into a sky-lit courtyard: here they crush. This courtyard opens onto a tank room and a barrel room completes the picture. At the center of it all is a dynamic urban wine bar that was packed on the Tuesday evening we visited. While sampling their wine we talked about various challenges, including the high cost of Long Island grapes due to high land and labor costs. Yet these regional grapes remain an important part of the identity of Brooklyn Winery as a New York project. We also learned of their upcoming project at the Washington Navy Yard. Similar to many wineries, the event business is an important source of publicity and revenue.

As this exploration is just beginning, what follows is a series of notes on visits we had. It is certainly premature to offer any sweeping assessments. We are so appreciative of the time we were so generously given.