The diversity of the City Winery winemaking team reflects the diversity of New York City, where the winery is situated. Our head winemaker has been in the industry since he was 16 years old, while the assistant winemaker fell into the wine world after retiring from his 20-year career as a jockey.
To make things even more interesting, the winery’s cellar hand doesn’t drink wine (or any alcohol for that matter) and grew up in Mali and France. And finally, the kosher assistant winemaker jumped into the wine world as a home winemaker, out of a love for the drink.
So, just who are these unique individuals behind City Winery? I spoke with each of the core team members to learn just how they found themselves in the wine industry. Here are their stories.
Head Winemaker David Lecomte took on his first job in the wine industry as a teenager. David grew up in Tain-l’Hermitage, France, a town in the northern Rhône valley. His hometown economy was supported largely by wine production, followed by fruit farming. David said that a wine job, as a result, was just a common job in his area.
So, at 16 years old, David took on a summer job in the vineyards of Delas & Fils Sons, and after two years, he worked his way up to a winery position. Since then, he’s worked with Dragon Seal, Jean Luc Colombo, Chapoutier & Fils, Afton Mountain Vineyards, Premium Wine Group and Herzog Wine Cellars; and in 2008, he joined as the founding winemaker at City Winery.
David’s favorite part of working as a winemaker is when he has a huge diversity of crop coming into the winery. Having a diversity of metrics helps keep him on his toes, as he’s constantly thinking of how to work with each individual wine.
The biggest challenge of winemaking in an urban environment, though, is utilizing a small space to its fullest without compromising the winemaking. Even more problematic is the fact that it is impossible for the winery to be located near the vineyards, as it’s in the heart of New York City. For a classical winemaker, it’s a big challenge, but David says he has grown accustomed over the years, especially since he is “surrounded by great people” who manage the vineyard relationships in Oregon and California, where he is unable to see the grape vines and make on-the-fly decisions.
For the majority of his career life, Assistant Winemaker Bill Anton was a horse jockey, focusing on racing on the east coast of the United States. His love of wine began in his early 20′s, when he happened to compete on the west coast for a few years. A couple of owners, trainers and associates of his were interested in the wine world, and they all toured around Napa wineries together. It was there when he first began to take an interest in the winemaking process.
Furthermore, Bill has always enjoyed cooking, and his general interest in wine has always been intertwined with his passion for cooking. In fact, Bill believes that “A meal without wine is like a meal with a missing ingredient.” He enjoys every dinner with wine, “even if it’s a pizza,” he says.
Once Bill retired from his career as an athlete, he attended the Florida Culinary Institute to pursue his passion for cooking. At the end of the program, he took a course on food and wine pairing, reigniting his interest in wine.
From there, Bill happened upon an ad in a Long Island newspaper, posted by a winery searching for harvest help. He was employed with that winery, Castello di Borghese, for two harvest seasons. Afterwards, he accompanied the winemaker from Pindar Vineyards (in Long Island) to be his assistant winemaker at Childress Vineyards in North Carolina.
Bill heard about the opening of City Winery and began contacting the winery before it opened. He was fascinated with the idea of urban winemaking. At the time, the winery didn’t have an opening, but during the harvest of 2009, it brought Bill on as the assistant winemaker.
Bill’s favorite part of winemaking is that “every year brings a different challenge. Two years are never the same.” Furthermore, he loves to see the end product after the process of seeing it go from a juice to a high quality wine. On the flip side of the coin, Bill agrees with David that the most difficult aspect of urban winemaking is dealing with space constraints. When you’re restricted to a small space, the winemaking process becomes much more complicated, he says.
Kosher Assistant Winemaker Yanky Drew says his passion for wine goes a long way back, especially since wine is used quite often in Judaism.
“As a kid, I always tried to turn table grapes into wine,” he says. “As you can guess, I was not too successful. But when somebody was making wine, I was there to help. My real turning point was at Yarden Winery in the Golan Heights in Israel. I tasted their Gewürztraminer in the tasting room and was instantly hooked with the barrel rooms, vineyards and so on.”
Yanky’s passion for wine drove him to be a home winemaker, tweeting and reading tweets about winemaking. And it was through Twitter that he came to know of City Winery. “I met the previous City Winery Mashgiach, Ilan Tokayer, may his memory be blessed, through our shared tweeting. He then told me about the vacancy [at City Winery].”
For Yanky, winemaking is all about the love of the process. “What I enjoy the most about the wine world is people who have a real passion for winemaking and produce great wine for all to enjoy,” he says. “I also appreciate when wine tastes like the variety that it is, in other words, true to its variety. What I like the least about the wine world is producing and selling wine just for the business aspect of it — and people who don’t care to make good wine, only to make money.”
Cellar Hand Sikou Nikate was born in Mali, Africa and spent half of his life there before moving to France, where many of his family members live.
While Sikou doesn’t drink alcohol, including wine, he enjoys the winemaking process and working with wine.
Prior to working at City Winery, Sikou worked at a Japanese restaurant in France. He heard about the position at City Winery through a friend that works at the winery. While he didn’t have a specialization in wine before applying, the winery was a great fit for him, he says. He enjoys the people and the work.
Sikou began working as the cellar hand at City Winery during the harvest season of 2009.
The City Winery winemaking team works hard every day to make sure the winery is producing top-notch wines. With diverse backgrounds, each of the team members adds his own unique flair to the process.
Let us know if you have any questions about the crew in the comments below!