Forget the tea, North End winemaker puts 150 bottles in the ‘Harbor’

From making award-winning wine to aging bottles in the ocean, Richard Jacob does it all

The North End is known for serving fine wine, now Richard Jacob of City Winery Boston is trying to expand that reputation of the historic neighborhood as being makers of notable wines.

Jacob, a Medford native, recently guided styleboston through the upscale restaurant and performance venue’s back doors offering a glimpse of how they make wine just steps away from the Kennedy Greenway.

And, as part of his latest passion-project “Ocean Aging Wine Project,” Jacobs dropped more than 150 bottles of an award-winning 2019 Chardonnay (made with grapes from Sonoma Valley and fermented primarily in stainless steel) into the Atlantic waters just outside Boston Harbor. The cases of wine are in lobster traps and the exact location is not being revealed to ward off – what else? – pirates.

While it might have seemed ridiculous at first glance, there are actually a number of positives in its actually ideal spot for wine. “[The wine is] about 80 feet deep. It’s about 52-56 degrees, an ambient temperature. It’s perfect for aging,” Jacob said. “It’s like you have a wine fridge at home. If you had a white wine, you would set it at 56 degrees so it’s perfect. There’s no light down there so it’s completely dark. Sunlight is wine’s worst enemy.”

The vintage now being aged in the ocean is the very same that brought Jacob and City Winery Boston a slew of awards at the recent 2021 Eastern States Exposition’s Wine Competition, the sixth largest fair in the country.

Opened in late 2017, City Winery Boston is part of Michael Dorf’s national lineup including City Winery in Hudson Valley, NY, a hydro-powered winery, vineyard, restaurant, outdoor concert venue, and private events space at the historic Montgomery Mills. Other concepts run by the company include City Vineyard at Pier 26 and City Winery at Rockefeller Center in New York City, and City Winery Chicago at the Riverwalk.

The bottles in the Atlantic Ocean are not Jacob’s first venture, he said, coming on the heels of an attempt to age a similar vintage in Pacific waters. “When they pulled them out the bottles were absolutely gorgeous,” Jacob said. “They have barnacles growing on them and seashells attached. The pacific is a little bit more active but after three months it’s amazing to see the results.”

City Winery is rather rare to the Eastern coast in its products’ creation process. Rather than shipping the bottled wine in from an alternate location they instead ship the grapes themselves to Boston and then work to begin the process right here, using varietal grapes and not locally sources fruit such as apples and pears. “We’re able to source grapes from all these world-renowned regions of the United States. We take it all and process it right over here. Whole clusters. Being able to work with all these different varieties is special,” Jacob said.

Making enough wine for this setup requires a lot of grapes, as Jacob detailed the numbers of the first year: “2017 is still pretty young cause we crushed our first grapes which means the wine wasn’t ready until 2018. And it was a really small harvest because we only crushed five tons.” Though that number grew larger in following years as the winery accumulated further attention and success, “In 2019 we crushed 63 tons. The quality was what we were looking for.”

This growth unfortunately hit a snag with the 2020 pandemic. Unlike many businesses the nature of the wine business provided an upside, “we did that whole crush expecting 2020 to be very lively and busy. We didn’t sell that much of it, any at all of red wine from 2019. But it had another year to age, so it tastes even better. For this upcoming harvest we’re going to go back down to 20-something tons of grapes.”

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