Thanks to a dinner hosted by Maslow 6, a wine community in New York, I had the occasion to meet David Lecomte, the winemaker at City Winery. The dinner with three French winemakers was a perfect moment to meet Lecomte who also hails from the Rhone Valley in France. It also gave me a chance to appreciate his role at City Winery and his experiences as he and the other winemakers avidly discussed their wine making techniques.
Lecomte has had a varied and complex path to his current position. He has also had tremendous preparation in the different areas of viticulture and vinification, all of which are handy at his new position. At City Winery, Lecomte helps to decide which vineyards to buy fruit from all the way through to helping clients choose which wines they want to make and in what style.
Lecomte began his career in the vineyards near his home in the Crozes-Hermitage area. “In Crozes-Hermitage, there are very few summer jobs. You either work in the vineyards or you pick fruit in the orchards. I started working in the vineyards at a very young age,” Lecomte said in a recent interview. Lecomte studied enology at an undergraduate and graduate level doing both theoretical and practical classes. He also worked in the prestigious wineries Chapoutier, Delas Freres and Cave Cooperative Tain de L’Hermitage for five years. “I was called in from the vineyards and asked if I wanted to work in the cellar. It was fascinating, four or five months in the vineyards and then four or five months in the cellar gave me a good perspective,” he noted.
For love, Lecomte moved to China for a number of years and worked at Dragon Seal, a relatively large winery in the Hebei province. “We were really left to our own devices so my job was to go out and speak with the growers all the way through to making the wines. We were some of the first Caucasian people that these growers had ever seen. We had four viticultural areas and we were able to set up four labs for analysis of the grapes,” Lecomte noted with pride. Dragon Seal has been making wines with international varieties for many years. The current winery was founded in 1988. “It was a very interesting experience but I felt after a while that I wanted to have a relationship with a mentor. In China, I was learning on my own with another Frenchmen. We had a lot of freedom and the opportunity to meet with high level officials but I eventually decided to go back and get my masters in France.”
After a period of time in France, Lecomte and his wife moved to the United States but not in the same area. Lecomte took a position at a winery in Virginia where he worked with Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Lecomte was very enthusiastic about this experience in our recent interview and the challenges of working in this new climate. Shinko and Tom Corpora, the owners of Afton Mountain Vineyards were open and welcoming. Additionally, just like Lecomte and his wife, they were an interracial couple, Caucasian/Asian. Lecomte said he found the experience fulfilling both personally and professionally. Some of the challenges that he mentioned about viticulture in Virginia include weather and humidity.
Tired of being separated from his wife, Lecomte began looking for a position in the New York area in order to be closer to her. Lecomte began a new phase of his career and worked at the Premium Wine Group, a custom crush and custom production facility on the North Fork of Long Island. Lecomte did a lot of lab analysis at this point in his career working with over 17 clients of the Wine Group. “This was my first encounter with the Australian style of winemaking. Russell Hearn, the owner and head winemaker, is Australian and his approach is quite different than the French way,” Lecomte noted. “In Virginia, I was using French methods on an American crop. On Long Island, for example, Hearn was not afraid to oxygenate the juice for white wines which is anathema for French winemakers.” Lecomte explained that in France, you often don’t get a pristine crop and the growing conditions are so much more difficult that you don’t necessarily have the ability to play with different styles. In Australia and California, the vineyards generally have a lot of very healthy fruit.
After a period of time, Lecomte and his wife decided to see what the California wine industry looked like. They headed west to Herzog Wine Cellars where David was hired as the assistant winemaker. This large winery gave him yet a different view of wine making. This time, David was also introduced to Kosher wine making traditions. “Wine making on a large scale has many of the same issues that it does on a small scale. Of course you can’t do everything personally on a large scale so you need to rely heavily on your team. Also with Kosher winemaking, non observant Jews can’t do a number of things so you really need to learn how to adapt and delegate.” At Herzog, Lecomte was also able to see large scale bottling and complex logistical issues which are useful in his current position at City Winery.
After four years in California, the Lecomte family decided to move back to New York after meeting Michael Dorf, the owner of City Winery. Lecomte’s days are full and varied, he noted. On any given day, Lecomte can be seen speaking with one of City Winery’s members who have their own barrel, on the phone arranging for the logistics of the arrival of grapes from Argentina, or talking to a cooper about the wood for barrels. He also spends a fair amount of time at the numerous wine dinners and events held at City Winery. City Winery also makes Kosher wine, Lecomte said, “We have a specific crew just for that part of our services. They are wonderful.”
City Winery opened earlier this year although the wine making has been going on since construction started. Lecomte didn’t seem at all worried about the noise from the subway running beneath City Winery. “There is no problem for the winemaking phase at all.” Lecomte’s current position puts to work so many of the skills that he has learned during his long carereer. Everything is still somewhat influx as City Winery gets going but David Lecomte is having a great time in his new role. “It’s very challenging for me in certain ways. I know vineyards, winemaking and lab analysis and all of that. Now I am adding the piece that has to do with making wines with many different people as well as understanding their needs and interests. It is still new to me and very stimulating,” he added with a smile.