A new Pittsburgh winemaker has adopted the saying of one of the industry’s well-known vintners as his personal motto: “A bottle of wine at every table.”
But James McCeney allows for a loose interpretation of Robert Mondavi’s vision.
“How about a bottle every Saturday night? That would work for us,” McCeney says with a laugh.
McCeney is owner of Bridges Wine Co., which opened in Point Breeze in March. While he’s new in town, McCeney is no novice when it comes to making wine. The Baltimore native landed his first winery job at age 13.
“I had my first little girlfriend, and her dad owned the winery,” says McCeney, now of Squirrel Hill. “He asked if I wanted to work there in the summer. Initially, it was just having the chance to have what seemed like a cool job, to be outside, then once I did it for a year, I was totally into it.”
Over the next 10 summers, McCeney earned a firsthand education in caring for vineyards, growing grapes and running a winery. Later, the lure of Napa Valley led him out west, and he attended the University of California, Davis, where he studied viticulture and enology.
For a time, he split his years between California and New Zealand or Australia, which allowed him to help out with two harvests each year. And he worked in Burgundy, France. But it was love that landed him in Pittsburgh. McCeney’s wife, Rebecca Schenck, is from Green Tree.
Once here, McCeney realized the city was ripe for growth in his field of expertise. When an ideal space in an unlikely location presented itself, McCeney’s dream came to fruition.
Bridges Wine Co. is housed in a massive former grocery depot off Lynn Way, that, from the outside, looks like it would well serve an industrial manufacturer, with its exposed brick and raw concrete. A bright, graffiti-style mural spans the length of the building. Inside, more than a dozen businesses ranging from a tea maker to a window installer use the space.
Bridges is on the second floor in two rooms: the tasting room that also serves as McCeney’s office and an area that serves as storage for case after case of wine. Right now, Bridges wines are fermented in Sonoma, Calif., put into barrels, sent to Erie where they are bottled, then shipped to Pittsburgh. McCeney hopes to one day conduct the entire process on site.
The support among members of the growing Pittsburgh winemaking community appealed to McCeney. Tim Gaber, owner of Pittsburgh Winery in the Strip District, says he “couldn’t be more excited to add another maker to our family.”
“We are producing world-class wines here in Pittsburgh, and we are getting better by the vintage,” Gaber says. “By holding hands, we will all help each other improve upon what we all love to do and, in turn, put Pittsburgh on the map in yet another category.
“Pittsburgh has always been a parochial community and would rather buy local as long as the quality is there. The more options we can give them to do just that, the healthier our local economy becomes. So, we welcome all quality libation producers into the fold and encourage our neighbors to buy their booze at home.”
The name Bridges is an homage both to Pittsburgh and the long-distance relationship McCenery and Schenck shared for years.
“It’s also a nod to the fact that these wines originated in California, and we were able to get them made and finished in Pennsylvania,” McCeney says.
Right now, Bridges offers a pinot noir and a zinfandel, available for order online and featured on the wine lists of several Pittsburgh restaurants including Spoon, Legume and Cure. Future plans include the addition of a moscato and a riesling.
The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is rich and features red-fruit aromas, baking spice and vanilla with a smooth cherry finish. The deep-purple Sonoma Valley Zinfandel offers hints of dark cherry, chocolate and five-spice powder.
Tastings at the Point Breeze location are by appointment only, but McCeney plans to add regular hours in November. He’d also like to start an onsite program featuring his wines and others to help educate the public.
“When you serve people wine, they’re almost always excited to try them,” he says. “It’s the opposite of dry. It’s always fun for me, because the questions are different, and every time, people learn something. And so do I.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or [email protected].