Mana Wine - Bringing Art and Wine Together
***I was invited to the Mana Wine and JBF Greens event. While my ticket was comped, all opinions expressed are my own.***
Pig roast, wine, food, and art - all for $45.
Mana Contemporary was created when the buildings bought by Moishe Mana for one of his companies (including Moishe’s Moving) didn't sell. They turned the former Tobacco warehouse built in 1890 into an artist complex with collectors, residents, curators, and the cool kids in the basement so that the artists and collectors had a place to show their art and didn’t have to hide it away in storage. Mana Wine was started along the same lines. 15 years ago they had a building downtown on Cole Street that was not selling so they turned it into wine storage. Now they house 400 collectors with some of the largest collections in the Tri-State area.
But Mana Wine is more than just a storage center for wine collectors, they want to create a wine community. I sat down with Marla Priest, the director of Mana Wine, to discuss what Mana Wine is, what it will be, and how it connects with Mana Contemporary.
To understand Mana Wine, you have to know a little about Marla Priest who was brought on to build Mana Wine from the ground up. She started in the restaurant business and when the opportunity came she trained to become a sommelier on the fast track thanks to Joe Bastianich (of the Mario Batali and Lydia Bastianich Group). Later, she was working at a PR company that stored wine at Mana Wine and asked about Mana Contemporary. She had a meeting with Gene Lemay, the director. Upon reading her resume, Gene said he knew she was the person for the job he didn’t have yet. The position was created for her so she was able to bring all her contacts and work with who she wanted.
“When I first started, we didn’t even have a wine glass, so it was a beautiful opportunity, but it was also an extreme. I am working in a developing company, but as a start up. We have to figure out everything so it has been a challenge but a great one.”
Superficially what is exciting is the space Mana Wine will have in the Mana Contemporary Campus - there will be a 30,000 square ft space with 3,000 sq ft tasting room, retail, and wine storage. What is exciting below the surface is the business development and creativity with the programming. “It is a truly untapped area (in Jersey City), with a lot of people who want to do things and don’t necessarily want to go into the city. So, for me, it is really exciting to bring people like Dustin Wilson, a master sommelier formerly at 11 Madison, to a place like Mana and give people the opportunity to experience that. Also, similarly with the James Beard Greens Event and Mark Oldman book signing. Helping the place grow, as it is truly a baby, is exciting. To be a part of something that I truly feel will be successful because it will be a household name like PS. 1; people will just know it!”
I had originally found out about Mana Wine when I went to the JBF Greens and Mana Wine event back in October. I spoke to Marla and asked if I could cover the event so I could learn about Mana Wine and share who they are. The event was really cool with multiple local chefs on each floor and different wines from local (new jersey) wine distributors and sellers. Some of the Galleries were open and we were able to see the collections from collectors and see some of the working art spaces. The event brought the Jersey City Community into Mana, but it also brought people from New York City to Jersey City (and the back of Journal Square).
Getting the James Beard Foundation to partner with Mana took a long time and finally they came around and said it would be a perfect fit for the JBF Greens program, a program from young professionals. Mana Wine wants to build relationships and the goal is to have the event yearly, expanding to chefs in Hoboken and other parts of Hudson County. “It is very important to me that these events are not one offs. I am trying to create true partnerships where people look at us as an extension of whatever their business is.”
In the future, Marla hopes to have more events with the artists. “We will definitely bridge the gap because people are coming to Mana Wine Events for both the Art and the Wine.” They also want to do more food events. After the JBF Greens event, John Williams, the VP of operations for Landmark who runs their cafe and kitchen program, wants to do pop up kitchens.
Another part of programming is educational and academic. They hold WSAT classes (Wine, Spirits, Education, Trust) by Susan from New Jersey Wine School. Susan is a French and Italian wine scholar. They also plan on holding certifications.