Cargo sailboat delivers wine by wind from France to Brooklyn

Grain de Sail’s cargo boat docked at One°15 Brooklyn Marina at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

A cargo sailboat docked in Brooklyn Bridge Park on May 13, bringing thousands of bottles of wine from France to Brooklyn by wind power.

The schooner by French company Grain de Sail docked at One°15 Brooklyn Marina after a 27-day trip across the Atlantic Ocean last Thursday, delivering some 8,000 bottles of the good stuff in an environmentally-friendly way, according to a rep for the European firm.

“Big cargo ships are big polluters,” Grain de Sail’s US director for wines and spirits Matthieu Riou told Brooklyn Paper. “It’s one of the ways we want to say that it’s possible to do it another way, a cleaner way, only using the wind which is a free resource.”

Grain de Sail’s cargo sailboat.Grain de Sail

The vessel will remain berthed at Brooklyn’s front yard for about 12 days, before heading to the Caribbean to pick up cocoa and coffee to ship back to France where the company manufactures chocolate.

The custom-designed 72-foot watercraft has a large temperature-controlled hull capable of carrying about 18,000 bottles of wine or 40 metric tons of cocoa.

“We like to call it a floating cellar,” said Riou. “The goal is [for the temperature] to remain stable. It’s the most important point, to avoid any big differences that could alter the wine or cocoa.”

The boat gets its juice for on-board equipment through solar, wind, and hydro power, and only uses a motor when docking at a berth, due to maritime regulations.

Solar panels and wind turbine help power the boat.Photo by Kevin Duggan

The Brittany-based company behind the venture at first sought to sail across the globe to import cocoa from the Dominican Republic in a more sustainable way than diesel-guzzling container ships, but then decided to load up the boat with wine on its way over so it wouldn’t make the transatlantic trip empty-hulled, according to Riou.

They offer 25 different kinds of wine from all over France, which will be sold at the nearby restaurant Estuary, Clinton Hill’s Corskrew Wines, and French eatery OCabanon in Manhattan. Prices range from $25-40 per bottle, but champagnes come in at about $150 a pop.

The unconventional shipping method doesn’t give the wines a special sea-salty taste, but Riou said that, in addition to eliminating the need for fossil fuels, the majority of their products are also completely new to the American market.

“Most of the the wine makers that we are bringing to New York City didn’t want to export wine in the beginning because they didn’t want to do it with a big cargo ship,” he said. “So all the wines that we are bringing to New York are new, it’s the first time they will be in New York City and they come from winemakers that wouldn’t be available if not transported by sail.”

This marks Grain de Sail’s second journey to Kings County shores and one of the four crew members said it was smooth sailing.

“It was pretty cool this time, the weather conditions were pretty cool,” able seaman François Le Naoures told the Paper. “During the trip we were fishing, we were cooking.”

Grain de Sail’s maiden voyage in November was rougher, according to Le Naoures, with the mariners having to weather 30-foot waves out on the open sea and a snow storm upon arrival at the Brooklyn Navy Yard four weeks later.

The Frenchmen plan to build a second cargo sailboat twice the size by 2023 and make the roughly three-month round trip twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall.

“The goal is to build a fleet of boats,” Riou said.