Tag Archives: Red Hook Winery

Update: Can Red Hook Winery Be Saved?

Last week, I visited Red Hook Winery. I posted an update on their Post-Sandy status in my column Unscrewed for the Village Voice.  If you missed my article, here is your second chance…

Red Hook Winery tasting room post-sandy.jpg

A few weeks ago, I wrote about celebrating the new Brooklyn wine trail. Both Brooklyn Oenology and Brooklyn Winery, featured in the story, were relatively unscathed by Hurricane Sandy. But Red Hook Winery is located right over the water, nearly at the end of Pier 41, and the facility was completely exposed with zero buffers from high winds. When Sandy brought 11- to 16-foot storm surge waves, the winery was pummeled. TheAndrea Gail in The Perfect Storm comes to mind.

The first heartbreaking report on the damage came from Christopher Nicolson, head winemaker, through an interview given soon after the storm to Nona Brooklyn. He forecasted a near total loss after winds blew planters through the glass doors, and waves swept through the winery, flooding the space with five feet of water. The flood ruined electrical equipment like forklifts and pumps, scattered barrels of aging wines, and soaked and smashed hundreds of bottles as though Charlie Sheen and the devil teamed up for a Bacchanalia.

I visited RHW a week later to see if any hope had been dug up from the debris, spending last Friday with Christopher Nicolson and winemaker Abe Schoener. I can confirm that, sadly, the winery will not be hosting tastings and tours anytime soon.

RHW is still without power. They are working without light and heat (and it’s cold with that winter wind blowing off the water). Lots of renovation will be required, including the removal of several walls and its recently refurbished bathrooms, to flush out trapped water. To make matters worse, insurance won’t cover loss from flooding.

But for all the destruction, Abe and Chris feel blessed. The Red Hook Initiative sent dozens of volunteers daily to assist in clean-up; Luciano Racca of Domencio Clerico wines in Piedmont, Italy, spent three days volunteering after his NYC appointments to promote his own wines were cancelled; and staff from Terroir wine bar lent a hand.

If RHW is unable to salvage any of their current vintage, numerous offers showing support and solidarity among the winemaking community have rolled in: a winery in Oregon offered a vintage worth of juice; Hermann Wiemer up in the Finger Lakes offered juice, equipment, and general assistance in hopes that RHW won’t have to go a season without making wine.

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But Abe and Chris now believe the wine gods kept an eye on their babies after all. After tasting through the wines, some stored in sealed stainless steel tanks, others in puncheons, they found much of the juice alive, in excellent condition. Ironically, the lack of heat coupled with the chilly air might have saved a lot of their wine. Assuming the final product is technically sound and they are happy with the results, the other caveat which is the caveat to saving any part of the vintage, is whether the EPA tests will conclude all or some of the wines are OK for sale, or instead deem them “salvaged” from a flood or contaminated. Nobody knows that answer yet, so in the interim, the plan is to keep calm, carry on, and make wine.

So that’s what they did for four days in the dark, cold winery. Last Friday, I helped drain tanks by gravity flow and we sent North Fork Chardonnay into barrels with a donated pump. The wines I tasted were fresh and good, but mere caterpillars propelled into wooden cocoons where they will lay for the next year, hopefully to emerge with wings and an EPA stamp of approval.

Abe seemed optimistic, an attitude both inspiring and, frankly, dumbfounding given the circumstances. When asked the best way to support the winery, the answer from the entire team was a definitive BUY WINE. RHW maintained cases of safe, dry bottles in a separate warehouse, and have updated its website to inform customers of their offerings, with orders to be placed via phone or e-mail and then shipped out. For alternative retail sources, check USQ Wines, Brooklyn Wine Exchange, Acker-Merrall, and Amagansett Wines. Several local restaurants are extending support through glass and bottle sales; visit Gilt, Terroir (multiple locations), and Arthur on Smith for a drink and a bite.

Red Hook Winery lost a lot, and, without insurance coverage, it might be enough to put them out of business. But for now, with spirit, community support, and a little luck from vinous deities, the odds are looking better that RHW will be around another vintage.

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The Subway Wine Trail: How to Wine Taste in Brooklyn

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If you missed my column Unscrewed in the Village Voice on how to wine taste in Brooklyn, here is your second chance (with subway directions included)!

Can’t make it to Napa this week ’cause Jay-Z hitched a ride in your Gulfstream to his Barclays show? No worries, hit up Brooklyn, Hova’s favorite borough, for an idyllic afternoon on the subway wine trail. Your chariots, the 5/G/L trains (and the Ikea Ferry), let you have the drink without the drive — can you name another wine region that boasts a public transportation line?

Grab some friends and make a day of it.  Here is your guide for sampling the best wines this innovative borough has to offer, proving once again that Brooklyn can do anything, except maybe cultivate a vineyard.

Brooklyn Winery – an easy walk from the L Train

Brooklyn Winery 

Directions: Take the L train to the Bedford Ave Stop

Founded by two internet start-up colleagues and aspiring winemakers, Brian Leventhal and John Stire built Brooklyn Winery to fill a void in the market — the urban winemaking facility. They hired winemaker Conor McCormack to craft a handful of small-batch wines using grapes from upstate NY and Long Island (and from California for their Pinot Noir and Zinfandel Rosé). Current whites include Riesling and Chardonnay with several reds to be released in October. Wines are sold in bottles, as well as on tap using exchangeable growlers (they have a winery license). The space also serves as a restaurant, wine bar, and general hangout (wine and wifi), plus it can be rented for private parties. 213 North 8th Street, 347-763-1506

BOE in Williamsburg

Brooklyn Oenology

Directions: Take the L train to the Bedford Ave Stop

Founded in 2006 by winemaker Alie Shaper, BOE is focused on promoting all things New York, from the grapes used in her wines down to the local artists’ work featured on her labels. Although the wines are made at a shared facility in the North Fork, Alie plans to move more of the winemaking operation to Brooklyn as the business grows. The Williamsburg storefront opened in 2010 to showcase BOE wines and function as neighborhood wine bar that opens as early as 2 p.m. — for those days you wish you were at a tasting room instead of the office. You can also keep yourself busy sampling the other NY State tipples on offer: whisky, cider, and beer. BOE’s line-up includes a juicy Sauvignon Blanc, a newly released Rosé and several reds. Keep an eye out for fun events like the recent $1 “Oysters and Sauvignon Blanc” party. 209 Wythe Avenue, 718-599-1259

Take the Ikea Ferry round-trip. Shoppers will wonder why your mouth is purple.

Red Hook Winery

Directions: Option 1: Take the G train to Carroll Street and get some exercise by hoofing the rest.  Option 2: Take the G train to Bergen Street or the 5 to Borough Hall; pick up the B61 bus to Red Hook, and get off at Van Brunt. Option 3 (from Manhattan only): Pick-up the Ikea Ferry from Pier 11 in lower Manhattan ($5 weekdays, free on weekends).

RHW is hard to reach, but your effort is rewarded with liquid gold. Set in an atmospheric old waterfront warehouse on Pier 41, arriving here feels like stumbling into a government secret, tucked away in a desolate building at the farthest edge of the city. Adding to this sense of discovery, one encounters an oddly located Key lime pie shop at the edge of the pier (Key West meets Sin City?). The staff is friendly and motivated to walk you through all of the 60+ white, orange (white wine with extended skin contact) and red wines produced.

That may sound like overkill, but there are two winemakers in the house. If you are familiar with Abe Schoener from Scholium Project in California, then you know you won’t be drinking standard issue 90 pointers. RHW is also blessed to have California wine genius Robert Foley working the second set of grapes. Each winemaker literally gets half of the harvest and a green light to produce their own style of Chardonnay, Cab Franc, etc. The collective goal is to show off the potential range of NY State wines while finding the common thread of terroir throughout. Pier 41, 175 – 204 Van Dyke Street, 347-689-2432

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