At most wineries, the winemaker isn’t likely to get run over by a bus. But not long ago at Brooklyn’s new Red Hook Winery, Robert Foley was forklifting a bin of grapes down the street when a city bus appeared from around the corner and came straight at him.
Party guests. Photo © Earl Carter.
“I see the driver, and he’s looking at me like, what are you doing?” Foley recalls. “But he stopped. And I say, ‘Hey! I’m forking here!’ ” Located in Brooklyn’s rough-and-tumble Red Hook area—in a ramshackle factory that was a turn-of-the-century bordello—Red Hook Winery is the most unexpected example yet of the urban winemaking trend. Its stated goal is to make world-class wines with grapes from Long Island. A recent party celebrating its first vintage, hosted by another Long Island advocate—cookbook author Katie Lee—was a chance to judge its quality. From a minerally Chardonnay to a smoky red Bordeaux-style blend, the wines were terrific. And Katie’s food—a pimento–goat cheese spread, grilled duck breasts with blackberries—showed them off well.
Red Hook Winery is the brainchild of Mark Snyder, a native Brooklynite who sells top California wines through his company, Angels’ Share Wines (and who, in his previous life, was a guitar tech for Katie’s former husband, Billy Joel). Snyder has long worked with top winemakers, which is how he was able to bring two of the biggest talents from the Napa Valley region to Brooklyn. One is Abe Schoener of Scholium Project, an avant-garde thinker, whose wines have been described as anything from “exotic and compelling” to “just too weird.” “I mentioned my Brooklyn plan to Abe in passing, and he said, ‘You know, that sounds like a good idea,’ ” Snyder says.
Foley took more convincing. Says Snyder, “When I first mentioned my idea, Bob laughed.” Foley, who makes velvety reds for producers like Switchback Ridge and his own Robert Foley Vineyards, ultimately signed on after a scouting trip to Long Island’s Macari Vineyards. The vineyard was that good. “Finally, when Mark asked, ‘Are you in?’ I said, ‘Heck, yeah!’ ” Foley recalls.
Red Hook Winery Wines. Photo © Earl Carter.
At Red Hook, the two men fashion radically different styles of wine. Foley loves ripe fruit flavors, for instance, while Schoener prefers more savory, offbeat ones. (Each Red Hook label bears the legend, “Under the direction of…” with the winemaker’s name). For the 2008 vintage, Red Hook produced only about 500 cases total (albeit of a lot of wines): 10 whites and two rosés, plus about 15 reds, which won’t be on the market until 2010. The best way to taste them is to visit some of New York’s more forward-thinking wine shops and restaurants—or cadge an invitation to Katie’s.
Katie loves to entertain, as evidenced by her next book, The Comfort Table: Everyday Occasions (out next month). The Red Hook party gave her a chance to share some of her favorite recipes. She passed around platters of deviled-egg salad on toast and bowls of tangy, jade-hued green-tomato gazpacho, both of which paired nicely with Schoener’s piercingly aromatic Red Hook Winery Jamesport Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. Later, everyone sat down to grilled duck breasts with a sweet-and-tangy blackberry sauce and glasses of Foley’s blueberry-inflected Red Hook Winery Macari Vineyards Cabernet Franc. Almost everything on the table was from Long Island, which was part of the point. “It’s strange,” said Katie, “but some parts of Long Island don’t feel that different from West Virginia, where I grew up. Suffolk County still has lots of farmland. There’s local duck, fruit like blackberries, eggs—”
“And grapes,” Snyder added as he opened another Red Hook bottle. “Definitely don’t forget grapes.”