Saturday, September 21, 2013

A tale of two wine makers – Red Hook Winery

On one of summer’s last evenings, I took a quick ferry ride across the East River with dozens of travel bloggers on a #TravelMassive meetup and docked in Red Hook.  Yes, yet another up and coming Brooklyn neighborhood with "handcrafted this" and "analog that."  Just kidding, I do love this borough.

After a four minute stroll that took me next to crumbling parking lots and urban-renewal gardens, we entered Red Hook Winery.  This place – one of three Brooklyn wineries – had been on my list to visit for a while.

When you enter the cavernous space, you feel a warm and welcoming presence that includes both the exposed wood beams and clever light fixtures crafted from barrel staves and the attractive staff of very Brooklyn 30-somethings.

I was served by GM Darren, who gave me the lowdown on the winery.  The place is five years old, a working winery that only uses New York State grapes – lots of Long Island and Finger Lakes, too. But it gets more interesting.

There are two California winemakers responsible for the wines.  The pair split the grapes that come in and do what they want with them.  If you want to know whose wines you're tasting, Foley’s have labels with a small griffin on the label while Abe’s look like a geometry diagram that resembles a scallop shell. 

I tasted a straight-ahead Finger Lakes Riesling from Napa winemaker Robert Foley’s portfolio.  It was not the most thrilling of Rieslings – a bit short on the palate - and I’ve had many better from the region, but many of the guests at the event loved it, so there you go. 

Then, there were the wines from Abe Schoener. I was immediately fascinated when Darren told me, “This is an off dry Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc blend.”  Wait a minute.  Who does that?  As it turns out the “off dry” part was not intentional. Abe uses native yeasts, and, finicky creatures that they are, they did not fully ferment the wine – therefore leaving some sugar in the wine.   Hearing Darren discuss Abe’s winemaking style, he seems to favor almost no intervention (no filtering, no racking), so this wine – which can never be replicated as it was a product of chance – was stuff that happens when you take a calculated risk like using native yeast instead of buying yeast which you know will go all the way.  Thing is – the wine was great.  The sugar was barely perceptible on the palate, but seemed to add a nice weight to the wine.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially with super selection of Stinky’s cheeses that were offered.  Abe’s red – Rebirth from the Sea – is a classic Bordeaux blend of 45 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 45 percent Merlot, and 10 percent Cabernet Franc.  I loved its savory notes, including the mushroomy aroma I sometimes perceive on Long Island Merlot.

New York City heavily subsidized ferry service to Red Hook to help the neighborhood recover after Sandy, which hit hard here.  While the service will discontinue for the winter season, right now it’s still a great way to come over to the area, which also boasts a chocolate factory, fun restaurants, galleries, and just a cool over-all vibe.  Tastings at Red Hook are $5 for three wines and $12 for six (including a dessert wine.)  Seems like a pretty fun neighborhood to spend the afternoon, and I’m looking forward to coming back.

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