You can’t get much more of a New York State producer than Red Hook Winery. It’s situated in the heart of Brooklyn, across the bay from Statue of Liberty, and buys in grapes from every region in the state capable of growing them. It then has three experienced winemakers to craft their styles of wine from a wide range of white and red grape varietals that are true to the plots of land where they came from. Here owner, Mark Snyder, explains what New York wines mean to him.
Red Hook Winery is at the centre of the exciting advances that are being made in winemaking across New York State. Its wines are imported in the UK by Flint Wines.
Mark Snyder claims to have first started developing a palate for wine at the age of five when his parents would dip a finger in a cherished wine they had just scraped enough money together to buy from a New York City auction house – and then taught him how to pair it with a nice piece of cheese.
He was then able to broaden his knowledge and exposure to wine whilst touring in the music industry, working with rock legends such as Billy Joel and designing music racks for the likes of Peter Frampton, and getting the chance to visit some of the world’s best known vineyards. After 15 years, and with a well thumbed copy of Robert Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, he decided to start a new career a wine distributor of boutique, hand-crafted cult wines.
He began Angels’ Share Wines in 2004 and became known for his unique portfolio, a collection of small, domestic producers of fine wine, later expanding to include a select number of historic European producers and small-production, hand-crafted spirits.
In 2008 he went a step further and opened The Red Hook Winery. It soon built up a strong following with a new appreciation for New York’s potential in its 10,000 square foot waterfront winery in the neighbourhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn not far from where he grew up as a child.
Soon his wines were on the wine lists of some of the US’s most iconic restaurants, such as Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Peter Luger Steak House. As well as Le Taillevent in Paris and Noma in Copenhagen.
He suffered a major setback in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy caused $1.6 million of damage and the loss of many back vintages. But he has since rebuilt and maintained his reputation as one of the state’s most influential and important producers. Here he describes in more detail what the winery and wines are all about.
Tell us about yourself and the winery?
We founded The Red Hook Winery in 2008. We aim to uncover and highlight the best vineyard sites in New York state. From the salty, sea-breeze-blown North Fork of Long Island to the stone, shale, and winter-dominated Finger Lakes, we work with grape farmers who give agricultural definition to New York’s nascent wine growing country.
All Red Hook Wine is produced from grape to bottle at our winery on Pier 41 in the Red Hook neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York. Managing winemaker, Christopher Nicolson and consulting winemakers Robert Foley and Abe Schoener create unique expressions of these individual vineyard sites, producing wines that reflect the climate, geology, and viticulture that make New York unlike any other growing region in the world.
What grapes do you grow and why?
We buy our fruit from farmers who are growing grapes in New York State. We interpret individual vineyard sites with the aim of producing the best possible expression of each site within the context of its vintage. Varietally, for whites, we produce vineyard-designate Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and golden Muskateller. For reds, we produce Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Petit Verdot.
What makes your particular region suitable for those grapes and what sort of styles of wine do they make?
We believe that New York state presents a wide variety of possibility (geographically, geologically, and agriculturally) that is in a continuous, youthful process of being uncovered. It’s our conviction that our styling (our winemaking) should hew closely to the farming and should be a logical, harmonious expression of the unique vineyard sites (and the farmers who farm them) that we buy fruit from.
What is your approach to winemaking and has that changed at all in recent years?
Red Hook Winery is unique in that we have three winemakers, each with unique visions of how wine can and should be made. Robert Foley has over 45 vintages of experience in California. His wines are precise and defined. Abe Schoener has 25 years of experience and his wines are meant to challenge both the drinker & the winemaker to consider the nature of wine. Christopher Nicolson has 20 years of experience and his wines are meant to point the drinker directly to the vineyard site and vintage.
What would you say are the big points of difference – the USPs of New York wine that buyers should know?
New York State, as a grape-growing region (growing vitis vinifera) is young. Buyers should know that New York is an excitingly youthful region that is in the midst of maturing and of bringing definition to its nascent identity. Unlike more established regions, New York is tantalisingly in the midst of being born.
What are the main markets for your wine, both domestic and export?
For domestic sales, The Red Hook Winery is primarily focused on selling wine in New York City and New York state. In addition to that, we have important market presence in Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida, and California. For export sales, the United Kingdom and France are our two most important markets. Our export sales are small but growing and we continue to target those two key markets.
What are the types of wine in your portfolio that work best in export and why?
Varietally, we’ve found the Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc are important sellers. It’s our sense that there are strong regional traits (from historic, non-New York growing regions) associated with these varietals and that buyers are able to communicate the New York-based characteristics of these varietals by comparing and contrasting them with international expressions of the same varietals.
What do you think of the UK market and why do you want to sell your wines there?
Firstly, we love the UK and have a number of family members and friends who live there. Second, we think that the UK is more open than some other European countries to learning about new wines and new growing regions.
Which channels of the UK market are you focused on?
We are focused on high-end restaurants, buyers interested in “low intervention” wines, and buyers who are willing to try new things.
How is the Covid outbreak affecting the winery and your business?
In short it is both devastating and terrifying. But we are forging ahead!
What steps are you putting in place to tackle/cope and get over it?
We are partnering with our supporters and fellow small businesses. And, we are working hard to keep the lights on.
- This is the latest in a series of profiles The Buyer is running on New York State wineries through the summer. If you would like to know anything more about the producers or what the region’s plans are for the UK contact Sue Harris at Westbury Communications at email@example.com.