Red Hook Winery showcases New York State viticulture in an urban on-water setting

I recently visited Red Hook Winery, an urban winery located in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. While it’s off the beaten path in Brooklyn, it was definitely worth the visit. 

Unique Wine Making

Red Hook offers a unique perspective on wine making. Owner Mark Snyder started the winery in 2008 to bridge the gap between New York City and the local growing community. He initially brought on two winemaking friends to highlight the grapes from the Finger Lakes and the North Fork of Long Island. Today, the winery has three winemakers who each bring their own perspective to the same grapes. Understanding the style of the winemakers is the key to understanding the wines at Red Hook.

First there’s Abe Schoener. Abe is playful and experimental. His goal is to redefine the grapes and their taste. He prefers to make wine with limited control and interruption to the fermentation process. His wines are typically aged in old French oak barrels for an extended period of time.

Then there’s Robert Foley. Robert is much more traditional in his winemaking approach. His wines tend to resemble Napa Valley reds and French whites. All of his wines are aged in new French oak barrels.

Finally, there’s Christopher Nicholson. Christopher likes to allow the “terroir” to speak through the wine. His goal is to interpret what a single property tastes like through the wine. His methodology varies based on the grape.

Getting There

Take the the Ikea Ferry from Pier 11 in Manhattan (it’s free on the weekends). It’s an easy walk from the Ikea. The subway does not go to Red Hook, but you can take the 2/3 or the 4/5 to Borough Hall or the R to Court Street then take the B61 bus from Boerum Place/Joralemon Street to Van Brunt Street/Coffey Street. You can also take the NY Water Taxi from Pier 11 to Pier 44. Rumor has it the Ikea Ferry might go one more stop to Pier 44, but I have not tested this. Try at your own risk.

The winery is housed in an old warehouse on Pier 41 on the Upper New York Bay. The tasting room offers views of the water and a surprising amount of people watching. They have a variety of cozy seating areas in addition to wine barrels that serve as tables. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable about the wine, the history of the winery, and the winemakers. They also offer free 15 minutes tours at 1pm on Saturdays and Sundays so you can see where and how the wine is made.


Tasting Lineup

For being off the beaten track, the winery is clearly a popular destination. Their tastings offer a selection from each of the winemakers. You mix and match the four wines you’d like to taste, though Marquita or one of the other servers will gladly offer suggestions. If you’re looking for a bite to eat while tasting, they offer a selection of cheeses with toast points as well as charcuterie from Fleisher’s Craft Butchery next door. We were able to taste most of the wines on the menu, including two head-to-head tastings comparing Abe and Robert’s styles. The wines below were some of our favorites.

Note: We had difficulty identifying the nose on some of these due to the breeze coming in off the water.

2013 Riesling (Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes, Robert Foley)

We started with a surprising Riesling aged in new French oak. There were hints of orange blossom and lemon peel on the nose. It is light bodied offering mostly lemon on the palate. It displayed some minerality in the aftertaste and was overall a refreshing summer wine.

2012 Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay, "Vipolze" (Macari Vineyard, North Fork of Long Island, Abe Schoener)

This was a skin fermented orange wine that was actually more of a buttery yellow in color. It is comprised of two-thirds Sauvignon Blanc and one-third Chardonnay. The nose offered aromas of orange blossom, lemon, and anise. The palate was complex - cantaloupe, ginger, lemon zest, and even a hint of spice.

2014 Cabernet Franc (Macari Vineyard, North Fork of Long Island, Christopher Nicholson) 

This was our only taste of Christopher Nicholson’s work, and it was unique when compared to the other wines. As with many Cab Francs, it offered pepper on the nose in addition to blackberry. Ours was slightly chilled, and it was smooth, earthy, and slightly jammy. Also on the palate was boysenberry and, unsurprisingly, a hint pepper. This one would be wonderful paired with some roasted pork.

2013 Blaufränkisch (Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes, Robert Foley)

I was particularly excited to try this wine that is most often associated with Austrian wine making, and it didn’t disappoint. On the nose, we got an overwhelming sense of maraschino cherry with just a touch of pepper. The palate evoked a taste of raspberries with a tart finish and just a hint of acid.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Jamesport Vineyard, North fork of Long Island, Robert Foley)

This is Red Hook’s first vintage from Jamesport and is one of their library wines. They are looking to see how this wine does over the years. On the nose, we got a sense of mesquite barbeque smoke with subtle berry undertones. This is a nicely developed wine, though I would suggest decanting it first as it was a bit tight. It evokes a sense of leather and blackcurrant with a little pepper on the finish.

The next four wines are the head-to-head tastings of Abe Schoener vs. Robert Foley.

2013 Chardonnay (Jamesport Vineyard, North Fork of Long Island, Abe Schoener)

This is an unfiltered wine aged in a neutral oak. It is skin fermented, and the color was a nice buttery yellow you might expect from a California Chardonnay. The nose was a bit weak but offered subtle hints of lemon and banana. Off dry, we tasted lemon and sweettart candies.

2013 Chardonnay (Macari Vineyard, North Fork of Long Island, Robert Foley)

Our favorite of the two Chardonnays, this one was aged for two years in 100% French new oak. It was a beautiful pale yellow color. Unlike Abe Schoener’s Chardonnay, this one had a very powerful nose of banana bread and melon. It also had a more complex range of flavors on the palate, offering lemon bar, dew melon, and red apple.

2013 Merlot (Macari Vineyard, North Fork of Long Island, Robert Foley)

For the Merlots, both winemakers picked their own grapes from Macari Vineyard. Robert Foley chose grapes with a thicker skin and aged the wine for two years in new French oak. It was a deep, ruby red. The nose was very subtle. We were able to get hints of spice and berry, but not enough to determine which spice and which berry. This was a very fruit forward wine with both blackberry and strawberry on the palate. It’s probably one of the best merlots I’ve had in awhile, and was our favorite of the two.

2013 Merlot (Macari Vineyard, North Fork of Long Island, Abe Schoener)

Abe Schoener chose to use a cold soak for color and used both native and selected yeast. He aged this wine for two years 1-3 year old French oak. The color was a brilliant red and the nose offered plum, blueberry, and spice. Dry, the action happened when you swallowed, offering blackberry and black tea on the finish.

2010 Twenty One: Twenty Four (North Fork of Long Island, Robert Foley)

The final wine we tasted was the Twenty One: Twenty Four. The name refers to the (military) time that Hurricane Sandy surged. The winery is right on the water, and Hurricane Sandy brought in five feet of water, destroying their tasting room, all of their wine-making equipment, and the entire 2012 vintage. Only a few of the 100 barrels stored in the back survived. Due to the storm, the Twenty One: Twenty Four is the only wine they’ve ever aged for four years, as they had to wait until they got back on their feet before bottling the 2010 vintage. This one’s not on the tasting menu, but they will let you try it if you ask. Twenty One: Twenty Four, comprised of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, offers aromas of pepper, pipe smoke, and walnuts. It is full-bodied with blackberry jam and plums on the palate.