One of the most wonderful aspects of solo travel is discovering something you didn’t know existed in a place. When I think of fine American wines I think of the West Coast with the many vineyards located in the Napa-Sonoma Valley and in the Pacific Northwest, the Washington state region. I have been to both areas and have enjoyed my numerous visits to their vineyards and beautiful tasting rooms.
On my Miami to Maine solo driving adventure this spring, I spent a week in the Hamptons. I allotted enough time there to explore the best of what the area had to offer. One of the biggest surprises was the proliferation of viniculture on Long Island. I discovered there is a North Fork and South Fork Wine trail with over 65 vineyards to visit. On recommendation from my bed and breakfast host, I had a “wine lunch” at the East End Wölffer Estate Vineyard on my way to Sag Harbor. It was a lunch to remember and here’s my recount of this highly pleasurable solo experience.
Easy to find, Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack is open seven days a week for wine tasting, wine tours and wine purchasing. The beauty of this 300-acre farm is instantly apparent as you drive up to the main building, which houses the tasting room, the winemaking facility, and the wonderful souvenir shop. Wölffer Estate Vineyard was founded in 1988 by the deceased Hampton’s icon, Christian Wölffer, as a personal farm of just 14 acres and a modest farmhouse. Mr. scraped together enough money to amass the down payment needed to purchase the property, a potato farm, for $170,000. Through the years he bought more farmland and began growing vegetables, fruits, planted an orchard and built a stable. Mr. Wölffer then purchased 55 more acres that would be dedicated to growing grapes for wine making. Today the Wölffer Estate Vineyard and Stables have grown into an internationally famous boutique winery based in the country’s most expensive zip code with a world-class equestrian center, which is the home of the Hampton Classic Horse Show, one of East End’s yearly social calendar highlight events.
As you enter the main building, on the right you see the massive winemaking facility with the state of the art equipment. Roman Roth, chief winemaker for Wölffer wines, states that one of the winery’s goals is to make great wine by using traditional winemaking techniques coupled with modern innovation. Creating wines that are food-friendly, elegant and that have longevity are his primary focus. A food- friendly wine, I learned, is one that has a relatively low alcohol content which allows you to drink more while eating and not get intoxicated, much like the quality of many Austrian and Hungarian wines I have enjoyed on my European travels. Private tours of the winery can be scheduled.
The focal point of the wine tasting/party room is the beautiful old wood tasting counter. Here you can order a sample tasting of four wines, red or white, for $15 to $20. The standards such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or the highly popular rosé may be selected. Lesser-known varietals such as Trebbiano, Vignole, Cabernet Franc as well as Wölffer’s specialty dry white or rosé ciders made from New York state apples can also be sampled. Cheese and charcuterie plates are also available to pair with your tasting selections. Likewise, light lunch food options can be ordered with full glasses of wine. I chose the charcuterie plate and two group samplings, one white and one red, and it was delicious!
From the winery’s gift shop or its website, you can purchase all of Wölffer Estate’s wine offerings. Prices range from $17 to $32 for their white wines and $20 to $40 for their reds and $35 to $40 for their sparkling wines. One of the most popular white selections is Perle Chardonnay, named after one of Christian Wölffer’s favorite horses. Perle Chardonnay has won the distinction of being served at the White House. A popular red is Coeur Cheval Petit Verdot, a strong, dark red wine. A little trivia: coeur cheval means horse heart. Of recent note, wine critic Robert Parker awarded two of Wölffer Estates white wines, Diosa Late Harvest 2012 and Descencia Botrytis Chardonnay 2012 a 94-point rating, the highest rating of any wines ever produced on Long Island.
After Christian Wölffer’s sudden death in 2009, two of his children, Joey and Marc, assumed the management of the winery and equestrian complex and are now taking this enterprise to the next level. Joey is a budding fashion icon known for her Styleliner popup store that she transports in a hippie van. She believes strongly in promoting the bohemian, casual chic trend taking hold in the Hamptons. She advocates a creative cool lifestyle stressing the importance of “good food, good wine, good music and boho fashion,” which includes consuming two of Wölffer’s most popular libations, Summer in a Bottle Rosé and 139 white or rosé cider. When visiting Wölffer, I noticed the emphasis on their rosé wine and remembered that my daughter Cosima had been ordering rosé with her meals over the last year. Several times, I wondered why she was choosing such a marginal wine with her meals. Well, I was enlightened at Wölffer to the fact that rosé is what the “modern, young, sophisticated” woman drinks. Roman Roth has said it is the gateway wine for many Americans. Joey Wölffer helped promote the Wölffer special summer rosé to be the lifestyle symbol of the Hamptons, which is now affectionately known as the “Hamptons Gatorade!”
Quickly becoming the Hamptons fall drink is Wölffer’s 139 white or rosé cider named after the vineyards address, 139 Sagg Road. I first experienced hard, alcoholic cider when I visited a friend in France. It was served with a beautiful French meal, which by the evening’s end I was surprised it left me a little inebriated. Wölffer Estates produces two types, dry white and dry rosé that is made from a blended apple juice sourced from a variety of apple types grown at the Halsey Farm in nearby Bridgehampton. Roman Roth creates the signature blend from apples such as Braeburn, Cameo, Pink Lady, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. Both ciders have a low alcohol content and go great with holiday meals, cheese plates, hors d’oeuvres, grilled dishes, and desserts, or can be served without food as an aperitif. “Dangerously delicious,” is how the blog Wine at the Finish Line describes Wölffer’s cider. A growing trend is to substitute a good cider for beer.
The video above shows the magic of the vineyard, a combination of old traditions with a modern bohemian twist. My take on my wine lunch and Wölffer’s was that it was quintessentially Hamptons, embracing its casual, elegant, authentic style through the enjoyment of good food and good wine, the foundation of the modern American lifestyle.