Mark Snyder, Red Hook Winery

Mark Snyder is owner of Angels' Share Wine Imports and the Red Hook Winery. He is interviewed by Grape Collective's Christopher Barnes.


Christopher Barnes: Mark, how many different wines do you make here.

Mark Snyder: We have 70 different wines and they very dramatically stylistically, there are some skin fermented white wines, there are red wines both from Abe Schoener and Bob Foley's protocol. Bob's wines tend to be more fruity and classic and classic in style. Abe's wines are definitely the antithesis of fruit driven flavor as they're more earth and metal and fir and different secondary and tertiary characteristics.

Same thing with the whites. Bob is purist in great sense of the word, in terms of what he likes from wines and Abe is trying to really push the envelope stylistically to see what different techniques even though they may be ancient can encompass a different wine style.

You make a lot of wines. How do you figure out how to keep the quality level high with that number of wines?  I interviewed Chester Osborn of d'Arenberg and he makes 50 wines. I'm like how do you do 50 wines and he's like, well with difficulty.

Yeah, I mean it's brand suicide to have set of different wines and how do we make sense of that? For starters, they're very small lots. There almost always a one barrel lot. Each barrel is about 24 cases of wine and so with ... blocks that we work with from a vineyard perspective, we're not yielding a lot of wine. Yeah, we can combine all of them and probably make 10 wines but that really is not keeping with what we're trying to do which is to further define the region and further define opportunity for quality and distinction.

What we do is just manage them as best we can. It is very difficult with a large group of wines. Chris and Darren and Ben are awesome at it, and Abe and Bob rotate in and out. They're constantly checking on the wines and directing where those wines should go in terms of their upbringing. We just do the best job we can in terms of shepherding those wines to the bottle. Yeah, I mean, we taste them constantly, we do blending trials. We do trials with the wines of different adjustments. Hopefully at the end of the day, they're wines that represent the region in a responsible fashion.

You only make wines with New York grown grapes in this region?

Yeah, absolutely. I believe we're the only winery that is 100% dedicated to grapes and wines only from New York. There are other wineries, other great urban wineries, very close friends with ours and it's a really awesome community. What we're trying to do is really focus 100% on the local region. I obviously have the opportunity to work with wine from all over the world with Angels' Share Wine Imports.

For me it's not really interesting to have a winery in Brooklyn and deal with California grapes or grapes from another region because I have the opportunity to work with those. For me, it's a challenge to work 100% locally with grapes but it really is the foundation of our principles.

Tell us a little bit about New York and the different regions you have here. You have basically you have the Finger Lakes, you have Long Island, and you have the Hudson Valley. How are they different and what sort of grapes are working well in different regions?

Our goal is to work with all three major wine growing regions in New York, you've got Long Island, Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes. When we started, we only worked with Long Island, this is where I had the relationships, this is where we had connections where we could start working with vineyards. That has now blossomed into a developing relationship with the Finger Lakes.

We're working with several Finger Lakes vineyards and it's a growing opportunity for us and Hudson Valley we worked with a little bit but this year we're hoping to really expand that relationship. They all three very different regions, they have different varietals in those regions that are successful. Long Island is fairly classic. Bordeaux varietals, Cab, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, some Malbec and then White varietals, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, to a lesser extent and then there are some odds and ins. Pinot blanc and Gewurztraminer, and some interesting things.

The most successful remains to be seen. I think in any of these regions because we are very young region, the North Fork, a 30 year old region. It's not like Burgundy that has hundreds and hundreds of years of experience with a little down grape variety. We'll see, that remains to be seen. I think we're doing well with Chardonnay and the Bordeaux varietals.

The Finger Lakes, there are some real exciting opportunities there. Obviously, Riesling does quite well. We worked with several Riesling vineyards now. We're worked with Blau Frankisch this past year, Merlot, Cab Franc and it's a really, really exciting. There's a lot of interesting varietals up there. Some even non-varietals. We'll see what can develop from that region. Hudson, we have less experience. We worked with a little bit of Tocai Friulano or Friulano as they call it now.

I know that there's some interesting Pinot Noir vineyards and Cab Franc vineyards so we'd like to really develop that relationship more and see if we can work more closely with them this year.

Fantastic. I saw an interview with Neal Rosenthal once, he said something along the lines of he lives in the Hudson Valley, he loves the Hudson Valley, but the Hudson Valley is for growing apples and Burgundy is for growing grapes and making wine. You clearly have the ... an opposite point of view to that. Maybe you can talk a little bit about why you embrace New York wines?

I could see that argument if you snapshot today. Mention to Neal that 100 years ago, they said that about Napa Valley in terms of growing Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a young region, it's a bustling industry, there's certainly opportunities. You have to look at what is successful from a wine growing perspective and a wine making perspective.

I think we're just really scratching the surface of the potential of New York as a region. I think it's a diverse region. It's not going to be anything like Burgundy or Bordeaux or Napa Valley. It's going to be its own thing. We have to figure out what that is, that's why Red Hook Winery is here ... try and help figure that out. I think when the region first began, they wanted it to be Napa Valley or they wanted it to be Bordeaux.

Neal is right in that, it can't be Bordeaux or Napa Valley. What we can do is be New York, we have to figure out what that means from a growing perspective and then obviously to flesh out the opportunity for wine making in stylistic choices.

How did you ended up creating a winery in Red Hook Brooklyn?

Well, I guess we are the first of what's now the trendy urban wineries. When I started Angels' Share on 2004, wine makers would come to Brooklyn, stay at my old office right up the street, and would work the market. Abe Schoener who's a close friend and I was his first distributor, really fell in love with the neighborhood and wanted to have an excuse to spend more time here.

We joked about opening up a winery in 2008, and put those kind of funny thoughts to fruition by starting the winery, Red Hook Winery. We actually rented a different space on the corner of Dwight and Vandyke two blocks up the road, and we outgrew that space pretty quickly, we moved here in 2012 to the Pier.

Mark, how did you get into the wine business?

Formerly I was in the music business and I work with a bunch of rock & roll people traveling around the world as a technician. I was always a fan of wine, I read a lot on the road about wines and my parents were into wines. I would visit all the wine growing regions of the world, and became friends with a lot of the growers and wine makers. Frankly I was sick after 15, 20 years, I was sick of being on the road for 11 and a half months out of the year on tour buses and airplanes, not knowing what to do.

I wanted to start something that I really enjoy, I decided in 2001, to start Angels' Share which was going to be a wine import, and distribution business. 9/11 came along, and my paper work was in the tower, there was actually an ATF office, which is now the TTB and I have to rethink and re-track more back to the music business and even after thinking about it. I did decide that I did want to do the wine program.

I continued the paperwork and it all came through in 2004. This would be my 10th anniversary.

Tell us a little bit about Angels' Share. I mean it's 200 wines, I mean that's a lot of wine to be representing.

Yeah, I mean it's really, it's growing very slowly and organically.  I didn't set out to be a big distributor and my biggest challenge today is to not become a big distributor. The easiest thing at this point would be growth, which is why I like to do projects like Red Hook winery and open up another states. We really focus solely on small production, handcrafted wines. A lot of people talked about boutique wines and such, but really that's our main focus.

We like to build brands from the ground up, and really believe in more long term relationships, with accounts and with producers.

How do you find somebody new to represent?

Well I mean at this point they really come to us, we have a core group of brands that we started with, and we've been able to grow that very slowly. Producers tend to come to us, whether it's word of mouth or new brand comes out, and they ask accounts in New York, who they like working with, and luckily a lot of them say Angels' Share. Again because of the small brand, small boutique producers that we work with where they can really get to represent those wines on the retail side, with some distinction.

Tell us a little bit about Sandy. It seems you started here in 2008, you practically just getting your sea legs by the time that storm hit. I mean how did that impact your business?

Well Sandy sucked, and it sucked for a lot of people not just in this neighborhood but all along the Eastern seaboard. It was and continues to be a major challenge. We had devastating damage about $2,000,000 worth and it's combination of infrastructure, wine, equipment, you name it. It's been a challenging rebuilding process, but rather than just looking our wound, we really have to move past  it, and figure out a way to recover.

We've done that, we've really worked hard at figuring out a solution not only for today, but a little bit long term cover our ass in the future so that the wine doesn't get destroyed and hope that another storm doesn't come this way.

How long did it take you to recover from Sandy?

Well, I'd say at this point we still are recovering but it was a good year to become operational. It was October 29th, we put in our last grapes of the 2012 harvest on October 27th. Then the storm came and destroyed everything on the 29th, and it really we would just in time for this past 2013 Harvest to get things operational and back in operating condition. It continues but I would say we're about 80% back to operational level.

You started out in the rock & roll business. How did you end up going from hanging out with rockstars to becoming a wine maker and a wine distributor.

Well you drink a lot of wine in the rock & roll business. There is a close correlation between the art or craft of music, and the art or craft of wine. It really is closely related a lot of the rock & roll people are fans of wine, and I was a fan of wine and it really was easy to kind of side step to get into the wines business.

Which rockstars are wine aficionados or wine geeks?

Well it's well known that the stones have always been into wine, and pretty much everyone that I ever worked with, has been a fan of wine, in rock & roll business.

You think of these rockstars doing other things other than wine, but I guess as they get older, they get a little bit more sophisticated with their taste.

Yeah, you'd be surprised, I mean wine is a big part of, I mean it's really is an art and musician are artistic people, I think they appreciate it, it's a good correlation.

How many wines are you making?

Well we have a very broad selection of wines. Currently we have 70 wines that are in bottle, and we have another I would say 40 that will be bottled very shortly. Christopher Nicholson who is around here, is a director of all of the wine making. We have two consulting wine makers, Abe Schoener and Bob Foley. The way we decide to work with vineyards is to visit them, visit the grower, determine how closely we can work together and get on the same page in terms of farming and harvest, and all that.

When the grapes come in, they're divided between the wine makers. Each wine maker gets to kind of put his signature on the wine stylistically, the wine would be very different from Abe and Bob and Chris. However that similarity between those three wines, we are hoping to define as the terroir in the region, or the vineyard. We vinify we farm, and vinify everything separately.

For example we work with one vineyard that has three clones of Chardonnay. Historically, this is James Ford Vineyard. They would just combine all those clones, and make one wine, maybe even take other vineyards and combine. However we take the individual clones, harvest them separately, vinify them separately, and each wine maker gets half of those grapes. You wind up with eight or nine expressions of one piece of land. What we're trying to do is differentiate what the qualities are of these vineyards, of these great clones of the different growers and hopefully come up with a program that is really defining the region a little bit better.