Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Channeling the Destruction Wrought by Super Storm Sandy on the Red Hook Winery

The Red Hook Brooklyn waterfront is one of the few extensive vestiges of
original 19th century architecture remaining in New York. The above
undated map illustrates the configuration of the waterfront that has changed
little since the Post-Civil War era when Brooklyn, unto itself, was a thriving
commercial and industrial metropolis. The buildings seen below, called
"stores" served as warehouses for goods shipped to the East Coast along the
Erie Canal. From there, they were transported to American and European
markets. Frozen solid, the Erie Canal was not operative in the winter.
Canalers and their families wintered in Red Hook as seen below.

Although I have spent a lot of time in Brooklyn, mostly Brooklyn Heights,
the rest of Brooklyn has been a mystery. It was not until our son, Abe,
a Napa valley wine maker, began to work with his distributor, Mark Snyder
 of Angels Share Wines, that Mary, my wife, and I began to explore Red
Hook. We had dinner at The Good Fork and loved the food.

Mark Snyder,  an excellent distributor,  had a pervasive dream - to create a
 "serious winery" in his native Brooklyn. Abe became a sweat equity partner.
Mark raised the money and created the first Red Hook Winery on the corner
of Dwight and Van Dyke. (See first below.) Not a very inspiring location.
Mark wanted to be in one of the CivilWar era stores. (See second below.)

Mary and I went to the Dwight Street winery for Thanksgiving dinner,
served on the sidewalk.  See first below. Second below: Abe, Mark and

Above: Mark at the stove. On occasion," starred "New York chefs would
appear as cooks, often working with Mark and his girlfriend Sandra.
    One year later, we dropped in on another party planned by Mark and
    Sandra; we were invited to stay.

Incredible vibes! Great food! Great wine! Wonderful company!

Never satisfied with Dwight Street, Mark moved the winery to Pier 41,
Door 325, in one of the authentic  Civil War era stores facing the open
ocean. I was there just before they opened to the public in April 2012.

Above: French oak casks containing two years' vintages of grapes from the
 north shore of Long Island and Seneca Lake in Upstate New York.

What had Mark, Sandra, Abe and the rest of their crew created in The Red
Hook Winery? It was an extraordinary jewel that contributed to the on-
going expansion of the Brooklyn food scene, as well as establishing a new
standard for excellence within New York City's food and wine firmament.
They had released relatively small amounts which were accorded modest praise.
Their serious participation in the New York wine market lay ahead.

It's a twenty-minute trip on the New York Water Taxi from the South Street
Seaport to the pier in Red Hook. One would be transported from the frenetic
pace of Manhattan to another world in Red Hook where quality of life and
of course, quality of wine,  reigned supreme.

It is the nature of great cities to constantly invigorate old neighborhoods and
reconfigure them. In Paris, Le Marais, an extensive area of 18th century hȏtels
(mansions), the Jewish Ghetto and recently the Musée Picasso, is now a lively
and fashionable offbeat neighborhood. In Rome, Testaccio, a mountainous
dump of amphora dating back to the Roman Empire, has recently become a
hub of artistic activity. In London, Canary Wharf, once the locus of Indian-
British trade, was transformed into a vast complex of office towers and
commercial spaces. Incidentally, there is an active vineyard in the Montmartre
section of Paris.

However, Red Hook is not about nostalgia only. There is a huge Ikea store,
a cruise line terminal, a container port, and a gigantic Fairway food market
occupying the ground floor of one of the stores.

Several weeks ago, I heard Chris Anderson, the geek god retiring editor of
WIRED magazine, speaking on technological innovations. He just bought a
 3d printer for his kids because it represents the next wave in consumer
electronics. How or why this remark slipped into his presentation, I don't
know? He said with clear admiration, "And then there is artisanal Brooklyn."

I, too, admire the spirit and fruits of Brooklyn's artisanal restaurants,
bakeries, salumerias, along with The Red Hook Winery. To me, they
represent alternatives to our global consumer culture which seeks to
homogonize every commodity so that it no longer has any personality,
individuality or taste, which incidentally is what Robert Parker has inflicted
on the global wine market. As a nascent counterpoint,  The Red Hook winery
qualifies as an authentic Brooklyn artisanal phenomenon.

On the evening of Monday, October 22, Super Storm Sandy unleashed its
full wrath leaving a path of destruction along the Atlantic Coast from the
Carolinas to Maine.  The Red Hook Winery, among thousands of other
businesses and residences had the misfortune to lie in Sandy's path; it was
demolished. In Manhattan, Chelsea art galleries experienced destruction of
exhibition spaces, storage facilities and art. Sections of Battery Park City were
flooded. Neighborhoods in Far Rockaways and Staten Island were wiped out.
The full extent of the storm's damage is yet-to-be assessed. Losses at The Red
Hook Winery are estimated to be in the neighborhood of one million dollars.
No flood plain insurance was available. No FEEMA.

While others have seen their worlds shattered,  it is necessary for me to grieve
for The Red Hook Winery on that and other grounds. The intent was to
transform wine making in New York state. Having possibly lost two years'
vintages,  there are no bandaids available, The devastation at The Red Hook
Winery is not just the loss of inventory, or damage to equipment. It is a dream
shattered by an accident of nature. In LA, I weep.

Can and will there be a recovery? I hope so!

Below is a message that Abe sent to his Scholium Project customers.

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