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Red Hook Winery Reopens in Brooklyn

The hurricane-damaged winery looks to the future, not the past

by Linda Jones McKee
red hook winery hurricane sandy
Waves crashed into Brooklyn's Red Hook Winery with enough force to topple barrels and winery equipment.
Brooklyn, N.Y.—After four months of intensive effort to clean up the mess Hurricane Sandy left at Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn, the winery’s tasting room is reopening for visitors today. “It’s not perfect, and we have a long road ahead of us,” Red Hook owner Mark Snyder told Wines & Vines. We have to move forward, not just look at the past.”

The storm hit New York on Oct. 29, 2012, but the staff at the winery knew three days before that Sandy was expected to bring heavy rain and winds to the region. “We started getting ready for the hurricane on the Saturday before,” tasting room manager Sandra Nicholas remembers. “We tried to lift everything off the ground and get it high enough to be above any water that came in. But with 4 feet of water in the tasting room, we probably lost 50 cases of wine.” Fortunately, most of the bottled wines for Red Hook were stored in a warehouse in New Jersey that did not get damaged by the hurricane.

Red Hook Winery is located in the middle of Pier 41 on Brooklyn’s waterfront. The tasting room faces the south side of the pier, and the winery faces the north side; both look directly out on the water. During the storm, the waves crashed into the winery from both sides with enough force to topple barrels and winery equipment. Some barrels broke open, spilling wine into the water; other barrels were submerged, and salt water seeped into the wine; grapes fermenting in puncheons were washed out into the water or onto the floor. Six large planters that had been outside on the pier were washed into the winery and dumped dirt into the mix.

Water ruined the electronic elements of Red Hook’s equipment so that even when the power was restored 12 days later, the newly fermenting wine from the 2012 vintage couldn’t be saved. According to Snyder, the winery lost three years’ worth of wine: the 2012 vintage plus wine from the previous two years that was stored in barrels.

red hook winery hurricane sandy
A mix of fermnting grapes, wine, salt water and dirt covered the floor of Red Hook Winery after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the facility Oct. 29.
Cleanup begins immediately
Tasting room manager Nicholas was especially appreciative of the help the winery received from the Red Hook Initiative, a group organized to help with the aftermath of the storm. “We had 20 to 40 volunteers here for the days when we were without power,” she noted. Since then, the tasting room has been scrubbed down multiple times, the walls have been replaced from the water line down with new Sheetrock, and everything has been treated to mitigate possible mold problems.

Starting today, much of the Red Hook neighborhood is reopening. Spearheaded by the local Fairway Market, most businesses will be open, even if not everything is in pristine condition. Nicholas said, “Our doors are still damaged, and some broken glass hasn’t been replaced, but we want people in New York to see the resilience of our neighborhood. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is coming, so is Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president—and even the current Miss America, Mallory Hagan, who comes from Brooklyn, will be here!”

Snyder told Wines & Vines that the winery space itself is about 45%-50% repaired, but he still needs to replace equipment. An even bigger problem is filling the gap in the Red Hook wine inventory. “We have to figure out what to do about the wines, and at the same time, how to be true to the concept of Red Hook Winery. But it’s time to move forward, and the tasting room will be open Friday, Saturday and Sundays—even on other days when we’re here.”

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