What do you do when a 5-foot wall of water comes crashing through the front door of your winery, carrying several barrel-sized concrete planters along with it?
It's not a question that most wineries need to ponder. But that's exactly what happened to Red Hook Winery on the night that Hurricane Sandy backhanded the tristate area.
The winery is located in the isolated Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, which sits on low ground abutting New York Harbor. It had recently moved to a waterfront warehouse on Pier 41, overlooking Lady Liberty, and was directly in the line of fire when Sandy sent a surge of saltwater up underneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and through the harbor, flooding Red Hook, Lower Manhattan and the East Village.
Last week I touched on "balance" as a word that's become increasingly polemical, particularly in California, where the growing movement toward lower-alcohol wines has been branded as a movement toward balance.
The problem is, this movement has largely been defined by what restraint (a word that's become synonymous with balance in this case) looks like in Pinot Noir, not grapes like Zinfandel or Grenache. Enter Mosel Riesling. If Zinfandel's stigma is its natural ability to accumulate higher alcohol, Mosel Riesling's is its sugar levels. In post-white Zinfandel America, the word "sweet" has been vilified, to a degree (lest we forget that Moscato is having a moment), as a word synonymous with cheap, low-quality wine.
Balance in wine, as most of us describe it, is the harmony of fruit, acid, tannins and alcohol, such that no one component is all elbow, so to speak. Sounds agreeable, but the word balance—and what it implies in the modern wine world—has become a more complex and symbolic topic than that description suggests. And generalizing what balance means in wine, whether via degrees alcohol or grams of residual sugar, has become risky business.
The word balance in California, for example, has come to symbolize a movement toward restraint and lower alcohol levels, particularly in Pinot Noir. Rajat Parr, one of the wine world's most respected sommeliers and the beverage director at the Michael Mina Group, has earned three Wine Spectator Grand Awards for his wine lists. He has also become infamous for refusing to sell Pinot Noir that clocks in over 14 percent alcohol at RN74 in San Francisco and has started an organization called In Pursuit of Balance, along with Jasmine Hirsch, of Hirsch Winery in Sonoma. It's composed of producers making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay who are advocates for balance, which they believe is achieved at lower alcohol levels (though the percentage is not precisely defined).
If you ask a collector, a wine writer or a sommelier how they got into wine, the immediate inclination is to fish out an epiphany. It often begins with a bottle of very expensive wine that someone slipped into their glass at a restaurant or a dinner party, or that time a bottle of Chave Hermitage made them see unicorns and hear Bach. Taste is certainly powerful enough to fuel a love of wine. But the choice to collect it or choose a career in it is about much more than that.
I myself never saw unicorns. I grew up around wine, but not great wine by any stretch. My parents drank it every day, and we had a wine cellar, but they never did like the concept of expensive wine, let alone expensive wine they couldn't drink for a decade or more.