Sometimes it’s refreshing to be reminded that wine is—besides farming, art, geography, history, food or a passion project—a commodity. There could be great wine in the world, but if no one buys it, well, why bother? And it’s a commodity in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
The Long Island Wine Council has nearly 50 member wineries, and all of these members’ wines have to compete with similarly priced wines from the West Coast—and the rest of the world—that may have a more familiar label with a recognizable name, such as Napa Valley, or a cute critter, like the hopping kangaroo on a bottle of Yellow Tail that started the trend. For some, Santa Margherita and pinot grigio are synonymous. Or Domaines Ott means rosé.
Here’s where branding becomes important. And where winemaker Anthony Nappa, who runs the Winemaker Studio in Peconic, sees an opening. First off, his last name has proved a curse and a blessing. It’s recognizable but confusing. He worried about getting sued if he used it. People ask, he says, if his wine is from California.
This could be one reason he has chosen to name each of his wines with one simple if nuanced word, one he feels expresses not only the grape and the resulting wine but the process of making it. “That kind of simplicity helps sell any wine,” he says. “And people really seem to get it.”
So far, this has been a resounding success with his rosé made from pinot noir, Anomaly, a wine that arrived through the back door yet bearing a great gift. The story starts in 2007, a fantastic growing season, when Nappa made his only bottling of pinot noir, which he called Nemesis. The name reflects the grape’s notoriety as a fickle crop. It’s thin-skinned and the tight clusters, which trap moisture, make the grapes susceptible to disease. The wine, he says, was fantastic. “I’m a big pinot fan, a pinotphile,” he says, adding that pinot noir was a focus in New Zealand, where he studied winemaking. “It’s so transparent and delicate and yet has got that strength and complexity. I think you learn about the place and climate when you make pinot.”
As a winemaker without a vineyard or winery of his own (he makes all his wines at Premium Wine Group in Mattituck), Nappa can only make wine from grapes growers wish to sell. So he got a little bit of pinot noir in 2007 and readily signed up to buy again from the same grower in 2008. That growing season, however, was not, shall we say, as good as 2007, and Nappa was contractually in possession of a lot of pinot noir that was not as ripe and robust as the prior year. So when life gives you pale pinot noir, make rosé.
“I’ve had white pinot before,” he says. “It’s light in color so it lends itself to being a white wine that’s delicate and nuanced.” Except all the ones he tried had been oaked. “That’s counterintuitive to me,” he says. “Without the skins, it’s too delicate. You have to let the pinot shine on its own.”
In 2008 Nappa bottled 160 cases of Anomaly, which he sold in the Shinn Estate Vineyard tasting room, where he was the winemaker at the time, and by wholesale. The name, selected by his wife, Sarah, reflected what might have been considered a one-off wine and that no one else was making a rosé from 100 percent pinot noir. Released in late winter, it sold out by August. He knew he was onto something.
The wine, with its stark white label centrally punctuated by only the name in red informal handwriting, was being purchased and ferried out of the tasting room by the case. People knew to ask for it by name. It was light, refreshing and tart, perfect on a summer day, by the pool, on the beach, with a clambake or freshly caught fish. It was a pretty salmon color.
The next two years Nappa started sourcing grapes from other vineyards and began to look upstate for more fruit. While he prefers the character of North Fork pinot, there is very little for sale, and he wanted to keep Anomaly 100 percent pinot noir. In 2010, he made 600 cases of the wine and it, too, sold out by August. In 2011, he made a leap and doubled production using grapes from throughout New York State, where he has been communicating with growers so he can get consistency from year to year. At the same time, he can take advantage of the regions’ varying vintages to make more unique wines. “All the years are so different out here,” he says. “We can get interesting fruit.”
The wine has been on sale at the Winemaker Studio for $19 since February and it’s moving briskly. “Anomaly is taking on a life of its own,” says Nappa. “It’s the driving force. It pays our bills. And there are a lot of reasons for it. It’s a great wine. Very fruit forward and acidic, full bodied and structured.” And he sees a big future: “It’s definitely straightforward; people understand the marketing. People who love red wine love it. People who love white wine love it.” Which means that, despite the name, odds are you’re going to like it.