With tap beer from Southampton Publick House and bottles of Brooklyn Republic Vodka behind the bar, The Winemaker Studio tastes, sells and serves wine, cheese, beer and spirits that are made in the State of New York. Founded by Anthony and Sarah Evans Nappa, The Winemaker Studio in Peconic sits in a small building at 2885 Peconic Lane that once housed a speakeasy in 1905. Since July 2011, the couple has worked together with a few other local vintners, including Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate and Russell Hearn of Pellegrini Vineyards, to promote and sell the private label wines that they make. “We don’t question what they do or the quality of the wine,” says Nappa of the winemakers the co-op represents, “but if they come with a name or [private] label, they’ll be putting their best foot forward, so it’s usually pretty damn good. Some think the private labels are better than what the winemaker makes at his ‘job.’ ”
Dark haired, affable and unshaven on a late Sunday morning, Nappa elaborates on how winemakers should be encouraged to have their own brands while simultaneously vinifying at the wineries for which they work. “To allow a winemaker to have his own wine, it allows him to understand all aspects of the business,” says Nappa. A practice that benefits not only the wineries but also the clientele who visit. As the head winemaker at Shinn Estate from 2007 to 2011, Nappa has been making his own label wines since 2007. On this particular day, Nappa was offering a tasting of all six of his wines for eight dollars. When Roman Roth last hosted the other week, he conducted a vertical tasting and offered wines for sale to the public from his cellar library.
As the day’s winemaker-in-residence, Nappa works behind the bar and around the room, discussing the wines as he pours and listening to what people like. “We all pass the cork,” says Nappa, who is keen to recommend other wineries he thinks his customers might enjoy. And while the Studio features the wines of Nappa, Hearn, Roth and John Leo, it also offers selected other local wines that “we really think are interesting or different and we want people to taste. Or if we want to promote the winemaker or the winery.”
“We’re a part of an industry, not an individual business,” says Nappa. “And I’m very happy to promote it.” On a second rack along the wall sit three bottles by Channing Daughters: lagrein, blaufränkish and ramato, alongside bottles of Medolla and a 1999 sparkling cuvée, both made by Eric Fry of Lenz, who Nappa terms “every winemaker’s grandfather.” In the industry for over 30 years, Fry is the go-to man for most every other winemaker on the Fork, says Nappa. “He imparts knowledge by mistake,” he adds, laughing.
To complete its list of local beers and wines, the Studio also features a rotating selection of New York State cheeses, including Toussaint from Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, and Blackbert (Goat’s Mile Camembert) from R & G Cheesemakers in Cohoes, New York. With their current licensing, the Studio is able to offer tastings of the New York spirits they carry, all of which are made with local products, thereby promoting local agriculture.
As the wall clock strikes noon, Nappa jumps from the table to unlock the door for the few people who have gathered on the sidewalk. A group of three enter and sit, and a woman purchases a bottle and leaves. A small intimate space, with picture-frame windows and walls of pressed tin, The Winemaker Studio also supports local artists, such as Corey Solinger, whose paintings and prints hang on the walls for sale.
Gaining notoriety with the public, the Studio has also become an industry after-work hangout. And with the anticipated arrival of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, which recently purchased the old Ford dealership down the road, Nappa says, “All we need is a restaurant,” to complete the experience of Peconic Lane.
Already a destination, The Winemaker Studio stands to gain from some recent press. This month, Wine Enthusiast Magazine published “Long Island’s New Wine Wave,” by Anna Lee C.
Iijima. Among the six “Best” wines listed, three were made by winemakers from the Studio. Nappa’s 2011 Anomaly White Pinot Noir was selected as the Best Rosé, and another wine also made by Nappa when he was still at Shinn—Shinn Estate 2010 Haven Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon—was chosen as the Best White. Roman Roth’s the Grapes of Roth 2009 Noble Roth Late Harvest Riesling won the title for the Best Sweet Wine, and Channing Daughters Blaufränkish was selected for the Best Unusual Varietal.
During the early rush that Sunday afternoon, Sarah enters with a smile and the light of summer sun on her back. Once the sous-chef at North Fork Table & Inn, she now works for hire as a private chef, at times complementing Anthony’s wines with her pairings. Together, they’ve become an integral part of the food and wine scene on the East End. And while they each offer warm welcomes to the regulars and tourists who pass through the door, Sarah says that it’s really their two window-sitting rescue dogs—Beckett the five-year-old boxer and Smooch the one-and-a-half-year-old mutt—who draw the crowds and their affections.
Karen Ulrich lives in Harlem and is the director of information and communications at T. Edward Wines in New York City.