Even though Joey Wolffer had the most picturesque Hamptons childhood, cantering through rolling Sagaponack meadows and lounging on white sandy beaches, she was not entirely convinced that the family business was in her destiny.
Until recently. But when she was just about ready to sell off her portion of Wölffer Estate to her brother, her mother and husband sat her down and asked her to really consider the decision.
“I really thought about it,” said Ms. Wolffer, “and I realized I was fearful of losing that part of our identity and legacy. I am a first generation American and I don’t want to give up this chance to pass this down to my children.”
So she decided to join with her brother Marc, sixteen years her senior, to take over the family business. Since then, she hasn’t looked back. And Wölffer has never been the same.
You might notice, when cracking open a flowery pink Summer in a Bottle or finding your seat on the breezy patio of Wölffer Kitchen in Sag Harbor, that this is not the dark, rich oak of Wölffer past. And now, with the new renovation of the Tasting Room and a second Wölffer Kitchen opening in Amagansett, the young and fresh identity of Wolffer 2.0 is sealed.
“Once we decided we were going to take over, we knew the brand was moving in a different direction,” said Ms. Wolffer. “We knew it was more modern, younger.”
The changes, however, always keep a piece of the past. While the second generation Wolffers are always looking to innovate, and they invite the influence of contemporaries, there’s also a brand with a spine.
“It’s been very important to me and my sister that we maintain the business as a family run business,” said Marc Wolffer. “We want our customers to be as proud of our wines as we are and that has been a focus since our father began the winery almost 30 years ago.”
“Obviously, the legacy of my father is always there,” added Ms. Wolffer. “And Roman Roth really keeps the brand. He worked under my dad for a long time.”
Mr. Roth is the winemaker at Wölffer, and with his unfaltering focus, the other aspects of the brand are able to grow and change knowing there’s an anchor.
“Our goal has always been to make world-class, food-friendly, low-alcohol wines,” said Mr. Roth. “Our unique combination of Bridgehampton loam soil and ocean breezes from the Atlantic provide Bordeaux-like conditions, perfect to achieve the balance of ripeness and acidity.”
Mr. Roth acknowledges that the lighter, brighter, younger side of Wölffer has grown, as is evidenced through the popularity of the roses and ciders.
“But it’s important to always drive home the message that we make extremely high-quality, award winning wines,” he said, “some of which are built for longevity.”
The products, first and foremost the wine, are at the top of the brand. But Ms. Wolffer thinks that the more new spaces open up, and the more they have a consistent thread that identifies them, the stronger the brand will become. From the restaurants to her Sag Harbor shop to the tasting room to the stables, Wölffer is seeping into every aspect of Hamptons living.
“We are truly becoming a lifestyle brand,” she said.
The new Amagansett restaurant, in the old Meeting House space in Amagansett Square, felt like an opportunity the Wolffers couldn’t pass up. After the success of Wölffer Kitchen in Sag Harbor, they had decided if the perfect opportunity arose, they would take it.
“We have this hospitality guru,” said Ms. Wolffer, “and I said to him I would only do it in the perfect spot, and then Meeting House came up and I was like, ‘Goddammit, this is the perfect spot.’”
Ms. Wolffer thinks of the Amagansett restaurant as having more of an LA vibe. She describes the décor as having a little South American influence with a preppy kick. Brian Cheewing, executive chef at Wölffer Kitchen in Sag Harbor, has designed a fresh menu for the Amagansett location.
“Building a menu based on pairings with Wölffer wine, the seasonal local fish and harvests of East End farms is a dream,” he said. “I keep the food simple, clean and bright. I prefer not to complicate things and instead let the high quality ingredients speak for themselves.”
Dishes like ahi tuna tacos with grilled pineapple and avocado or whole black bass with watercress, citrus, and olive oil exemplify the freshness that Cheewing sought. A whole section of the menu devoted to veggies and legumes, with creative offerings like zucchini noodles with lemon and mint or cauliflower rice with coconut oil, orange and thyme all show how creative Cheewing can get with the simplest ingredients.
Joey Wolffer is in her 30s now, and she has kids of her own. It’s not that she doesn’t think about her father; it’s just that he’s so deeply ingrained in what they are that she doesn’t need to think about him consciously.
“Without my father’s vision we wouldn’t be here,” said Ms. Wolffer. “But would Dad be pleased? I don’t think about it. It’s mine now. It’s my children’s. It’s my brother’s children’s. We’ve been here for 30 years and we have protected 175 acres of agricultural land. My dad is always there, and that’s important. But I don’t wonder what Dad would do. He was about the bottom line, and where we were going, and he would be very pleased.”