Part of the evolution of Wolffer Estate Vineyards' wine labels
I don't remember when I first heard about long-time reader Jay Schneider's "Long Island wine shelf" but this post is long overdue. Stories like this should be told.
I know that he mentioned it early in our email exchanges, but originally I didn't think much of it. A lot of people collect wine labels. I guess you could say that I even do so -- though digitally.
So I didn't give it much though until I met him in person at an event I was co-hosting and he asked for a bottle of my Sonis Cellars 2006 Handcrank Red to add to his collection. That was when I realized how obsessed he was. In a good way of course.
There were only 6 cases of that wine made. Him wanting -- almost needing -- a bottle is what I'd call wanting to collect as many different Long Island labels as possible.
Jay, the managing partner of Schneider & Shulman Associates, a long-term care insurance marketing organization and his psychotherapist wife Randi split their time between their house in Sag Harbor and their apartment in Park Slope, and have been drinking Long Island wine almost from the beginning of the industry back in the 1970s.
Or as Jay puts it "Well before it reached the current level of quality and production."
In 1994, the couple was living in Brooklyn but their love of sailing led them to purchase a home in Sag Harbor. It was then that their obsession with local wines really hit.
"I remember a merlot tasting at Lenz (Winery) in 1994, where we were very impressed by some of the Long Island wines. At that time we also discovered our local winery, Wolffer Estate, which at that time was called Sag Pond. I loved the labels on their wine, and those were the first bottles I saved," Jay remembers.
He was already collecting labels from all the wines he was drinking, but having a new house to decorate in Sag Harbor inspired him to shift from labels to bottles, and as Jay puts it now "It just kept growing."
And growing and growing. The collection is now 60 bottles.
All of the big names are represented of course, but he has a lot of limited production stuff too -- stuff like Silverstone Winery (now in California), Up the Creek and of course Sonis Cellars. There are also some private for-restaurant bottlings, like Passion Fish & Free Range Chardonnay from Tom Schaudel.
His collection also peek into the region's history. "I have several bottles from wineries that are no longer active, such as Bridgehampton Winery and Mattituck Hills. I’m still trying to find a bottle from La Reve or Southampton wineries."As this picture at left shows, he has Broadfields, Hargrave and Gristina as well.
Sometimes he's kept more than one bottle from a winery, like Paumanok or Wolffer, because they've undergone major stylistic changes over the years, and he wanted the different variations represented.
Jay is always on the hunt for one bottle or another. "For a few years I was chasing Greg Sandor of Bridge Vineyards, and finally found his wine a few blocks from my home in Brooklyn."
Of all the stories Jay has shared, how he found himself with a bottle from a short-lived winery on the North Fork called Charles John Vineyards is my favorite:
"One of the hardest wines to find was Charles John vineyards. They were only in business for a short time, and when I finally made contact with the owner, he told me that he no longer had a license to sell wine, so he couldn’t help me out. Last year, I was having dinner at the Seafood Barge, and noticed a bottle of Sparkling Pointe on the table next to us. Since this was not on the wine list, I asked the waitress about it. She said that the people at the table had brought it with them, she thought they had something to do with the vineyard. As we were leaving, we recognized winemaker Gilles Martin, whom we had met at a wine tasting at the American Hotel. He was having dinner with Sparkling Pointe's owners Cynthia and Tom Rosicki, and they were drinking the Sparkling Pointe. I told them we had just enjoyed a bottle of their delicious wine, and that it was the newest addition to my wine shelf. Gilles asked me if I had any Charles John! I told him the story, and he volunteered that as he was the winemaker for them, he had a bottle, and he was going to be in Sag Harbor the next weekend. He very graciously stopped by our house and brought us the wine. It was fun watching him look through the bottles, saying 'I made this wine… and I made this wine…' I hadn’t realized how influential he’s been in the Long Island wine industry, and how many of his wines I had enjoyed over the years."
Jay's newest endeavor was started by Sherwood House Vineyards' co-owner Barbara Smithen, who signed the bottle that ended up on the shelf. "So now I’m working on getting them all signed. Last week we were at One Woman winery, where Claudia was in the tasting room, so she signed her bottle. I now have signed bottles from Frank Scarola (Scarola Vineayrds), Theresa Dilworth (Comtesse Therese), and a few others," Jay told me.
When I asked him what he plans to do with all of these bottles, if anything, his answer surprised me a little "I’d like to take the bottles out on the road, and do a photo essay of them, possibly for a calendar in the future." I love the calendar idea, especially if he can get some of the long-gone wineries and get them all signed.
So what else is in the future for this wine lover-turned-bottle collector? Seeking out bottles from all of the new producers popping up on the Island. "The development of custom crush places like Premium Wine Group and Sannino’s Bella Vita are encouraging more and more boutique wineries, so I know it’s going to be hard to keep up with the production, but I hope to have a lot of fun trying."