City Tech Students Create Wine Blends at Red Hook Winery

On October 26, a group of Hospitality Management students enrolled in the “Wines of the New World” course boarded a bus to an urban winery in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. The trip was supported by a grant from the Julia Child Foundation, and the students were going to learn how to blend wines that could ultimately be served at the white linen-covered tables of the College’s Janet Lefler Dining Room—the Hospitality Management Department’s learning laboratory for students studying for their associate or baccalaureate degree. The Wines of the New World course is team-taught by Professor Roger Dagorn, MS, who is one of only 230 Master Sommeliers in the world, and by the perennially popular Professor Karen Goodlad, a Certified Specialist of Wine.CT_RedHkwinery_7

Professor Goodlad engaged the class in a discussion on the bus ride to Red Hook: “What do you want to create today?” she asked, referring to the white and red blends the class was challenged to tackle. One student questioned the limit of three base wines: “How can our wines be that much different when we are all using the same three wines for our blends?” Professor Goodlad and Professor Dagorn exchanged a knowing glance, “You’ll be mixing different percentages of the wines and experimenting with different measurements—down to the milliliter. We’ll see what happens once you get started today,” said Goodlad.

To make their task just a bit more challenging, the six teams of two students each were charged with matching their wine blends with a dish that would be served in the Janet Lefler Dining Room. The type of meat or fish, the seasonings, and the sauces all had to be taken into consideration so that the wine complements the food served. Once they carefully mixed a blend to put forward, each team presented it to Red Hook Winery’s resident winemaker, Christopher Nicholson, who walked them through a blind tasting of the wines they created. Red Hook Winery then produces just a few cases of the selected student wine blends for the Janet Lefler Dining Room. This opportunity is a truly unique learning experience for both the students creating the wine and those serving it.

Red Hook Winery is located on historic Pier 41 in the Liberty Warehouse, a waterfront location with views of the Statue of Liberty. Upon entering the winery, the large tasting room is flooded with light from massive windows overlooking the harbor. Individual barrels are set-up as work stations for the students. But Red Hook Winery isn’t just a tasting room. Behind the scenes it is also a working winery with wood barrels, a temperature-controlled storage and aging room, bottling machines and forklifts. The smell of fermenting grapes permeates the air.

Photo Credit: A. Vargas

Photo Credit: A. Vargas

Red Hook Winery began in concept in July 2008 and began crushing grapes one month later. Owner Mark Snyder, a Brooklyn native, convinced two Napa cult wine maker friends Abe Schoener and Robert Foley to get on board. Their goal was to work with a liked region and make it loved. With as many as 15 different New York vineyards, as many as 26 wines per vintage right here in Brooklyn, they are still a small, hand-crafted operation. Splitting each lot of grapes in half for each wine maker to experiment, they continue—as they say—“to discover what New York means in liquid form, letting the juice tell the story.”

Nicholson started the students off with a few points about creating a blend. “The most important thing is taste,” says Nicholson, before continuing to talk about the particular characteristics of wine. “This is a good practical exercise for the students. It’s based on sensation and I really want them to know that.”

One student team created a blend to complement a steak dish that is served with a spicy chimichurri sauce. The students explained that the wine should be a full-bodied and aromatic red with a good dose of tannin to stand up against the flavors of the steak and garlicky sauce. Another team struggled with creating a blend of wine that will complement a salmon dish served with a béarnaise sauce. They explained that the fattiness of the salmon and the sauce must be balanced and described each wine that goes into their blend and, more importantly, the exact milliliter measurement: “This Riesling has a scent that says ‘funky fun’,” says one student. His teammate adds that they use a smaller portion of the Riesling in the blend because “this particular Riesling is like disco—fun, but not for everyone.”

Professors Goodlad and Dagorn stopped at each table to ask the team questions and smell and taste the blends. The students know that they should hold the wine glass by the stem so as to not warm the wine with heat from their hand, which might alter the flavor. They also know the particular jargon, describing how French oak can give a subtle vanilla flavor and aroma to wine as opposed to American oak, which can impart a more distinct coconut or nutty aroma.

“This project makes thinking more visible to our students. They need to turn the theoretical information they learned into practice and this helps them get over a lot of hurdles of understanding how wine making works,” said Goodlad. “In addition to the wine specific knowledge they are developing, there is a lot of general education competencies that they must develop—teamwork, communication, synthesis, it is all here and available to our students. I hope it is a moment in their education they will remember for a long time to come and benefit from what they have experienced.”

Students Lynce Milien and Ameera Mcganey’s wine, which they named “Dark Aroma,” was selected as the red wine blend to be served in the Janet Lefler Dining Room. Each student team was required to write a “shelf talker,” which is the industry term for a detailed description of wine.

Shelf Talker: Dark Aroma is a red blend with 40% Merlot 30% Cabernet 30% Petit Verdot. Deep dark ruby with a light purple rim. A medium body red with intense fruitiness, very floral on the nose. Has tannin, which gives it structure, and has high acidity for delicacy. Shows blackberries and black cherry flavors. This wine is deep with complexity and elegance with a distinct mineral character. Great pairing with a steak, veal and food that has richness or spicy notes.

“The wine blending session at Red Hook Winery was one of the best hands-on experiences that we have had in this industry. We were able to blend the wines using wine blending techniques of actual wine makers. Using a syringe with a 10 ml count in order to properly measure and help to develop percentages at a lower scale, we tried about five samples and decided to pick one that featured Petit Verdot as our main grape,” said Milien and McGaney. “Yet we were challenged by Professor Goodlad to get out of our comfort zone and put Merlot in the forefront. She wanted us to bring forth the floral and big fruit notes that our original choice seemed to be missing. We had doubts about Merlot as our main grape but putting aside our doubts helped us achieve a better product.”

Students Victoria Mustacchio and Veronica Kirschner’s wine, which they named “V&V,” was selected as the white wine blend to be served in the Janet Lefler Dining Room. V&V White Wine blends consists of 35% Riesling, 45% Viognier, and 20% of a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay blend.

Shelf Talker: V&V is vibrant, fresh, and crisp to the nose as well as to the palette. With aromas of grass, grapefruit, honey and licorice this wine encompasses everything you would want in a white wine, while also cleansing your palette as you enjoy different dishes. It is a lively, medium bodied, smooth and well-balanced wine that has just the right amount of acidity. V&V would pair well with fatty fish such as salmon and chicken with cream sauces.

The students’ wine will be served in the fall of 2017. The wine made by the 2014 class will be served in a few months and into the fall semester at the Janet Lefler Dining Room.

About Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts
The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts was created by Julia in 1995 as a grant-giving private foundation. Through its support of other non-profit organizations whose work advances matters Julia valued, the Foundation honors her lifelong love of learning, her far-reaching impact as a teacher and mentor, and her passion for gastronomy and the culinary arts. Julia brought her uplifting approach to life directly into the kitchens of millions of people. She made cooking fun and approachable, while at the same time encouraging excellence. The Foundation supports her commitment to educate and encourage others to live well through the joys of cooking and eating well.