How did you get into the Wine & Spirits industry?
As the son of Christian Wölffer, you could say wine is in my blood. But my professional path to the industry was through hospitality…and sheer fate. I got an undergraduate degree in Hotel Management from Cesar Ritz in Switzerland, then trained at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok and the Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong. Afterwards, I got my masters degree at the Cornell University program for Hotel Management in Paris. I’ve managed restaurants in Manhattan and Havana, Cuba, and my father took me on as the food and beverage manager at the Sea Life theme park in Hawaii. I now live in Salzberg, Austria, with my four children, and own vineyards in Spain and Mendoza, Argentina. But following my father’s tragic and untimely passing in 2010, my sister, Joey, and I decided continue his legacy at Wölffer Estate Vineyard.
Wölffer is a family-run business run by your sister and yourself - how do you work together to continue in your father's vision? Is one sibling the creative and the other financial?
Joey and I work very closely together—we channel our father’s vision and spirit in different ways. I travel almost constantly, and keep abreast of the markets and hospitality trends around the world—like our father did. With the help of Max Rohn, Joey’s husband, who serves as General Manager at Wölffer, I oversee the long-term financial aspects of the business.
Joey’s home is in the Hamptons, near the vineyard, so she is completely in tune with both the place and the bohemian vibe of our childhood. She has always been the creative one in our family, and now inspires creativity in our family business.
Our winemaker/partner Roman Roth also fuels creativity at Wölffer. He is like an artist whose canvas is wine. Like Joey, he is well-connected to the community, including the culinary community, and is always working to open new doors for us. Roman is the public face (and tenor singing voice) of Wölffer. And he works closely with vineyard manager Richie Pisacano and the whole Wölffer team to make the best wines we can, from the roots up.
What strategies do you implement to stay ahead of the competition?
Whether it’s in the quality products we make and their packaging, or the décor and use of space and our service to guests at the winery, we strive to keep things fresh. When Joey and I took over the business, it wasn’t just to continue our father’s legacy—it was to further it. For example, since taking the reins last year, we introduced a new line of dry ciders and a new rosé in an eye-catching floral bottle, each of which sold out quickly—the latter in three and a half weeks. In an industry that is often perceived as stale and stuffy, we’re constantly innovating.
And we’re evolving from just a wine brand to a lifestyle brand, harkening to the bohemian vibe Joey and I knew as children in the Hamptons. The Wölffer experience is elegant yet accessible, classic yet fresh and vibrant. That’s expressed in our wines and ciders, and in our service at the winery and our Wine Stand outpost. Whether you’re a film star or a beach bum, a wine connoisseur or novice, we make sure you get great, knowledgeable service…and always an amazing wine. Simply put, we treat our customers the way we’d want to be treated.
Wölffer is known for its fantastic Roses, tell us about the Reds & Whites.
Wölffer Rosé has certainly become iconic in the Hamptons, which is a success we’re very proud of. Happily, making rosé actually helps us make better whites and reds. By picking the merlot, chardonnay and other white and red varietals that go into our rosé wines, we thin our crop—a necessary part of winemaking that helps produce better, more concentrated wines using the best possible fruit.
Historically, our estate Chardonnay (now called Perle) figures prominently in our quality story. It is the wine for which our winery was built. By the mid-90s, having gotten this wine on the lists of some of the best restaurants in Manhattan, my father felt that, in order to make the quality—and quantity—of wine he aspired to, he needed his own winery. Thus, our modern winery, housed within our Tuscan-style tasting room in Sagaponack, was born.
Of course, we continue to make beautiful white wines, including New York’s only Trebbiano. But our reds consistently earn scores of 89 points and higher from top critics. And our flagship wine, the Christian’s Cuvee Merlot, is one of the most coveted wines (and, at $100 per bottle, the most expensive) on Long Island.
Roman’s goal is to make wines that are food-friendly, first, and ageable, second. Consume them upon release and their elegance and balance will make any meal special. Store these wines in your cellar, and you’ll have a treasure for years to come.
What is your favorite travel destination?
My favorite destination? Mendoza in the spring. You can go skiing in the Andes in the morning and drink wine in the afternoon.
Who is your role model?
Without question, my father, Christian Wölffer, is my role model. He lived the American Dream. He took a risk coming to the US (he was born in Hamburg and emigrated to America in the 70’s), and starting a vineyard in a region where growing grapes was still very new and unproven. But he never wavered from his vision, and built a business in the Hamptons that continues to grow and thrive.
Live your dream.
What's next for Wölffer Estate?
This fall, we’ll be releasing our first wines—reds, of course—from my vineyard in Mallorca, called Finca (or farmhouse) Wölffer. And we have some new wines in the works for the 2014 vintage, and we’re experimenting with distilled spirits. Keep your eye on Wölffer—there’s always something next!