“I hate the word ‘trend,’” says Joey Wölffer, an owner of the Hamptons Wölffer Estate winery, known for its rosé. It’s a surprising statement from someone who makes one of the most ubiquitous drinks in the Hamptons and beyond. But Mrs. Wölffer has been working on it for a while.
When Wölffer Estate started making rosé in the early 1990s, many wine snobs in this country still associated the pink variety with sweet, low-cost offerings like white zinfandel “blush” wines, Ms Wölffer said, as they weren’t much more elegant than a cheap wine cooler.
“Nobody drank it,” said Ms. Wölffer, 40, recently on a Monday afternoon, enjoying a curried chicken lunch on the patio of the estate’s tasting room in Sagaponack, NY, gazing at the rows of budding vines that stretched liberally toward the horizon. “Young people didn’t drink it. Young people did not drink wine.”
They are now. Wölffer Estate has driven and contributed to the rosé renaissance of the past 15 years. In 2014, according to the company, Wölffer sold 1,530 cases of its signature line, “Summer in a Bottle,” a fresh rosé in a clear bottle decorated with a whimsical explosion of wildflowers and butterflies.
Last year the winery sold 69,000 cases of “Summer in a Bottle,” and this year it is on track to sell 73,000 cases, along with 35,000 cases of a new rosé imported from France, “Summer in a Bottle Côtes de Provence.”
Wölffer’s rosés — the company now has eight varieties — have become a staple at backyard parties and beach picnics, a symbol of languid days on Long Island’s South Fork. For the young summer share, rosé has become a stylish alternative to beer or hard seltzer.
The winery has also become a stage for its customers who own luxury SUVs and the many visitors who flock to the beach all summer long. On weekend evenings, a bunch of tight-fitting couples and incognito celebrities emerge in pastel shorts and floral print sundresses to lounge on the grass behind the Wölffer wine stall on the south side of the property, sipping rosé while their kids frolic to live music. In 2017, Alec and Hilaria Baldwin renewed their wedding vows on Wolffer’s property.
“Rosé,” said Mrs. Wölffer, “has become a lifestyle.”
Hobby wine to vineyard estate
As a fashion executive, Ms. Wölffer runs her own fashion label, Joey Wölffer Reworked, with a boutique in Sag Harbor, the city she lives in with her husband, Max Rohn (Wölffer’s chief executive), and their two 6-year-old daughters. and 4. (Mrs Wölffer owns and operates Wölffer Estate with her half-brother, Marc Wölffer, who grew up in Germany and still lives in Europe.)
Her father, Christian Wölffer, who died in 2009, was a German-born venture capitalist who made his fortune from real estate. Her mother, Naomi Marks Wölffer, is a former jewelry designer for Harry Winston and an heiress to the Marks & Spencer shopping fortune.
A competitive show jumper, Joey keeps three horses – two Dutch Warmbloods and a Selle Francais – in a 100-acre equestrian center on the 175-acre Wölffer grounds. She and her family regularly appear on the event pages of Dan’s Papers, the Hamptons social bible, for her celebrity-filled benefit dinners.
Mrs. Wölffer knows that her life is like a Town & Country spread coming to life. “There is an element of luck in being born into this world, I am fully aware of that,” she said.
That doesn’t mean she’s always comfortable. “I’m a personality with super high highs and super low lows,” she said. A maximalist and multitasker by nature, she speaks in a torrent of words and finds the idea of relaxation – even on a beach chair, magazine in hand – strange.
Meditation makes her anxious, she said. She prefers boxing. That day she had a vision of patterns in a multicolored blouse of her own design, patched together from Indian block print fabric and other recycled fabrics. Both wrists were a thicket of bracelets. At almost six feet tall, with stacked suede ankle boots six inches high, she pushed her height toward WNBA dominance.
“I am at my best,” said Mrs. Wölffer, “when I push my limits.”
Part of her drive comes from her father, who had the vision for the winery and pulled it out of a swampy potato field, planting his first vines in 1988, after moving the family from the Upper East Side.
“My father was a thriving presence,” said Mrs. Wölffer. “He would really run a room and have a lot of power over people. But growing up with that as a girl was a challenge. He was very difficult, very tough. I think it goes back to his childhood.”
Born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1938, Christian Wölffer’s middle-class family lived in poverty during the war. “He always said, ‘You have no idea what it’s like to wrestle for real,'” recalls Ms Wölffer. “But I was a very insecure child.”
A life in the family business was the last thing she expected. “I wanted to get as far away as possible,” she said.
After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2004 with a degree in human and organizational development, Ms Wölffer went to London where she got a job as a designer for Meems Ltd., a jewelery company sold in chains such as Topshop. Two years later, Ms. Wölffer returned to Manhattan and was working as a trend director for Jones Group, a casual wear and accessories company, when her father died in a swimming accident while on vacation in Brazil.
Initially, she had no interest in a career in wine. “I didn’t want to fulfill my father’s dream,” she said. “I wanted to live my own life.”
But in the end, the family legacy proved too strong. In 2013, she and Marc Wölffer took over Estate Wölffer. They had one big asset: Roman Roth, Wölffer’s German-born winemaker, who had been there from the start, scoring over 90 Wine Spectator scores for its high-quality chardonnays and merlots.
But they encountered major obstacles. For starters, Marc Wölffer was 16 years older and raised in Europe, so the half-siblings barely knew each other. Mrs. Wölffer knew little about wine. Also, her father had treated the winery as a hobby, not worrying that it had been in the red for years. However, Mrs. Wölffer and her brother approached this as a career. They had to make a profit.
A rosé hotbed miles from Manhattan
From the beginning, Christian Wölffer and Mr Roth were committed to making rosé, believing that the East End terroir was perfect to produce an “elegant, fun and versatile rosé that would be perfect for cocktail parties in the East.” said Mr Roth.
Both sought to produce a crisp, dry rosé as they knew it from their travels in Provence in southern France, where rosé is an intrinsic part of the St. Tropez lifestyle – a vin de soif (“wine to quench thirst”). ) in the afternoon, or as a festive aperitif with a salad Niçoise or a salty bouillabaisse.
In the United States, however, many wine aficionados associated pink wine with fruity Portuguese mass-market products such as Mateus and Lancers, which were held in high esteem in the bell-bottom era, or the ‘white zin’ of the yuppie 1980s.
That started to change in the mid-2000s, when discerning consumers began discovering the drier, fresher rosés of Provence, with Château d’Esclans’ best-selling Whispering Angel leading the way. The era of the so-called millennial champagne was born.
The Wölffers saw an opportunity to rebrand the Hamptons—a minor player in the Long Island wine region, compared to the North Fork—as a rosé hotbed. That meant a rebranding of the wines themselves, framing rosé as essentially a glass of liquid sunshine.
With Mrs. Wölffer as chief brand officer, Wölffer rolled out a rosé cider, a festive alternative to hard seltzer for the summer stocking crowd in the East End. In 2013, Wölffer followed with “Summer in a Bottle”, with his Instagram-made design and name distilling the rosé ethos into four words.
The concept caught on, but the success brought new competition. In 2018, Jon Bon Jovi and his son Jesse Bongiovi rolled out their own French rosé called Hampton Water.
So far, though, not much has slowed Wölffer’s momentum. The eight rosés now account for 70 percent of the turnover, according to the company.
“Seventy thousand cases is just an extraordinary amount of wine for a small estate,” said Kristen Bieler, editor-in-chief at Wine Spectator, which oversees coverage of the rosé market. She called Wölffer “an early pioneer, committed to producing dry rosé in the mid-’90s, long before it was fashionable.”
“Their rosés,” she added, “have become the staple for summer, synonymous with the Hamptons luxury lifestyle for wine drinkers well beyond the boundaries of these elite hamlets.”