City Tech students create wine blends at Red Hook Winery

Late last year, a group of hospitality management students at City Tech enrolled in the “Wines of the New World” course boarded a bus to an urban winery in Red Hook. 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. 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.

Goodlad engaged the class in a discussion on the bus ride: “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?” Goodlad and 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.

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. 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.

Red Hook Winery began crushing grapes in 2008. Owner Mark Snyder, a Brooklyn native, convinced two Napa cult winemaker 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 would 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 went into their blend and, more importantly, the exact milliliter measurement.

“This Riesling has a scent that says ‘funky fun,’” said one student. His teammate added that they use a smaller portion of the Riesling in the blend because “this particular Riesling is like disco—fun, but not for everyone.”

“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 are 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. 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. “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 winemakers. Using a syringe with a 10 ml count in order to measure properly 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.”

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.

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