Joey Wolffer grew up on the land that Wolffer Estate Vineyard now exists on. Only back then, the picturesque forest of vines were potato fields that her father Christian saw as an opportunity to make something big. If there is ever an example of risk taking paying off (albeit with a lot of hard work) Wolffer Vineyard is it. Since it was founded in 1988, the vineyard has only evolved – forged by passion, family dynamic, and really good rosé.
We had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with Joey at the estate, touring the cellar, talking business (she has 2), sipping delicious beverages, and petting a mini horse named Dolly.
Your family has run Wolffer Vineyard for almost thirty years. What was it like for you to grow up in this environment? Do you have any favorite memories?
Well, when I was growing up all these vines were potato fields. I have fond memories of chasing potato bugs with my little sister. We were so lucky to grow up with so many places to explore. I rode horses every day and my sister had a dirt bike and was all over the property with her friends. The Cider actually started with family evenings. My dad had apple trees on the property of the house. Roman [Wolffer’s winemaker] would make apple juice for the kids from the apples, and then apple wine for the adults. Just by fermenting the apple juice. Well, for the kids he didn’t ferment it [laughs]. We used to have cocktail hour with my dad, and that was our thing. And so cocktail hour was apple cider.
Was it always in your plan to join the family business?
I was a very rebellious teenager, and I was like, ‘I will have nothing to do with what my dad is doing’ – which is kind of what you do. I spent quite a bit of time rebelling against him. In the last couple of years of his life we started getting along well. He was like one of those characters where, you know, he wasn’t the easiest of fathers. They’re incredible entrepreneurs, amazing business people, everyone loves them, but as a father, it’s a harder role. In the last years, I accepted exactly who he was, and we were the best of friends. And so that’s when I really started. I was probably 23 at that point and had finished college, and realized that it was really cool that he owned this [vineyard]. It’s probably because I started drinking and appreciating wine, and so then at that point I started to get more interested. When he died, my immediate reaction was to sell. I wanted nothing to do with the winery.. My brother was in his 40s and settled in life, I thought ‘I’m too young to make this my life.’ But then it took a while to settle the estate, just because he died so suddenly. And it was 2008 and the stock market had crashed – it was all very dark. But that 3 year time allowed me to realize that this mattered to me. I’m first generation American, my mother is English, my father is German. I have zero heritage here and nothing to pass down to my children. My mom and my husband both sat me down, because the sale was about to happen, and they said “you don’t want to sell.’ I thought about it and realized that I wasn’t ready to give it all up. I told my brother that I wanted to stay in the business and he was said ‘there’s nothing that would make me happier than to be your business partner.” It was all amazing and it all just worked organically. It ended up being one of the best decisions of our lives, because we’re an incredible team.
Your rosé has been particularly successful. Can you talk about how that happened and how the process around the rosé might differ from other wines you produce?
Roman Roth is our winemaker so I can’t take any credit for the winemaking process, but he always says that he takes the making of our rosé as seriously as he takes the making of ourmost expensive wine, Christian’s Cuvée Merlot. He pays the same attention to detail on both. Our rosé is elegant and vibrant but balanced and light, with character and finesse. His words, not mine!
Most importantly, we are able to make our rosé consistently year after year. Roman and his team carefully monitor each step from picking to extended yeast contact. The result is a food-friendly and versatile wine that is fruit-driven, delicate, dry, and playful!
Do you have any tips when it comes to picking out wines, for people who are unfamiliar with or intimidated by the selection? What is your go-to wine?
Honestly, it’s easy to think you need to be a wine expert to enjoy wine but there’s something out there for everyone. I think it’s great to experiment and decide if you like, for example, sweet or dry whites and rosés. Don’t let someone else tell you what you should like. Or, pick your wine around your meal. All of our wines are first and foremost food-friendly and low in alcohol.. My favorite is our Grandioso Rosé, which Roman says is our most versatile wine. But I also love (and am particularly proud of) our Summer in a Bottle Rosé because it’s the quintessential summer sip and because it embodies all that I love about a Hamptons summer.
What role does sustainability play at Wolffer Vineyards? Why is it important to you? Has it always been like this or is this something that evolved organically?
Sustainability reaches from farming in the vineyard, to the winemaking, and through to the products we use in our tasting room and recycling. All of the grapes at Wölffer are hand-harvested. All of the reds are gently de-stemmed and hand-sorted. This year-round, hands-on labor also supports our local community with year-round employment, and roots us in the fabric of the local Hamptons community.
How does the idea and practice of sustainability translate to other aspects of your life?
It’s important to my husband and me that we are creating social value whether its in terms of the products we buy, the people we employ and the local community that we live in and have our business in. It’s not enough to just throw money at things, but to live and breathe it in our business and our lives. We always consider the community in all the decisions we make.
How does your work at the vineyard influence your own personal style?
I am very true to my own style regardless of where I am so I wouldn’t say it influences me at all but I feel lucky that I can embrace my personal style in all that I do!
You also own a boutique called The Styleliner. What lead to you opening up this kind of shop? Had you always been interested in fashion?
I started my career working in London as a jewelry designer for all the High Street stores before moving to NYC and working in corporate fashion. I got a job at Jones Apparel Group (now the Nine West Group) as a trend director then a design director, and my father had just passed away. I knew that I didn’t want to continue in the corporate grind. I had earned some money from selling my portion of his furniture to my brother. I wanted to start my own brand but I knew it was important to first build a name for myself. I loved the idea of food trucks and thought it could be really fun to translate that into fashion. I combined my love of travel with a traveling shop and introduced unique brands from all over the world to the Hamptons market. We went from house to house to begin with before expanding into events and then even parked in NYC during the holidays!
Travel seems to be important to your work collecting items to showcase in The Styleliner. What kinds of items to do you look for? What draws you to them?
My collection at the Styleliner is a combination of high end European designers and found pieces from all over the wold. I am always looking for someone who stands out. I like original pieces and my customer does as well. I am always drawn to bold colors and prints, but also appreciate simplicity. The big test is quality, I want these pieces to be timeless for the customer.
How has becoming a mom changed your approach to both winemaking and running The Styleliner?
Well, I don’t make the wine ;) I think being a mother has forced me to use my time better and placed a huge emphasis on the quality and longevity / sustainability of everything I do. I want to make sure the time I spend away from her is time well spent. I also see myself as an example to her especially as a woman so everything I do has a new set of eyes on it. I want to make sure all my businesses continue to have legs to grow so I can give her a great life.
How do you split your time between all your endeavors?
I just make sure that all the time I spend in each business is quality time. I have my customers that I meet in the store, the factories I meet with for my bags and the meetings I need to be in at the winery. I try to make sure they don’t overlap too much, but sometimes I am just running from place to place especially in summer. I am also lucky to have a great team, without them I would be totally lost!
How would you describe life in the Hamptons, as a person who both grew up here and now works building brands largely tied to the idea of the Hamptons?
The Hamptons has its roots in the land, the beaches and, the artists, writers and poets who have formed the culture out East over all these years. The Wolffer brand is all about staying true to the history of the Hamptons and the lifestyle that has existed over the years. My fashion business is very much in line with that free spirited vibe. My memories of growing up out here consist of beaches, horseback riding, biking everywhere and trails that went on for miles. The light here is magical and unlike anywhere else. That is what the Hamptons is for me. I am really looking forward to raising my own family here.
Red or white: Red
NYC or Sag Harbor: BOTH!
Morning or Night: Morning!
Flats or heels: Definitely flats
Favorite thing to eat with a glass of wine: Cheese (cliché)
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this: I sometimes wish I was a criminal detective
Ideal place (anywhere in the world) to enjoy a glass of wine: Looking over the jungle in Ubud, Bali
Motto to live by: “Life is much too important of a thing to talk seriously about” -Oscar Wilde
Biggest piece of advice for your daughter: Do not follow anyone. Make your own path in life. Be your own individual with your own beauty, your own dreams and your own mind to share with the world.
Favorite Friday night activity: Wolffer Winestand with my husband, daughter and friends followed by a BBQ at our place!