Christopher Nicolson, winemaker at Red Hook Winery, first introduced himself to me (via email) in the summer of 2006. He was working working with Littorai Wines’ founder Ted Lemon as a harvest apprentice at the time, something he’d done for three years, but was curious about Long Island wine.
He wanted to know if there were producers on Long Island “working to make fine, vineyard-designate” wines. His impression of Long Island wine at the time, even as someone who lived in Brooklyn during the off-season, was that of “table wine or party producers.”
Nicolson didn’t come right out and say it, but I get the sense that he and his wife Emily were considering buying some land on Long Island for a vineyard — with the goal of making expressive, vineyard-driven wines.
Fast forward a decade and he’s making just those types of wines for Red Hook Winery, where he works with several of Long Island’s top growers. And, though he’s perhaps the least known winemaker at Red Hook — Abe Schoener of The Scholium Project and Robert Foley are the big names there — Nicolson also takes care of their wines while they are back in California much of the year.
Nicolson is also a commercial salmon fisherman — something he’s done “since birth, more or less.” His mother is a native Alaskan and they fish for sockeye salmon on the Bering Sea in small skiffs. In fact, when I finally made it in to Red Hook to taste — he was away from the winery for the day, selling salmon in Manhattan. And that is why, a decade later, Christopher and I still haven’t met in person. We’re still hoping to remedy that shortly, before next summer’s salmon season.
One of the reasons I’ve taken on this “tastemaker” series is to find people just like Christopher — people you may not know, but who are making some of the best and most interesting wines in North America.
Get to know him just a little bit better.
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Current Job: Winemaker, Red Hook Winery and Commercial Fisherman
Wine/cider/beer of the moment: 2012 Ca’Rugate Soave Classico Monte Fiorentine
My winemaking style in 1-5 words: Full of hope
First bottle of wine I remember drinking: I didn’t drink in high school or in college until I turned 21 (outside of Eucharist wine). I had a bottle of 1994 Kendall Jackson cabernet sauvignon on my 21st birthday. For me, wine has changed a great deal since then.
How I got here: I began pursuing agriculture in high school and stumbled into enology.
My winemaking style — in more words: I hope to translate places clearly.
Mentors: For wine, Ted Lemon and Abe Schoener
Music playing in the cellar right now: The Pretenders’ autumn 2016 release
Favorite thing about the local wine industry: The farmers.
Least favorite thing about the local wine industry: The cost of land.
One surprising thing that I’m really good at: Hmmmm… remembering things?
What I drink: A truckload of green tea.
My “Desert Island Meal” — wine/cider/beer included: Wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, gently cooked over coals (a near impossibility), potato chips, and really good Champagne.