Keeping Spirits Up with Wölffer Estate Vineyard

Wölffer Estate Brandy and Pink Gin, Photo: Courtesy Wölffer Estate Vineyard
Wölffer Estate Brandy and Pink Gin, Photo: Courtesy Wölffer Estate Vineyard

Wölffer Estate Vineyard is known for its high-quality wines, especially its internationally successful rosé. But winemaker Roman Roth, with his many talents, also produces a line of luxury spirits for Wölffer, including a brandy and a special pink gin. 

The German-born Roth had always wanted to create spirits. “My father was a good distiller and when I came here to America the licenses were difficult and expensive and it wasn’t on the cards,” says Roth, who has an advanced degree in distilling from Germany. “Finally, when [Governor] Cuomo changed the laws and distillers’ licenses became affordable and it was easier to attain and reasonable, we had to jump on it.”

For Roth, the key to a successful spirit line for Wölffer was to go with small batches. “We don’t want to compete with Absolut Vodka,” he says, “but to make something very unique, to basically distill the essence of our winery. This is a lovely way to do that, and you’re creating a little luxury product that is just beautiful. It’s a little treasure. It’s perfect for Wölffer Estate.”

The gin is made from Wölffer’s juniper berries. “We grow the juniper berries around the winery,” explains Roth. “We pick our own berries by hand. I didn’t want to grow a grain—we don’t grow grain—I feel it has to have something to do with what we are about. We distill the rosé for the gin. It’s much more playful than a grain liquor. It’s a fantastic base for the gin.” Roth is able to exercise his creativity when working on the gin. “I am much more generous with my cuts when distilling,” he says. “You have the head, the body and the tail, and how generous you are defines how good your distilling is. We throw much more of the head and the tail away. I am proud of the quality of the spirits.” The product has a variety of influences, including Sri Lankan botanicals. “And,” Roth says with a smile, “anything I touch becomes pink.”

The idea to make the gin pink came after Roth visited a trade show and saw how creative and unique the spirit could be. “There were like 600 gins, you name it—Mediterranean gin, olive and rosemary, any flavor in the world,” he explains. Roth and the Wölffer team, including owner Christian Wölffer, stopped bottling the planned white gin and went back to the drawing board to go pink. “It looked so beautiful so we stopped the bottling line and we had a meeting and everybody got together and we said let’s go back and color it,” says Roth. “It was sort of an all hands on deck idea and the best idea wins. It’s not about pride. We have a great management team. Whoever has the best idea, that’s what we take.”

Wölffer’s brandy, as Roth puts it, “is a whole other animal. It’s so smooth and it’s absolutely pure. You can’t compare it to the $1,500 [Louis Brandy],” he laughs. “It’s very special and I’m very proud of it. I’m using 400 tiny barrels. It really goes into this and it has to be 100 percent correct. It’s very special. It’s a unique gift, it comes in a beautiful box. It’s hand-wrapped. It’s very special. But the quality is the key.”

Verjus, Photo: Courtesy Wölffer Estate Vineyard

Wine in Spirit
It might surprise some to learn that Wölffer Estate Vineyard also offers a non-alcoholic wine, known as a verjus. “Years and years ago, my wife [Dr. Dushy Roth] gave me an article that Florence Fabricant had written in The New York Times about verjus, which I had never heard of. It came from the olden days. France had many more vineyards than it does now. It had this sour juice, basically.” Roth’s first impression of verjus wasn’t great. “I bought a French version and a Californian version and the Californian one tasted like mild acid water and the French one tasted like canned vegetables!” he says. “I thought, it can’t get worse than these two. We started with 32 cases and hand-carried it to 4-star restaurants in the city and got a great response.”

Wölffer No. 137 LoRo, Courtesy Wölffer Estate Vineyard

Less Is More
Wölffer’s newest offering is the Wölffer No. 139 LoRo Cider, a low-calorie, low-alcohol cider. The product, which just launched, speaks to the ingenuity of the Wölffer team. “I think it speaks to the character of the whole team that we started a new thing [in these times],” says Roth. The idea behind LoRo: “Less is more. Today, you have three vegetables on your plate instead of just meat and potatoes,” says Roth. “I think this could go far. It’s 91 calories. It’s another thing to enjoy. I’ve been playing with it for a while. The best compliment I get [as a winemaker] is balance. Taste you can argue, but when something is just right, that’s the trick,” says Roth. “You don’t want it too watery and not too sweet, not sour, that was the game. We found the sweet spot without being sweet.”

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