Albany, New York is home to an almost warehouse-sized liquor store called Empire Wine and Spirits.
Empire is a festive place with a strong selection of almost every kind of wine. To find a wine in Empire, people use one of four strategies: choose an already known brand; ask the smart, helpful staff; buy what is offered at the frequent wine tastings; or make a pick by criteria unrelated to wine.
Recently at Empire, I saw a Pinot Blanc white wine. I knew nothing about Pinot Blanc but I bought it because the label had a vivid painting of a striped bass. Intrigued, I bought the bottle, went to the vineyard website and now know three guys who make great wine.
Mark Seymour, John Heus and Stephen Cary own High Hook Vineyards and offer East and West Coast residents appealing Pinot Noirs and Pinot Blancs. Pinot Noir is the red wine made famous by the movie Sideways; Pinot Blanc is a grape that is closely related to Pinot Grigio.
High Hook Vineyard came to life through a mix of friendship and serendipity.
Seymour, the Vineyard President, came to wine making after a 30 year career as a wine salesman. One day, at dinner with Heus, a former winemaker who is now a film maker, Seymour and Heus decided they would like to make and sell unoaked Chardonnay.
Seymour then asked his friend, Stephen Cary if he could make this kind of wine. Cary did not want to make a chardonnay but made a counter-offer. He proposed making a Pinot Blanc instead.
With Cary’s offer to make a Pinot Blanc, a business plan started taking shape. Seymour added a Pinot Noir because “I love Pinot Noir and I really love Oregon Pinot Noir.”
Cary works at an Oregon vineyard; Seymour and Heus live on the Atlantic coast. While working on the business plan, Seymour learned that striped bass, which he enjoys pursuing in the waters around Cape Cod, are also found in the Pacific. When he realized the winery would be a bi-coastal business, it seemed a perfect fit to have a bi-coastal fish in the brand.
High Hook Vineyards’ present production is 1,400 cases of Pinot Noir; 500 of Pinot Blanc. The partners are emphasizing quality over quantity; Seymour states, “Our objective is to make good wines that are terroir-based, that have a sense of place.” “Our wine,” he continued, “is made to go with food, not just to be a wine-tasting experience.”
Seymour recommends serving their Pinot Blanc with white fish, shrimp, oysters, pesto; the Pinot Noir with roast chicken, pan seared or grilled salmon, sausages. We had the Pinot Noir with orecchiette pasta and sausage dish; it was very nice.
Along with good wines, the vineyard is a good neighbor and good corporate citizen. It donates part of its income to the Ocean Conservancy and encourages customers to participate in sporting and environmental groups. The winery operates with sustainable wine-making and publicizes local fishing guides.