About 15 years ago, Alie Shaper, president and winemaker of Brooklyn Oenology, started working at a Hudson Valley winery, getting her first taste of an industry she grew to love.
Now, at any given time, you’ll find the 41-year-old winemaker working on her 14 different varieties of wine — all made using grapes grown in New York State.
She pairs those flavors with labels created by Brooklyn artists, creating unique bottles of wine she hopes will catch the eye of browsers searching store shelves.
Shaper recently joined the Long Island Wine Council’s board of directors with hopes of expanding the reach of the region’s wine industry.
Q: How did you become involved in the wine industry?
A: I started out in a tasting room in the Hudson Valley. Eventually I found my way down into Manhattan and worked at the [now closed] Vintage New York stores. It was a tasting room and wine shop kind of like Brooklyn Oenology, but on a much larger scale. Wines from all around the state were available for tasting and purchase. It was really immersive for me. That was kind of the seminal experience for me as far as understanding New York wine and really wanting to get involved in the New York wine scene. I learned a tremendous amount about production and the different kinds of wine varieties and styles that were possible in New York. After that I started taking more classes and courses and ended up running a wine program for a restaurant group on Long Island.
Eventually, I ended up working for a distributor so I got a good education in the business of wine.
Q: Why Brooklyn?
A: During all this time, I ended up in Brooklyn. I liked the vibe and the feeling and sense of creativity and entrepreneurialism going on and, not long after I settled into Brooklyn, I had the eureka idea for Brooklyn Oenology, a vision of creating an urban winery in New York City.
I spent some of my younger years living in California, so that influenced my thinking as well. On the West Coast, there were a lot of examples at the time of these wineries functioning in an urban environment. Coming to Brooklyn and looking around, it really was a natural infrastructure where heavy industry had moved out and there were all these creative businesses popping up. It hit me — there’s no reason you couldn’t have a winery here. There’s already a very successful brewery, the Brooklyn Brewery, so I thought, if you can make beer in the city, there’s no reason you can’t make wine in the city.
That inspired me to start Brooklyn Oenology and create a set of wines that really spoke about the community in which the company was based. To me, that meant using grapes only from New York and its major growing regions and collaborating with artists from Brooklyn. So that way the bottles would sort of be this traveling story of what it means to be a part of Brooklyn.
Q: What’s the potential for the L.I. wine industry to expand beyond the North Fork?
A: There’s a lot of interest in it, and it has been expanding over the years. I distribute my wines in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. There’s a lot of interest really along the eastern seaboard in wines from not just New York but the East Coast in general. It is rallying support and interest from the mid-Atlantic region, which is interested in wines not only from their backyard, so there’s this really great crossbreeding going on along the East Coast. And I think we’re going to see that more and more. One, as the regions grow, and two, as the people become more and more aware that these wines exist.
Over the past 15 years, it’s been on an exponential run upwards, and I don’t see any sign of it stopping.
Q: You use grapes from all over the state in your wines. Can you describe the variety of characteristics different regions display?
A: I definitely focus on certain varieties from different regions in the state. For example, I get all of my Riesling grapes from the Finger Lakes. For me, that’s what I prefer. I think I get more of a minerality and a little bit more of a nuanced, delicate type of Riesling that I personally prefer to make. On Long Island it has a more tropical note, a little bit stronger in the peach.
Pretty much all of my red wine grapes I purchased on Long Island because I get a bit of a deeper, richer, full-bodied style out of the wines. In the Finger Lakes, maybe they are a little bit leaner, just not as fleshed out. Not that there aren’t great red grapes grown in the Finger Lakes, either. What I think is really fun about working with the different regions and buying different grapes from each of the regions is that I can zero in and focus on the specialties of those regions.
Q: What is the most important piece of advice you’ve learned from others in the industry?
A: To keep tasting everybody else’s wine and not think entirely about my wine, or necessarily about the region’s wine, but think about how our wines fit in the context of the rest of the world. Because I think that’s what gives a winemaker a good perspective on what it is they are pursuing or what it is they are creating.
Q: Why did you want to become part of the Long Island Wine Council?
A: I am just really excited to put my efforts toward propelling Long Island as a wine region. I have some good ideas that I can contribute, but I also have some energy to put to the effort. It’s something I’m personally passionate about. Not only about Long Island but the state in general, and I have just been excited about the region for so many years that now I have the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and I have a chance to not just talk about wine, but to contribute meaningfully to the effort.