The small batch vinters Bridge Lane combine thoughtful production with relaxed packaging
Wine sold in boxes does not generally invoke confidence, but Bridge Lane, while working among the many lauded vineyards of the North Fork is using boxes—and kegs—to present a handcrafted wine with a bit of a beery attitude. The ‘Lane’s GM Ami Opisso explains…
Can you elaborate on what exactly is “craft wine?”
Although more commonly used to describe beer vs. wine, “craft” is a term that we’ve adopted to help define our style and production practices. We’re not making super exclusive, high end “fine wine.” And we’re certainly not mass producing “industrial wine.” We’re somewhere in the middle. We hand-craft small batch, high quality wines that are full of character, have a story behind them and offer value. We sustainably farm and hand tend our vineyards. We strive for unique and expressive flavor profiles. And there’s a team of passionate people behind the scenes who are proud of what we do and love to share it. To us, that’s “craft wine.”
We had assumed the process of creating wine was somewhat time- consuming. Does the production of small batch vino make it any faster to create, or do you rely on aging like a larger vintner would?
From the start of the growing season until our first Bridge Lane wine is bottled, we’re talking 5 months. For our Red Blend, it’s about 10 months, to allow for brief barrel aging. Lead times are generally up to the individual producer, depending on the style they’re trying to achieve. We strive for fresh and fruity, so that means less time barrel and bottle aging – processes that mute fruit flavors. The universal process difference between small and large produces, however, is human touch. We don’t rely on machines in the vineyard and automated processes at the winery. We do it by hand because we believe it makes a difference and ultimately results in wines that set us apart from the big guys.
We need to talk about wine in a box. When you first suggested the idea of serving quality wine in a box, did you receive harsh judgements?
We certainly expected it. Especially from the media and trade. But surprisingly, we saw the exact opposite reaction. I remember launching our White Blend and Red Blend boxes in February of 2014 and nervously awaiting the first critique. A few days later, Louisa Hargrave, the founder of the Long Island wine industry, published an article in our local paper supporting our efforts and calling the boxes innovative, distinctive and premium. We breathed a sigh of relief that day and decided not to look back. I still have a copy of that article hanging in my office.
One tends to think of wine sold by the box as something somewhat…not overly impressive— but you are bucking that trend?
That’s exactly what we’re doing. We didn’t see box wine’s bad rap as a challenge. We saw it as a fun opportunity to go against the grain and shatter expectations. Most box wine is sweet and tasteless. The bag-in-bag packaging concept is brilliant – eco- friendly, convenient, keeps the wine fresher longer – but the wines sucked. We took a super smart package and filled it with really good wine. We decided that the only type of person who would have a problem with that is a snob. And they weren’t our target anyway.
Do you put a lot of work into the packaging? Is it specially made to protect its contents? Is there any sort of an artisan touch?
Yep, we did a ton a research when it came to sourcing our glass, caps, kegs and bag-in-box materials and believe we’re using the best. Our winemaker was very involved in that process because although Australian and very supportive of alternative formats (Aussies love their box wine!), he wouldn’t for a second allow us to move forward with any package that tainted his wine.
You also sell wine by the keg? Does this mean we can do a keg party on the beach, but sub in your wine for beer?
You know it! Our kegs hold 26 bottles worth of wine and can be thrown into a bucket of ice and tapped with a standard beer tap. Even better, they’re one- way. Made from recyclable plastic, so you don’t have to pay a deposit or return them to us. You just throw them in your recycling bin when kicked. Alternatively, if you want to get all fancy like Katie Lee, you can purchase a wine kegerator and serve wine on tap to your guests at home. In a kegerator, the wine is preserved for up to 3 months. I for one sincerely hope there comes a time when wine keg parties are a “thing.” Because I’d like to go to more of them.
Your personality and product line is so incredibly fresh. Is that your business plan, to be a trendier, hipper version of wine serving, or do you want to be viewed as traditional, but with signature style?
Our fresh, casual branding is intentional, yes. Before re-launching both our Lieb Cellars and Bridge Lane brands in 2014, we went through an extensive re- branding process with our entire team (and every friend and family member we could poll!). Ultimately we decided that while Lieb Cellars should continue to be firmly rooted in tradition, we had the opportunity to appeal to a different, more adventurous and value- seeking audience with our second label, Bridge Lane. So we emancipated it from Lieb and gave it its own fresh, unique identity. New wines, new logo, new packaging, new website and new tasting room. Our team is composed of a bunch of young, creative people from varying backgrounds. We have tremendous pride in our Lieb wines and love to pour them for special guests and on special occasions, but Bridge Lane wines are the ones we keep stocked in our fridges and coolers and share with friends.
Would Bridge Wine go well with a multi-course dinner? Describe which foods would pair best with some of your products.
Bridge Lane wines are dry, fresh, bright and fruity. They pair best with lighter style dishes that won’t overpower them. Fresh shell fish and salads for the whites and rose, pasta with red sauces and grilled white meats for our Red Blend. I tell you, as wine & food pairings go, it really doesn’t get much better than Oysters Friskafella (from Frisky Oyster in Greenport) paired with a cold, crisp glass of our Bridge Lane Rose on tap. It’s a summer must.
Taking a limo and exploring wineries is an East End tradition. Do you feature events at your location?
Yes! Our tasting room is set up like a casual, modern wine bar, with wines on tap and a large picnic area outside that can accommodate groups and parties.
We encourage guests to pack a lunch and come spend the day enjoying box wine, listening to live music and playing corn hole. We also offer a number of events throughout the year and typically collaborate with local food trucks or other artisans to bring in an extra fun element. The event I’m most looking forward to this year is our Rose crawl, to celebrate #nationalroseday, on June 11. A full listing of events can be found on our website.
Would you say craft wines is a concept bound for big things? Craft beer has become a national sensation—should we expect to one day see craft wineries popping up around the country?
I wouldn’t say it’s a hotly debated subject within the industry but it’s certainly discussed from time to time, and the jury’s still out. I personally don’t foresee the term going mainstream like it did for beer. The current trend is for small producers to describe themselves as “boutique” rather than “craft” and perhaps it’s because they’re hesitant to attach themselves to a term most commonly associated a product they consider to be down-market. We feel the complete opposite. We love that the craft beer movement is all about innovation, character, conviviality and accessibility. We subscribe to those same values. There are enough overly romanticized, stuffy wine brands in this world. Sometimes you just want straight-up, no fuss, good drinking wine. And you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for it. Insert Bridge Lane.
Visit Bridge Lane’s Tasting Room at
35 Cox Neck Rd., Mattituck; 631.298.1942