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Joey Wölffer: Wine, Fashion, Riding

Tue, 05/21/2024 - 12:23
Joey Wölffer gets hands-on among the vines at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack.
Courtesy of Wölffer Estate Vineyard

Joey Wölffer was born in New York City and lived there until she was 9. “My mom’s English and my dad was German, and one day I announced I wanted diamonds in my ears,” she said during a conversation in the tasting room at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack. “My parents were, like, ‘We’re moving to the farm.’ ”

More than anything, that move shaped her life. “Definitely growing up here in the countryside, always in the dirt, always playing, it has definitely formed who I am. It could have gone both ways.”

Ms. Wölffer is many things: co-owner with her brother, Marc, and Roman Roth, the winemaker, of the winery; co-owner of the estate’s stable with Marc and Andrea, a sister; owner of an eponymous clothing and accessories shop in Sag Harbor; a competitive equestrian, and the mother of 8-year-old and 6-year-old daughters.

She learned early on the importance of hard work and creative thinking. After graduating from Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 2004, she landed an internship with Sue Scott, a designer at Meems in London. Her prior jewelry designing had consisted of making earrings and giving them to friends. In London, she said, “I basically made jewelry all day long.”

“I think Sue liked that I was cheap and I was a hard worker, so she fired the designer and asked me if I wanted to be the designer. I learned how to work hard. It gave me the opportunity to get any job I wanted in New York,” where she returned after a year in London.

After a year as head jewelry designer at Accessory Network in New York, she moved to Jones Apparel Group, where she was a trend director and senior jewelry designer. “It was the best experience I’ve had. I had people who really championed me. I also learned about the corporate world.”

In 2010, a year after her father died in a swimming accident off the coast of Brazil, Ms. Wölffer was ready for a change. “I really wanted to be a designer, but I also knew it’s very hard to just become a designer with no reputation, and having worked for big companies, people didn’t know me.”

She confided in Fran Lukas, her mentor at Jones Apparel. “She said, ‘I love your work, I’m devastated to lose you, but I would never hold you back, and I agree you don’t belong here.’ ”

Enter the Styleliner, a 27-foot converted potato-chip truck, reborn as a clothing and accessories boutique-on-wheels. “I loved the idea of delivering fashion to people. Net-a-Porter had started, but other than that, going to a shop was how people shopped. I liked the idea of driving to people’s homes or being parked in the street.”

She learned early on that getting a permit to set up at East End beaches was difficult, so she took to the road, where her work ethic was put to the test. When she broke down on a highway in Pennsylvania, she had to convince AAA to tow her back to New York. She traveled to trunk shows everywhere from Texas to Connecticut, at times getting stuck in traffic, hitting another car, evading parking tickets in Manhattan.

When Hurricane Sandy approached, she and her husband, Max Rohn, were living on the Lower East Side. Because the truck was parked in a lot, she knew it would be flooded, and she worried about looting. So the couple emptied everything from the truck into their apartment. Looking back, she said, “I’m not sure at 42 I could do

what I did at 26. I still have the work ethic, but the labor part of it — I don’t even know how I did it.”

Meanwhile, her father’s estate was being settled. She and her brother became partners, but she was thinking about cashing out. “My mom and my husband had to sit me down and say, we don’t believe you want to step away from this, we believe you really want to stay in.”

It was Marc Wölffer’s idea to bring Mr. Roth into the partnership, and his sister agreed. “Roman was key to the brand, and key to the wine. I didn’t want to lose him.” Mr. Rohn is the C.E.O.

Wölffer makes more than 30 different wines, as well as cider, nonalcoholic wines, gin, and brandy, and has won countless awards and 90-plus ratings, but one wine in particular, Summer in a Bottle, which launched in 2014, has proven to be a phenomenon.

“Summer in a Bottle started when my brother and I took over the winery,” said Ms. Wölffer, who is the company’s chief brand officer. “My friends always said that Wölffer reminded them of summer in a bottle. We took that concept and ran with it. I feel like I represent rosé well, and that’s a big part of our brand.”

 Of the Styleliner Truck, she said, “You’ve got to move on from things, and you have to evolve.” She opened her shop in Sag Harbor in 2015. While she attends the traditional trade shows, she is partial to small-batch designers, and loves vintage clothing and jewelry for their “sustainability.”

She continues to design some of the jewelry, but her passion is a clothing line called Wölffer Reworked. “Each is a unique garment. I take the prints I really like and rework them with new fabric. It’s a way to keep sustainable, because I care a lot about that. I think the customer I have wants to be special, and because it’s unique it kind of solves that problem.”

Ms. Wölffer started riding at the farm when she was 6. Back then, “There was a barn, there was a donkey, and then my mom got a horse from Sharone Einhorn, who had Ruby Beets, and then there were two horses, and it just started developing.” Her father began to ride when he was 50. The stable is now home to some 70 horses owned by others, plus 22 that are in the family’s own stable program. They also have dry stalls that can be rented.

She still rides competitively. During Covid, she and her husband bought a home in Wellington, Fla., a horse community, where they spend much of the winter. Ms. Wölffer rides in High Amateurs, and is in a two-star Grand Prix class, the highest level of show jumping.

“I have big goals for my riding. I’m obsessed with it. It grounds me. I’m not sure I would be the person I am if I didn’t have that structure, my riding. The focus I have to have to ride disciplines me.” Her daughters are now riding.

Ms. Wölffer is on the advisory board of the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center and is a trustee of the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill. Of the Parrish, she said, “I was like, are you sure you want me. I love art, but I’m not in the art world, that’s a very specific world. They said that’s exactly what they need, and that they’ve never had a local business owner on the board.”

“The recreational center is obviously another thing that’s key to our community. Still not enough people know about it, so I’m constantly working on that as well. I believe it’s my responsibility to work within my community.”

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