Sign up for our Newsletter

Wölffer’s collaboration with Great Jones Distilling was released to the public on Feb. 15, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Great Jones Distilling)

If you’re one of those people who claims to stick to either wine or whiskey — and never the two shall meet — you might need to rethink that stance.

In a project that’s been in the works for well over two years, Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack and Great Jones Distilling in Manhattan have released their very first collaborative project, the limited edition Great Jones Straight Bourbon Whiskey finished in cabernet franc barrels from the winery.

The project brought together forward-thinking winemaker and part owner of Wölffer, Roman Roth, with head distiller Celine Perez of Great Jones Distilling, bridging the gap not just between points east and west, but in finding a way to blend their New York-centric work in a way that made delicious sense.

Distiller Celine Perez and winemaker Roman Roth discuss barrels and aging. (Photo credit: Amy Zavatto)

“You know, you want to find somebody where you are aligned, where you both actually have huge standards,” says Roth of working with Perez. “It became a very organic project actually.”

The project he’s speaking of is the aging of Great Jones’s 4 to 7-year-old aged bourbon and then finishing a portion of it for a year in barrels that once held Wölffer’s Caya cabernet franc, with the final blend in bottle being 60% cabernet franc finished whiskey and 40% directly from the whiskey barrel.

It’s a practice that isn’t new to the whiskey world — producers from Scotland to Japan to Kentucky have engaged in this extra aging step to add complexity and layers of flavor to their spirits. But it is the first time that Great Jones and Wölffer have each engaged in the practice, and both winemaker and distiller are very happy with the results.

“Just right off the bat, [the wine-barrel aged bourbon] is smoother, more well rounded I think. It’s balanced in a lot of ways. I think that the wine sort of pulls the tannic nature out of the whiskey, which I would assume would be the opposite,” says Perez, noting the aromas and flavors of creme brûlée, toffee and butterscotch.

Part of that is the effect of the barrel, but the other whiskey-nerd aspect is dialing into how the proof of the spirit hides or enhances the resulting flavors, which was an aspect of the project they worked out in test batches over time. The final number they settled on was 88 proof. “Some of the higher and lower proofs that we were working with would become very tannic,” she says. “This just seemed like a really harmonious blend to go with. We all agreed across the board.”

Great Jones and Wölffer’s first collaboration may well not be their last. (Photo credit: Amy Zavatto)

As to the barrel of Caya from Wölffer, Roth is very particular about the barrels he buys from the outset, insisting (and paying extra) for wood that spends time seasoning for up to four years before its made into barrel in order to kick to the curb any bitter, grassy oak tannin that can potentially clash with the tannin from grapes. “You don’t want these chewy tannins,” he says.

While Roth has dabbled in distilling, making gin and apple brandy under the Wölffer label, whiskey is a grain-based spirits, which isn’t something grown on the estate. Great Jones’s sister distillery, Black Dirt Distillery in Warwick, NY, who came online in 2012 and source their grains locally as a farm distillery. Great Jones launched in 2021, as the first working distillery in Manhattan in over 100 years.

The partnership produced 750 cases of whiskey, half of which were released this past Thursday, February 15. So if you were late on Valentine’s? This isn’t such a bad make-up present.

Great Jones Straight Bourbon Whiskey finished in cabernet franc red wine casks from Wölffer Estate retails for $49.99 and is being sold at both Wolffer tasting room at 139 Sagg Road in Sagaponack and Great Jones Distillery at 686 Broadway, New York, NY or online here.