New York Wine & GrapeNews
“I’ll be around all weekend so call any time. I have a Billy show today but still reachable."
That’s the reply I got from Mark Snyder, founder of Angels' Share North distributor and The Red Hook Winery, one Saturday morning when I asked to hear more about his recovery efforts to aid Caneel Bay, St. John Island, and St. Thomas Island, where many Caneel Bay employees live.
So, it was with drums pounding in the background and guitars being tuned, Mark spoke with me before his “Billy show” (yes, Billy Joel) at Madison Square Garden to tell me more about a place that he feels wildly passionate about, and one that clearly holds great meaning for him.
Mark and his wife were married at Caneel Bay Resort and celebrated their one-year anniversary there in August. Mark says it’s a small, close knit community. “Theu call St. John Island "Love City,” he says, “It’s magic. This is really a spiritual endeavor for me.”
Bob Foley, legendary ‘cult’ winemaker from Napa for over 30 years, started his brand Robert Foley vineyards in 1998 on Howell Mountain, also happens to be one of the winemakers for Red Hook Winery. Mark and Bob discovered Caneel Bay together while they were on vacation with their wives Sandra and Kelly. They have been visiting the “Love Island” together for many years, long before Mark and Sandra had their wedding there.
The universe works in mysterious ways. Mark and the team at the Red Hook Winery were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. “I feel like I am the steward of those lessons learned,” says Mark about the recovery efforts that went into Red Hook five years ago. “We are still recovering here, and I know we will be for years.” He’s grateful for the outpouring of help from the community and wants to use what he’s learned so far and “pay it forward” to help his favorite place on earth recover from the devastating losses of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
But that doesn’t mean throwing money at the problem.
Mark feels strongly that focused recovery efforts and investments will yield greater long-term dividends for those who stick around and stay in the community. He calls this “tough love” in the form of business lessons that can be uniquely provided by him and his groups of partners.
Mark has had to make hard decisions about how and where his efforts would be best utilized for the Caneel Bay Community. He wants to help re-establish business strongholds, yes, but what are the right businesses to support? How do you get resources where they’re needed, when they are needed?
For the immediate time being Mark is working with several nonprofits, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and FEMA and using any resource at their disposal. For longer term efforts, Mark is taking a businesslike approach.
First, there will be the creation of an import company, so that he can ensure the flow of goods and resources onto the island. This will also help to create jobs and “spread the small business culture amongst entrepreneurs on the island where there once was a monopoly.”
Mark’s mid-range recovery efforts indeed include wine. Working with Amy & Michael Grable, Winemakers & Winegrowers at Grable Vineyards in Napa, and the Corley Family of Monticello Vineyards in Napa, Mark will be creating a Chardonnay, with the working name of “Hawksbill” in honor of the local Caneel Bay turtles. That wine will be distributed for free to hand-picked St. John's restaurants, including Caneel Bay restaurants.
Mark’s team anticipates producing 800 to 900 cases and that sales will generate over $1 million for local restaurants, and help get business back up and running. The long-range plan includes the creation of individual cuvée names to honor those who are involved in the efforts. The money raised will be reinvested in the project.
Why do it this way? Mark feels that this type of focused investment “will truly benefit those who stay the course and remain on the island and really invest in the community for the long haul.”
In large part, the island is special because of where it is, and there will always be inherent risks with that. “There's insurance you can buy, there are machines that can help you protect your building and contents, but we have a certain responsibility for resilience in recovery,” says Mark.