Wednesday, July 03, 2013

John Bruno of Oak Summit - A Life Rich in Steak and Pinot Noir



Some of the best wine made in the Hudson Valley is produced by Oak Summit Vineyards. Their Pinot Noir especially, has been lauded by numerous magazines and wine writers. Their Chardonnay is also excellent. The man behind the label is John Bruno, who is a veteran of two industries.

 
Oak Summit’s philosophy is that great wine in made in the vineyard. According to Bruno it was and an oenological rule first penned by the Latin poet Virgil in 48 BC, and it has not been questioned in over 2000 years.

 
This why Bruno, his wife Nancy, and their team work hard in their beautiful vineyard to grow only healthy, pure and luscious grapes.

 
Their 6 acres of vines are planted in Dutchess Cardigan, a gravelly loam of great depth. The natural pH is 6.3, and the soil is rich in nutrients, well balanced in minerals, and has no need for artificial amendments. Their PINOT NOIR vines are all traditional Dijon clones grafted on American rootstock. They are hand-planted and hand-trained onto a VSP trellis system. Every year they prune and discard at least 30% of our crop to maintain the intensity and character which are their trademarks.

 

John cuts a dashing figure with his well coiffed beard, emblazoned navy blue blazer, complete with pocket square, and an absolutely sarcastic and witty humor. He is without a doubt the most entertaining speaker of all the winery owners in the valley.

 

John once described grape growing, saying, “Farming is very easy. First, you find yourself a good farmer,” he said, chewing on his beard. “Then you have him carve you some very nice, neat rows spread down your field. Then I want you to line those rows with $100 bills end to end, like dominoes, and then I want you to light those babies up with a match. That’s what farming is.”

 

He is a restaurant veteran. His family’s restaurant in NYC was a mecca for sports writers for generation. The walls were festooned with water colors and sketches. Many famous sports writers ate there. It was located on what was known as “Steak Row.”
 

 

 
“East 45th Street between Lexington and First used to have so many red-meat joints that it won this moniker. By most accounts, the ‘Mayor of Steak Row’ was John C. Bruno [John’s father], the owner of the Pen and Pencil at 205 E. 45th Street. Also on this strip were Joe & Rose's and The Pressbox, The Editorial and Danny's Hideaway. These last three were founded by former Pen & Pencil employees,” remembered Brooks of Sheffield in his column Lost City.

 

Bruno had been the head waiter at the Lincoln Hotel’s Blue Room until 1939 when he left to work at the Pen & Pencil. Eventually he became an owner, and then the owner. Read one article, NORTH, EAST, SOUTH, WEST, YOU'LL FIND THE "NEW YORK CUT" IS BEST from 1959, “John C. Bruno, tall, still slim and handsome, is an opera fan (owns a box at the Metropolitan every sea-son) and indulges in an expensive sideline—horse racing; but can still take time out to tell you how to cook a steak. Several seasons ago, to introduce his restaurant to a newer set of patrons, he employed publicist Michael Sean O'Shea to stage semi-annual champagne-and-steak supper parties for celebrities of the stage and screen. At one memorable affair that went from mid-night to dawn the guests included Ethel Merman, Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Shirley Booth and Ginger Rogers.”

 

 
John C. Bruno Sr. died 1965, and with his passing, Steak Row began to fade, and the landscape of the restaurant world started to change. Years after his father’s passing, John admitted that steak for example only accounted for 20% of their lunch trade, while fish had had become the popular choice. John took it over running the restaurant when his father died and ran it for 33 years until 1998, when the building’s  landlord sold the address to a developer. 

 
John was a graduate of the Dartmouth’s Amos Tuck School of Business. As far back as the early 1980s, John was quoted in Field & Stream magazine in October of 1982, as an advocate of local food, saying, “Lots of food grown here is far superior to that found in other countries. We are learning to refresh our fresh food, things such as tomatoes, corn, squash, and aged beef, and to cook them intelligently using simple, basic  recipes that bring  out the best in  this wholesome food.”
"My grandfather was a bootlegger," Bruno told the Poughkeepsie Journal in 2011, about Charles Stradella, his mother's father, who made red wine and "bathtub gin" in New York City during Prohibition. 
 

Pen and Pencil was a big hot spot. Here's a picture of Yogi Berra there at the restaurant.


John was one of the feisty restaurateurs who were involved in the famous New York City  "steakhouse wars" of the 1970s.

Pen and Pencil

The Pen and Pencil was recently mentioned in Mad Men. According to Eater.com, "While waiting for Don to show up to a meeting in the Season 2 episode ‘For those Who Think Young,’ Freddy Rumson complains about "not being at the Pen and Pencil by 12:30.""


Ownership of Pen & Pencil was passed down through the generations and Bruno owned and operated the restaurant for 33 years before selling it in 1998, purchasing 40 acres in Millbrook and establishing Oak Summit Vineyard.
 
 
"I had wanted to find something to do, some gentlemanly endeavor like a B&B, but it sounded too much like restaurant work.Then I thought, I'll go back to the old family business," Bruno joked about his transition from the restaurant business to retirement to the farming industry.
 
 

In the meantime, John moved up-state and began the beautiful vineyard Oak Summitt. He is obsessed with his grapes.


Accordingly, his Pinot Noir is dark, rich, and incredible. Many wines critics rate his wine as some of the best Pinot Noir New York state has to offer. Their Chardonnay is also quite excellent. And their new Rose is also quite lovely.

Another one of the reasons John is so important in the Hudson Valley is because since I have known him, low these seven years since we first met, he has spoken of only one thing- quality. He has preached it, demanded it, cajoled it, and been out spoken about it. He has been the uncompromising conscience of he valley in pushing the wine making community towards this goal. And he does it with massive doses of self-deprecating humor, colorful language, and good will.

So now you know. What you need to do, is call Oak Summit, and get yourself some. It's great stuff!