It reads like a meet-cute scene from a Hollywood film — perhaps one that former New Line co-chairman Michael Lynne, who produced hits like the Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “Wedding Crashers,” helmed himself. Fifteen years ago, Lynne, a longtime rare-wine collector, decided to invest in his own vineyard, mulling over lush sites in Italy, France and California.
But he hesitated. “I’m a New Yorker,” Lynne explains, Brooklyn twang proudly intact, “and they were really far away.”
Bedell Cellars’ signature wine labels feature original art from the likes of Chuck Close, Barbara Kruger and Mickalene Thomas.Photo: BRETT BEYER
Somehow, none of those glamorous wine regions could compare with a humble winery he’d stumbled upon 20 years prior, during a family trip to Long Island’s North Fork, just two hours from the city.
“It had one steel tank in the garage, and we did a little tiny tasting. I always remembered it, never ever forgot it,” the 74-year-old film producer tells Alexa.
When he took another trip out east to explore the viability of buying a vineyard closer to home, he again chanced on the winery of his memories — Bedell Cellars — and its acclaimed winemaker Kip Bedell, whom Wine Spectator touted on its cover as “Mr. Merlot” long before the North Fork earned its current hot-spot kudos.
This time, Lynne didn’t blink, snapping up Bedell, nearby Corey Creek Vineyards and a third site in quick succession, for a total of 80 acres of vines, along with a historic, if crumbling, cottage and barn.
Recently, that meet-cute has unfolded into a happy ending. Bedell’s merlot was poured at the 2013 Inaugural Luncheon for President Obama — a first for a New York wine. And the vineyard’s tasting room was recently recognized by Wine Enthusiast magazine as one of the Top 25 in the US.
Their three-bedroom cottage retreat was originally a barn built in 1710 — the couple’s careful restoration preserved many historic details.Photo: BRETT BEYER The Lynnes worked with interior designer Vicente Wolf to convert a 1919 potato barn into Bedell Cellars’ tasting room — Wine Enthusiast magazine has since named it one of the Top 25 in the nation.Photo: BRETT BEYER
But there were plenty of plot twists along the way. Restoring the cottage proved a painstaking process for Lynne, his wife, art patron Ninah, and their famed interior designer, Vicente Wolf. The group road-tested their renovation skills on their onetime potato barn. Lynne considered demolishing the 1919-built structure before realizing, “It didn’t feel right — [it’s] an iconic example of the architecture on the North Fork … So we honored the integrity of the region by restoring the exterior elements.”
That barn eventually became his lofted, award-winning tasting room. He and Ninah took the same approach to the cottage, which was built in 1710 as a barn but had fallen into disrepair. “The bare bones were there, but it was terribly deteriorated,” he says.
Yet the couple was determined: Restoring the cottage would not only create a charming three-bedroom country hideout for their family, it would also offer the ideal billet for any visiting chefs or winemakers. They followed their previous design maxim, preserving exterior elements and expressing themselves via the interior, selecting, for example, a dining table that combines a modern-design classic — a base by Isamu Noguchi — with a tabletop constructed using salvaged beams from the original barn. And while they briefly weighed removing a rotten wooden staircase that snaked through the center of the house, they couldn’t bring themselves to raze it.
“When I put my hand on that staircase, I know I’m connecting to the history of the place,” Lynne says quietly.
Indeed, though he owns homes in NYC, Miami and Sag Harbor, it’s the Bedell cottage that has become his most sentimental retreat. “Lunch there, on a beautiful summer day, is the most beautiful thing you can do within two hours of New York City,” he says.
Mixing historic details with contemporary touches, the cottage’s tabletop was built with wood salvaged from the former barn — and a base from modern designer Isamu Noguchi.Photo: BRETT BEYER
Adding to its allure, the house is festooned with works from the couple’s impressive art collection. Lynne, who serves on the board of MoMA, first began collecting when he was a young showbiz lawyer in the early 1980s, mingling with then-unknown talents like Cindy Sherman, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Prince and Julian Schnabel. Lynne horse-traded legal advice — largely, he explains, counseling them on real-estate deals as they snapped up cheap studio space in Soho — in exchange for artworks. It ignited a passion in the moviemaker, who’s since become one of the most prominent contemporary-art buyers in the world.
The cottage’s kitchen showcases a striking conceptual photograph: “Untitled (help)” from celebrated artist Barbara Kruger. Lynne serves on the board of MoMA and has long collected works from stars like Cindy Sherman and Jean-Michel Basquiat.Photo: BRETT BEYER
“If I weren’t collecting art or wine, I would probably be collecting saltshakers,” Lynne laughs. “I think there is a collector gene that informs some of this — art or wine.”
He indulges both at Bedell, whether hanging a huge work from artist Barbara Kruger in the cottage kitchen, or persuading art stars to design the winery’s now-signature bottle labels.
Photo: BRETT BEYER
Photo: BRETT BEYER
Photo: BRETT BEYER
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Most of the original art for those custom labels hangs in the tasting room and cottage, including Chuck Close’s daguerreotype of a bunch of merlot grapes, and Kruger’s black-and-white snap of a glamorous, Marilyn Monroe-esque woman, the word “Taste” pasted across her open mouth in bright red letters. “We couldn’t keep that bottle [in stock] in the tasting room,” Lynne marvels.
“Look, the wine is delicious, but honestly, I think it was that label.”
As for the success of what’s inside the bottle, Lynne credits the winery’s impressive terroir, akin to the right bank of Bordeaux — great for merlot, malbec and cab franc — along with the skills of Kip Bedell, who remains involved as founding winemaker.
After considering vineyard properties in Italy, France and California, Lynne snapped up 80 acres on Long Island’s North Fork in 2000.Photo: BRETT BEYER
Lynne’s most recent vineyard collaboration is with artist Mickalene Thomas, known for her voluptuously sexy mixed-media collages. When Thomas ended up seated with Lynne and his wife at a MoMA dinner where Bedell’s wines were being served, he girded himself to ask the artist if she might consider creating something for his bottles.
“She looked at the label and said, ‘What’s that? Can I do one?’ ” he recalls, incredulously. “She asked me.”
Lynne’s love of wine (and art) hasn’t eclipsed his first passion, though — he’s still producing movies for his current, Midtown-based production company, Unique Features, whose upcoming slate includes an animated adaptation of Paul McCartney’s children’s book “High in the Clouds.” Lynne sees a clear parallel between both businesses.
“There’s an aspect you can’t predict. Go into a movie with the right financing and talent and stuff can still go wrong, while in wine it tends to be weather-related. There’s always something you literally can’t control,” he explains. “And sometimes the fates are just with you, and it all comes together.”
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