New Southold winemakers have taste for the exotic
On a hot day two weeks ago, Regan Meador stood at the northern end of his Southold Farm + Cellar, one of the local wine region's newest vineyards, discussing the thousands of grapevines he planted -- by hand -- over the past year. Row upon row of vine-supporting blue tubes jutted up on the nine freshly planted acres like candles on a cake, and it might have been a moment to mark the accomplishment.
But there was more weeding to be done -- without sprays or tractors or hired help -- and little time to dwell on what Meador and his wife, Carey, had already completed.
"It certainly is humbling," said Meador, 33. "I've been on my hands and knees weeding the entire field."
Meador, a former Manhattan advertising and finance man who moved east with Carey and their newborn daughter a year ago after nine years in New York City, brings a passion for different types of wines and has planted grapes that are not common in the region.
Small, DIY approach
The Meadors bought this 22-acre property a year ago from Leucadia National Corp. Their do-it-yourself approach to the land is in stark contrast to Leucadia's, the tight-lipped Manhattan investment firm that scooped up adjacent parcels in 2005. Leucadia spent big money planting vines and trellises over nearly 60 acres.
But with as much mystery as it entered, Leucadia pulled up stakes -- literally -- and was gone within a year. The vines were uprooted and discarded, and the property was largely left to lie fallow. Why the company decided to leave is still unknown. "It's generally Leucadia's policy not to comment," said Julie Terpak, a spokeswoman.
All was quiet on the vast tract until last year, when the Meadors purchased their chunk of it for $800,000. Their Realtor, Syma Joffe Gerard, helped put together a separate deal in which the Peconic Land Trust acquired the two adjacent Leucadia parcels -- one 18 acres, the other 15.7 -- for around $1.86 million, said Tim Caufield, vice president of the trust. He said the Meadors' approach to farming is "essentially what we are trying to encourage."
The couple is funding the winery operation with savings, small family investments, and innovative strategies like Kickstarter.com, an Internet site that encourages donations in creative startups. Kickstarter followers kicked in more than $24,900, according to the site.
"Other than our mortgage, we haven't borrowed anything," Meador said.
He came to the vineyard with no illusions about the hard work it would entail -- his family has been involved in Texas cattle farming, and oil and gas operations in Texas for generations. He can tackle one long row of weeds, hacking at them with a Weedwacker or by hand, per day.
What he really hopes to bring to the local market is different wines. Rather than the merlots and chardonnays that dominate the fields of their colleagues, the Meadors have put in vines uncommon to Long Island.
Italian and Spanish style
Among the reds, which are 90 percent of the planted vineyards, there are three clones of Syrah, and two Italian-style reds: Teroldego and Lagrein. The whites include a Spanish-style grape called Albarino and another, Gold Muscatel.
"I'd like this to be the kind of place that has wine that I like to drink," Regan Meador said. "There's no reason for us to work as hard as we are and not to stay true to that."
Developing a revenue stream is another matter entirely. Meador, who spent two years as an assistant winemaker at Osprey Dominion Winery in Peconic, said he'll focus on managing the fields to get the best grapes possible.
But grapes from the Southold Farm + Cellar won't be ready for winemaking until 2015. In the meantime, Meador said, he plans to buy grapes from a local organic farmer and make wines that can be sold as early as next year. He offers no apologies for his determination to wear as many hats as he can.
"It seems to me that the more owners are involved and doing the day-to-day work, the more apt you are to be successful," he said.