Penguin publisher selling wine grapes on LI

Penguin Group USA CEO and new gardener David

Penguin Group USA CEO and new gardener David Shanks on his Surrey Lane Vineyard in Southold. (July, 29, 2012) (Credit: Randee Daddona)

The chief executive of publisher Penguin Group USA has purchased 46 acres of the former Ackerly Pond Vineyard in Southold and begun selling grapes and other crops from his newly named Surrey Lane Vineyard.

David Shanks, who with his wife, Elizabeth, also owns a nearby home in Southold, closed on the property a year ago and already has a first-season crop under his belt. He is working with local vineyard manager Steve Mudd to cultivate about 18 acres of red-wine grapes and has planted seven acres of new white varietals.

For Shanks, the venture is as much the fulfillment of a longtime dream as one centered on showing a profit.

"It was something I always wanted to do," said Shanks.

Surrey Lane sold its entire 2012 red-grape harvest to W├Âlffer Estate Winery in Sagaponack, but Shanks said his passion for growing fruit and vegetables will likely extend to creating his own Surrey Lane label. He doesn't expect, however, to open a tasting room or winery.

Shanks bought the 46-acre farm from the family of wine-region pioneer Ray Blum, who died in 2007. Sparkling Pointe, the sparkling-wine maker in Southold, previously bought another adjacent 18 acres.

Shanks, who oversees operations at the book publisher, which is merging with Random House, said the decision to buy the vineyard started with a desire to garden and farm.

When his wife urged him to get serious about the plan, they began looking at properties on the North Fork. "We went from my conception of a couple of acres to it getting bigger and bigger," he said. Smaller ambitions kept growing until the 46 acres began to make more and more sense.

"In all the various houses we've owned, I've never had a sunny enough spot to grow the things I want to grow," he said.

He has it now. In addition to the 25 acres of vines, he has planted an 1,800-tree apple orchard, and he plans to add peaches and nectarines this year. "Next year I'll have 80,000 apples to sell," he said.

He's also planted two acres of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, and some 15 acres of vegetables -- he had enough to donate a portion to a food bank in Greenport through the 2012 growing season. Shanks said he expects to sell produce going forward.

Mudd, the son of another grape-growing pioneer, David Mudd, who died in 2011, is overseeing the old vines and planting new ones. Red-grape varietals are the local staples merlot and cabernet franc, while the new whites are sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc and chenin blanc, along with some existing chardonnay.

Syma Joffe Gerard, an Eastport real estate broker who was an agent on both the original purchase by Ray Blum and the Shanks buy, said the year-ago purchase by Shanks shows the market for vineyard properties remains vibrant.

Shanks' said his decision not to open a tasting room and winemaking facility, though not set in stone, has as much to do with the vineyard's location as the ability of others to make very good wine from his grapes.

"Do I want to be one of the last on the vineyard tour? Probably not," he said of his far-east location. "I want to see how much I get into the wines others are making out of my grapes, and how much I want to do it myself."

Given his background, there is one thing he will be doing: keeping a journal of his exploits, if only to keep track of his progress.

"There's so many things I need to remember -- when grapes need to be picked," he said. "My two daughters are older. I'm trying to lure them into loving this."

But make no mistake -- this is Shanks' passion. "I wanted to learn as much as possible," he said. And while he made "some mistakes" this year, "I learned an enormous amount."

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