Changes at Wölffer, Peconic Bay vineyards

Along Montauk Highway, Sagaponack, the vineyards of Wolffer

Along Montauk Highway, Sagaponack, the vineyards of Wolffer winery rise on a hill to reveal a gazabo. (Jan. 20, 2007) (Credit: Newsday/Daniel Goodrich)

Five years after the death of its founder, Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack Monday said two of his children will buy out their siblings and take over ownership.

Separately Monday, Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue said it will close its Cutchogue tasting room to regular public traffic and move day-to-day tasting operations to its retail Empire State Cellars location in Tanger Outlet mall in Riverhead. The winery will remain open for wine making and larger functions, such as wine-club tastings, musical events and an annual car show, said general manager James Silver.

Steven Bate, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council, pointed to those moves and several newly opened tasting rooms -- Roanoke Vineyard's retail store in Mattituck, Jamesport Vineyards' new tasting room on Shelter Island, and Harmony Vineyards' launch last year in Head of the Harbor -- as evidence that the local wine industry is "dynamic and there continue to be growth opportunities."

The Long Island wine region will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, with Jazz on the Vine musical events set to kick off at East End wineries starting Feb. 9.

The change in ownership at Wölffer followed the sudden death of vineyard founder Christian Wölffer in a swimming accident on New Year's Eve in 2008. On Monday, two of his children, Marc and Joey Wölffer, said they would continue their father's legacy by purchasing their two sisters' interest in the winery, which was launched 25 years ago.

The Wölffers plan to leave day-to-day operations in the hands of current management, including noted winemaker Roman Roth, and vineyard manager Rich Pisacano, said Judy Malone, head of marketing.

"They want to continue to grow the business of the winery and honor their father's legacy," Malone said. Brother and sister Marc and Joey Wölffer will remain "key strategists" in the winery, working to increase sales while bringing more cultural venues to the Sagaponack tasting room.

At Peconic Bay Winery, general manager Silver said Empire State Cellars gets considerably more foot traffic at Tanger mall than at the Cutchogue tasting room being closed. Peconic Bay's parent company, Lav-Cor Agricultural Inc., operates both operations.

"Millions more people will see it at Tanger," Silver said. "It's going to be good for our brand overall."

Empire State Cellars offers tastings of most of the region's wines, as well as those from upstate, and local beers and spirits -- hundreds in all.

The transfer of the tasting operations is unrelated to the recent uprooting of around 10 percent of the vines in Peconic Bay's vineyard, which Silver said was because of a leaf virus.The vineyard will no longer hold large-scale music events such as the NoFo Rock and Folk Fest it hosted in past years. It will focus instead on mid-size concerts, Silver said.

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