James and Alexandra Medwick, co-founders of Port Washington-based Maiden + Liberty, aren’t your typical wine makers.
They don’t own a vineyard and they aren’t solely sourcing grapes from just one region or country.
Instead the couple is combining the best of both of their worlds (he’s a Long Island native and she’s originally from the South of France) to create French American blends made up of the fermented juice of both North Fork grapes and those from Southern France.
“We are focused on making interesting and unusual combinations of grapes that do very well in the South of France but don’t grow very well on Long Island, and vice versa,” says James, 33.
Blending isn’t a new concept, but cross blending Long Island grapes with French is unusual, say local experts, and the challenge lies in explaining this hybrid to the public.
“It’s definitely a challenge to educate people about just Long Island wines as opposed to other more well-known wine regions like California, but now to blend that with France and try to explain how the juices will work together is an added challenge,” says Melissa Martin, president of Creative Island, a Baiting Hollow wine and food marketing consulting firm.
But she thinks it’s an interesting and creative challenge to have.
“I think it’s actually a bold pioneer move,” says Martin, also marketing director at Pindar Vineyards in Peconic.
To educate consumers, Maiden + Liberty needs a complete marketing campaign that includes participating in as many events and tastings as possible and also an outreach campaign to wine shops, country clubs and restaurants, she notes.
To their advantage, the Medwicks have already been doing tastings at local events with two inaugural wines they made from North Fork grapes — a Cabernet Franc and a Chardonnay. The two, released in February, are presently sold by about eight retailers.
Releasing those wines, which they produce at Premium Wine Group, a contract winemaking facility in Mattituck, helped get their foot in the door.
Still, James, who previously worked as a corporate lawyer focused on mergers and acquisitions, always had in the back of his mind the idea of marrying the two regions.
He was thinking about how different the wines were and thought it would be interesting to combine them to see if they’d complement each other. He experimented until he found the right combinations.
They purchase fermented juice from a handful of wineries including Pellegrini Vineyards in Cutchogue and Chartreuse de Mougeres in the Herault region of France, says James. Juice arrives from France by boat in refrigerated shipping containers.
The French American blend will be available in a red and a white in mid-August, with the red expected to retail for $22 to $23 and the white for $19 to $21. The company will produce 2,700 bottles of the red blend and 3,000 bottles of the white, James said. They also plan to produce a red and a white made from just French grapes from the Languedoc region, to be available this fall.
To generate interest, they’ve been talking about the cross-blend at events, says Alexandra, 30, who recently left a position in private banking to focus on the business full time. Her parents both work at French wineries.
A lot of people react to the two-country blend by asking, “Is that possible?” she notes.
It’s certainly possible, says Eric Fry, wine maker at Lenz Winery in Peconic.
He wasn’t aware of this particular American/French cross blending being done locally, adding “wines from France are very good and wines from the North Fork are very good . . . the only reason you’d go to the extreme point of mixing them would be for marketing purposes.”
Plus “a wine maker is usually quite often fiercely proud of his region,” himself included, he says, adding, “I think the wine from Long Island is the best in the world.”
Still, the Medwicks think there’s an appeal to pairing both regions and believe the taste is “unique,” although they acknowledge there’ll be an education process.
There’s also the matter of where the blends will be placed in wine stores — the Long Island section or the French section, says Alexandra. Due to labeling laws, it will be labeled French American red blend and French American white blend.
Hevin Huang, manager at Young’s Fine Wines and Spirits in Manhasset, which carries the couple’s North Fork wines now, says he’d probably split it between the Long Island section and the varietal section.
He plans to carry the blends, saying their two existing wines are popular with customers.
“In our neighborhood, people would want to try something else different,” he says.
At a glance
Company: Maiden + Liberty, Port Washington
Co-founders: James and Alexandra Medwick
Product: Three lines of wine, one using North Fork grapes, one a blend of French and North Fork, and one French
Production: 1,800 bottles of North Fork wine, 5,700 planned of French/North Fork blend
Retail price range: roughly $18 to $23