Waters Crest Winery, a family-run Cutchogue winemaker that operated on the North Fork for nearly two decades, is closing its doors and discontinuing the brand, owner Jim Waters said Thursday.
Waters Crest operated a tasting room on Main Road and a separate wine production, storage and retail facility on Sound Avenue, both in Cutchogue.
Waters, 53, said he’s retiring from the business as his family contemplates a move to the South.
“We’re just phasing things down,” Waters said. “It’s been great. We’re trying to get our quality of life back after 20 years.” Waters’ wife, Linda, an air traffic controller, is retiring next month, he said.
Waters Crest was conceived in 1999 and began selling its first wines around 2003, eventually reaching production levels of 2,500 cases a year, Waters said, with 140 wholesale accounts. He did not own a vineyard but bought grapes from local farmers for all his production. All his wines were made in Cutchogue; he also made wine on a contract basis for others.
The Waters Crest tasting room on Main Road has been turned over to Suhru Wines, owned and operated by the family of Russell and Susan Hearn. Russell Hearn has been the director of winemaking at Premium Wine Group, which makes wines for brands around Long Island. Waters had operated the tasting room since 2014.
Waters is selling off his production equipment and remaining inventory and plans to vacate his Sound Avenue facility by the end of June. He has been selling wine primarily to wine-club members for the past several years. The wine club at its height had some 500 members, Waters said.
While the company once had as many as 12 employees, Waters said he, like many local winery and vineyard owners, wore many hats and did much of the work himself.
“We had employees, but when you’re a small company you’ve got to do a lot more yourself,” he said. “You’re the marketing and sales manager, the winemaker. It’s a lot of work, people just don’t realize.”
In addition to the winery closure, Waters has wound down his positions in support of the wine industry. Over the years he has been vice president, treasurer and a board member of the Long Island Wine Council, a local industry group, and he has been the wine industry’s representative on the Long Island Farm Bureau. He has long lobbied the state on behalf of local winemakers, and worked with Wine Council executive director Steve Bate to ease retail restrictions on tasting rooms and wine sales.
Waters said he plans to continue to make wine, but now in home batches for himself and family.
“My passion was the winemaking,” he said. “That’s why I got into it. I’m still going to make wine for myself, small batches for my own personal consumption.”
He said he’s confident he’s leaving the industry in a healthy state, with new market entrants such as the Rivero-Gonzáles family from Mexico that is buying Martha Clara Vineyards, and new deep-pockets owners at Shinn Estate Vineyards.
“I think the industry is going in a good direction,” he said. “The numbers, tourism seem to be up. There’s more confidence.”