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Long Island Wine Council takes a new name and plans for the future

Winemaker Kareem Massoud, at Paumanok Vineyards, is the

Winemaker Kareem Massoud, at Paumanok Vineyards, is the new president of the rebranded Long Island Wine Country.  Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

The Long Island Wine Council has renamed itself Long Island Wine Country in a bid to better associate the region with the East End’s bucolic farmland and the improved reputation of its wines.

Kareem Massoud, winemaker at Paumanok Vineyards, which had taken a hiatus from the council for several years, has returned as its newly appointed president. He said the move coincides with a reinvigoration of the organization and the region, where a level of consolidation has taken place in recent years amid a new wave of owners, and the emergence of second-generation wine makers.

The word “council” in the name was “too boring,” said Massoud. “Country is more correct. It drives home the point that it’s the country out here. It’s an agricultural area.”

The emphasis, he said, will be on the quality of the region’s wine, developing a strategic plan for the region that includes strengthening community relations.

“We needed to come together as an industry and have this rebirth and show a strategic plan,” he said. That includes “emphasizing the quality of the wine,” elevating the image and “showing our community that we’re good neighbors and responsible stewards of the land.”

The new board of Long Island Wine Country is primarily made up of women, Massoud said, a marked change from past years, where upstart vineyard owners were primarily male business owners. One new board member is Maria Rivero, who oversees RGNY, the former vineyard and winery known as Martha Clara. She didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Massoud said his own family’s purchase of Palmer Vineyards in 2018 and the purchase of Shinn Estate and Croteaux Vineyards by the Frankel family show that the region is still attractive to buyers. Randy and Barbara Frankel did not respond to a request for an interview.

For second-generation owners like Giovanni Borghese, owner of Castella di Borghese Vineyard and
Winery in Cutchogue, the time is ripe  for expansion.

“We’re exploring the cost benefit of investing more into the vineyard,” he said. Borghese’s winery was the region’s first, formerly owned by the Hargrave family.

“We’re always interested in growing,” Borghese said. “It depends on what type of business model: mom and pop, versus being a commercial entity. … In a perfect world you stay mom and pop, but also find ways to grow the business.”

Meanwhile, two of Long Island’s most well-known wineries remain on the selling block. Vineyard 48, which lost its liquor license in 2017 after complaints from neighbors led to a state Liquor Authority crackdown, went on the block earlier this year for $6 million. Agent Michael Murphy last month said interest in the 33-acre property  had been high but he didn’t return several messages seeking comment about prospects since then.

At the other end of the spectrum, 95-acre Bedell Cellars went on the market a year ago and is still on the block, with a selling price of $17.9 million that includes its separate Corey Creek property. Gary DePersia, an agent for the Corcoran Group, which is handling the sale, didn’t respond to calls seeking comment.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it sells for a significant sum because they’ve developed it into a very nice property that produces outstanding wines with an excellent reputation,” said Massoud.

Syma Gerard, a retired farmland broker from Eastport who has handled vineyard sales, said as much as the region has grown both in geographic size (now encompassing some 3,000 acres) and reputation, selling a winery on the North Fork can be tricky and can take longer than sellers expect.

“The wines are good, the wineries are gorgeous, and they do have real value,” she said of the properties. “But they still are subject to the laws of investing,” and buyers will always insist on seeing the profit and loss statements. Big profits haven’t been the norm for Long Island wineries.

But some have found their sweet spot with growth in the region. Anthony Sannino, who with his family owns the newly opened Sannino Vineyard in Cutchogue,  has a new tasting room and headquarters in full operation on Sound Avenue, and he said he’s seeing a big pick-up in traffic from a year ago, something that attests to the growing interest in the region.

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