Long Island wine country at 50: New wineries, new grapes, high-tech production
Long Island winemakers are preparing for the 50th anniversary of the region's wine country and the 2023 season with new wines, new tasting rooms, food pairings and new looks as the post-pandemic era kicks into high gear.
Long Island wine country's origins date to 1973, when recent Harvard graduates Louisa and Alex Hargrave planted the first vines in a former potato field. Neither had a background in viticulture. He'd majored in Asian studies, she in teaching and government. Yet, their Hargrave Vineyard broke ground in more ways than one, creating a distinct new wine region on a modest 60 acres.
Fifty years later, the region boasts 57 wine producers on some 3,000 acres, from the North and South Forks to Northport and Sayville, and even some of the biggest continue to grow. Pindar Vineyards, now the region's largest, is investing in production with a new high-tech bottling operation.
McCall Wines of Cutchogue is building a new structure for storage and equipment made of wood from a historical New Hampshire barn. Macari Vineyards is expanding the use of its second vineyard on Main Road in Cutchogue called Meadowlark North Fork. And many wineries are turning to food pairings to accentuate their latest vintages, where local codes allow.
Long Island wine country by the numbers
3,000 acres planted
1.2 million gallons produced annually
$113.6 million revenue from total wine sales
894 workers employed producing wine
1.3 million annual visitors
$30.55 spent per visit, $39.7 million annually at tasting rooms
$59.2 million spent on wine-related tourism annually (outside of wine buys)
Source: Long Island Wine Country trade association
Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, which in 2018 bought nearby Palmer Vineyards of Riverhead, this year is celebrating the 40th anniversary of both wineries, including dinners and events at each, said winemaker Kareem Massoud, who is also president of Long Island Wine Country, the trade association.
"My parents [Charles and Ursula Massoud] and some of the other early pioneers on Long Island deserve a lot of credit for having the vision, the conviction of what could be realized here," he said, referring to wine pioneers with names like Goerler, Damianos, Blum and Pugliese.
"I think that vision has been mostly realized today," Massoud said. "If you look at what's happening today in Long Island wine country, there's really a broad range of really high quality wines being made: red wines, white wines, sparkling wines, rosé, dessert wines, different wine styles ... that really hold their own on the world stage of wine."
Domenica Pugliese, manager and co-owner of Pugliese Winery in Cutchogue, can recall the early days of the new region, when her father, Ralph Pugliese, in 1980 moved the family out from Queens to the new farm on the North Fork.
"It was a whole new world," she said. "In the beginning, everyone was really tight: we learned from one another, shared equipment."
Those early businesses have largely grown into much larger companies, with advanced technology helping in the cultivation of grapes and wine production. Just this month, Pindar Vineyards began integrating a new state-of-the-art bottling line at its Peconic headquarters, said operations manager Alex Damianos. The equipment, which can bottle up to 2,400 cases of wine a day, in both screw caps and corks, was shipped from Italy this month.
"It's probably the most technologically advanced bottling line in New York State," Damianos said. "It shows our commitment to the future of the business."
While the pioneer brands continue to expand and diversify, there's also a continual march of new arrivals to the region.
Among the newer Long Island winers is Fire Island Vines in Bay Shore. The company offers its own Fire Island Vines brand but has also begun carrying other Long Island wine brands, as well as local beer and cider, said tasting room manager Beck Davidow.
Another new North Fork wine brand is North Cliff Vineyards in Cutchogue. Winemaker Edmund Power said the 17 planted acres house merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot vines, with a fifth harvest taking place this fall. The wine is being made with help from the Premium Wine Group in Mattituck. Power said the winery is also making a merlot aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. The wine is available at the Riverhead farmers market every Saturday.
“We use quality fruit that was hand-harvested,” Power said. “We use no herbicides or restricted chemicals. We use no factory yeasts to promote fermentation — and only use the natural yeast from the vineyard.”
McCall Wines in Cutchogue imported materials for a new barn next to the company's vineyard from one that was set for demolition in New Hampshire, owner Russ McCall sad. McCall wines continue to score well among notable wine reviewers, with the vineyard achieving a 93 for its 2014 Pinot Noir Reserve from the Wine Advocate, McCall said.
Among new wines from Long Island vineyards, Lenz Winery in Peconic recently introduced library magnums with vintages dating to 1997, said general manager Jerod Baily. Also new are a 2020 Estate Selection Cabernet Franc, a 2019 Estate Selection Pinot Gris, a 2022 Estate Selection Sauvignon Blanc and a 2022 Estate Selection Blanc de Noir. The winery is also relaunching its annual Dinner in the Vines this year, after a three-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Suhru Wines in Cutchogue is debuting what it’s calling Long Island’s first wines from La Crescent grape varietals, said Shelby Hearn Ulrich, general manager. The grape is “well suited to the cool and cold climates of the Northeast,” she said. “Its winter hardiness, vigor and climate adaptability make it a natural fit for a sustainable-minded winemaker.” The wine is being made by assistant wine maker Brad Ulrich.
Suhru Wines 2022 La Crescent marks the start of a new collection of Suhru wines, the company said, “designed to highlight some of the lesser-known grape varietals" being grown across New York State.
“Gone are the days when wine lovers only reach for the classic European grape varieties,” winemaker Russell Hearn said in a statement. “We are finding this particularly true with the younger generation of wine drinkers, making it the perfect grape for Brad’s debut wine, as he continues to express and define his personal winemaking style.”
Sannino Vineyard of Cutchogue is getting a furniture upgrade and expansion and some new wine and food-pairing offerings. The winery’s members lounge has new leather couches and armchairs, private garden space and farm-style tables.
An on-premises chef is offering a new light-bite pairing menu for its wines, plus a dessert pairing. The winery’s 2022 whites are scheduled for release this spring, including a first-time Pinot Grigio, and new vintages of Oak Reserve Chardonnay, Steel Chardonnay and a seven-grape blend “Fresco.” Owner Anthony Sannino is continuing a VIP blending class, and the family is increasing the size of its Vineyard B&B to five rooms starting this fall.
At RGNY in Riverhead, offerings for 2023 include authentic Mexican food and live music in collaboration with Riverhead restaurant Taqueria Cielito Lindo. Visitors can also create their own wine-blending session with artisanal snacks and a blended wine, and take a new winemaker’s tour. The tour includes a tour of the facility and a private guided tasting and pairing tour followed by lunch.
Sparkling Pointe has completed a makeover of its Peconic operation, including new floors and furniture, and a new wine release: 2017 Cuvee Cynthia Blanc de Noirs, named for the company’s vintner Cynthia Rosicki. There’s also a new 2018 Boisseau Blanc de Blancs. The winery will also hold its annual Macarons & Sparkling Wine Pairing event in the spring.
Macari Vineyards of Mattituck will re-open its Meadowlark North Fork tasting room on Main Road in Cutchogue, featuring limited production wines and large-group gatherings and private events. Meadowlark will host food and music every summer Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Macari’s main vineyard will continue to offer a tasting room overlooking its 500-plus acres of vines.
Chronicle Wines in Peconic has expanded its tasting room and added a lounge, said spokeswoman Maliha Adams, and will include food pairings with local chefs and suppliers, plus local artists. The winery is also offering two new wines: 2022 Chronicle Wines Arneis, and 2022 Chronicle Wines Viognier. In May, Chronicle said it will also introduce a Library Collection with a catalog of vintages, to its members first.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the intended use of a new barn at McCall Wines