One of the founders of Long Island wine giant Premium Wine Group has partnered with family and close business partners to purchase Lieb Cellars of Cutchogue from Premium in a $4.5 million deal that keeps its ownership on Long Island.
The sale includes Lieb’s 54 acres of planted vineyards in Cutchogue plus another 10 leased acres, Lieb’s Oregon Road tasting room and its brands.
Russell Hearn, chief executive and winemaker for Premium, is partnering with his wife, Susan Hearn, founder of Suhru Wines of Cutchogue; his daughter Shelby Hearn Ulrich, general manager of Suhru; son-in-law Brad Ulrich, assistant winemaker for Suhru; and John and Renée Fondacaro. Together, they’ve formed the holding company Oregon Road Estate Vineyards to complete the transaction. The Fondacaros, who owned veterinary hospitals and are longtime fans of Lieb wines, will own 50% of the business, with the balance shared equally among Hearn and his family.
Premium, a custom-crush winemaking facility that’s involved in all levels of wine production, bottling, storage and distribution, is owned by Jeffrey Haas, managing member of Catamount Liquid Assets, a holding company in Scarsdale.
Russell Hearn, in an interview, said the plan has been “a long time in the works.”
He’d kicked the tires at several wineries for sale on Long Island, he said, and “had a couple of deals fall apart,” before negotiating a deal with Haas for the Lieb operation he helped launch shortly after helping to start Premium in 2000. Haas bought Lieb and Premium in 2018 for $6.75 million, Newsday reported.
Hearn said he may streamline the varietals that are carried under the company’s two brands, with Lieb, for instance, retaining sparkling wines. Lieb and Suhru will continue to be made at Premium’s Mattituck facility.
Hearn said the sale was an easy one given his knowledge of the business, the location and the history. He first joined with Lieb founder Mark Lieb in 1993. Lieb sold his interest in 2013.
“It’s a beautiful location, with pristine vineyards,” he said of the Lieb operation. “I was involved from the beginning. We planted the vineyards together. It couldn’t be a more seamless transition. Our goal is to continually try to improve.”
Shelby Hearn Ulrich said Suhru eventually will shift to the Lieb tasting room on Oregon Road from a current tasting room on Main Road in Cutchogue, which has a lease until next September, though Suhru wines will be featured at Lieb there starting in January. Bridge Lane Wine, which is owned by Premium, will eventually be shifted out of Lieb’s tasting room and be featured primarily in its own tasting room at Premium’s main site in Mattituck.