Ronald Goerler Sr., a North Fork wine pioneer who launched Jamesport Vineyards in 1980 while operating a family plumbing-supply business, died at his Cutchogue home Monday, surrounded by family. He was 95.
Goerler’s Jamesport Vineyards was the North Fork’s fifth winery, and one he passed down to a growing family that has continued to expand it. A son, Ron Goerler Jr., said his father’s guidance and steady hand groomed him not only to take over the winery business but for all facets of his life.
"He lived his life the way he wanted to," said Ron Goerler Jr., a former president of the Long Island Wine Council, who runs the Jamesport Vineyards with his wife, Joanne, and their children. "He truly taught me how to be the individual that I am today."
Goerler Sr. was born in New York City in 1925 and grew up on Long Island, attending high school in Rockville Centre. He studied engineering at Cornell University but enlisted in the Army Air Forces before finishing his degree. He became a pilot just as World War II was ending. After the war, he graduated with a bachelor’s from Adelphi University before attending from the University of Miami Law School, earning a law degree.
Back on Long Island, he married Ann Marie in 1964, and joined his father’s plumbing supply business, which he took over in 1970. His son Philip Goerler, of Dix Hills, continues to operate the business, Syosset-based Crest/Good Manufacturing Co. Inc. He recalled his father’s fearlessness, his sense of humor and his independence, but especially his guiding hand.
"He didn’t insist you do things his way," Philip Goerler said. "He gave you the latitude to do what you wanted to do. He would advise you. But ultimately he wanted you to learn it on your own."
Goerler Sr. took an interest in grape farming after a trip to the North Fork in 1980, purchased a property called Early Rising Farm and planted vines on the property, the fifth in the North Fork wine region. He eventually acquired another property, North Fork Winery, in Jamesport that now encompasses the winery and tasting room. Goerler Jr. added a bistro 10 years ago.
The senior Goerler was a nurturing force not only for his sons but others in the wine industry.
"It was inspirational to see what he created," said Anthony Sannino, who with his family owns and operates Sannino Vineyard in Cutchogue. "It was nice to have his lead." Sannino got to know Goerler while working on construction jobs at Jamesport Vineyards, and the elder Goerler was a helpful presence when Sannino began work on his new winery.
More recently, Sannino began raising cows in a field behind elder Goerler’s home. "He just loved the cows," Sannino said. "We always had a chat."
Goerler Jr. said his father remained active in the family businesses, and in his hobbies and passions, well into his 80s. He was an avid gardener, sailor and scuba diver, and his passion for golf kept him playing long after retirement. He owned horses and used to played piano at a local bistro. "He was a true Renaissance man," the son said.
In addition to his wife and sons Ron and Philip, Goerler Sr. is survived by three other sons, Matthew of Riverhead, Steven of Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Michael of Orlando; a daughter, Candace Tilford of Bayville; 11 grandchildren; and one great-grandson. His brother Clinton Goerler died in April.
A celebration of his life will be held on Nov. 7 at Jamesport Vineyards, 1216 Main Rd., Jamesport.