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Palmer, Paumanok vineyards undergo a careful blending

Winemaker Kareem Massoud at Paumanok Vineyards'

  Winemaker Kareem Massoud at Paumanok Vineyards' tasting room in Aquebogue on Thursday. Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

The assimilation of Palmer Vineyards into Paumanok Vineyards after the purchase last year by Paumanok’s owning Massoud family has begun with all the care and attention of the blending of two fine wines.

On a cold, quiet afternoon at Paumanok’s headquarters in Aquebogue last week, Paumanok’s winemaker Kareem Massoud explained the strategy is to strengthen the best of both operations by combining where it makes sense but keeping the personalities of the wineries distinct.

“Fundamentally the plan is to preserve the Palmer brand and identity rather than fold it into Paumanok and make it another Paumanok,” he said. “Palmer has been around since 1983—same as Paumanok. We want to acknowledge that, but we also want to recognize some synergies. There’s a lot of overlap.”

Paumanok hasn’t released the purchase price of the Palmer operation, but in 2018 it had an assessed value of $3.3 million and a one-time asking price of $5.3 million.

One early move has been to tweak the number of labels by using Riesling grapes from Palmer with a larger portion from Paumanok but devoting the 2018 vintage to the Paumanok brand, which will be sold under that label at Palmer, he said. “Paumanok Riesling has been quite successful,” he said. “We’re looking for opportunities to trim the label count. We’ll likely do that with a couple of other labels.”

The two wineries maintain separate grape harvesting and processing operations, but once Palmer grapes are pressed and the juice fermented, the wine is trucked to Paumanok to undergo the winery’s cross-flow filtration and bottling, most of it into screw-cap bottles.

“The finishing steps happen at Paumanok,” Massoud said. “I want to switch most of the production at Palmer into screw caps,” he added, noting improvements Paumanok has seen in flavor and quality since switching, and up to 95 percent of its wines are now offered in screw-top bottles, all but sparkling and some high-end red wines.

Screw tops “keep the wine clean and preserve the wine extremely well,” Massoud said. “It allows me to back off on preservatives in the wine. All our wines have less sulfites.”

Once it’s bottled at Paumanok, the Palmer wine goes back to Palmer, which has greater storage capacity—up to 15,000 cases, compared with Paumanok’s 3,000 to 5,000 cases, he said.

Palmer has 49 acres of planted vines, several wine barns and an adjacent house. Massoud said the family is currently exploring a use for the house, which needs renovation. It could become a bed & breakfast or a guest house, he said.

Paumanok has 86 planted acres and is planting another 10 acres of new grapes starting in May.

The increase in popularity of rose wines on Long Island and across the country has provided opportunities for the combined operation. Massoud said he did not make any red wines from Palmer grapes in 2018, in large part because 2018 was a challenging year for reds—too cool to maximize sugar levels. Palmer's red grapes were sold or used for rose wines, which now constitute between 5 and 10 percent of both wineries' mix (with whites at 50 percent and reds at 40 percent to 45 percent depending on the year). Rose wines from each vineyard are made from red grapes grown in their respective vineyards.   

While Massoud will work to balance the best from the winery operations, doing some work on the Palmer tasting room is also a possibility, he said, but there’s currently no plan for a major renovation. “We want to get a good sense of the cash flow” at Palmer before making those investments, he said.

Promotional material for both wineries have begun to note the cross ownership, and the plan to keep Palmer a distinct “estate winery.” Both are billed as “Gateway to the North Fork” wineries, given their locations on the westernmost portion of the Long Island wine trail—Paumanok on Route 25 and Palmer on Sound Avenue, only around 3 miles apart, both in Aquebogue. Customers who spend $75 on wine at Paumanok, or are members of its wine club, get a free flight tasting at Palmer, for instance, and vice versa.

But differences will also be maintained. Palmer will still host live events and food trucks (Riverhead has no restrictions on foodtrucks, unlike Southold). Paumanok doesn’t do either, Massoud said. Also, if Paumanok is “maxed out” for space, big reservations can be offered Palmer’s larger facilities instead.

Duties among family members have expanded with the purchase. Kareem Massoud is winemaker for both operations. His brother Nabeel is vineyard manager for both. Co-founder Charles Massoud and son Salim oversee administrative functions. Ken Cereola remains director of operations at Palmer, and his brother, Patrick Cereola, manages the tasting room and wine club. Erica Fedison manages Paumanok’s tasting room. Liz Liebert manages the Paumanok wine club. 

Both wineries will keep their wine clubs and distinct members, but Massoud said he’s considering starting a new wine club with limited productions and experimental wines “which will be available for wine-club members of both.”

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