As we count down to the celebration of Long Island Wine Country that is Dan’s Harvest East End on Saturday, August 23, Juan Eduardo Micieli-Martinez,Winemaker and General Manager at Martha Clara Vineyards, talks about the value of playing hooky, the challenge of pronouncing Gewürztraminer and loving Downton Abbey, Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire.
What will you be pouring at Dan’s Harvest East End, and how did you decide upon it?
We are pouring some of our newer releases such as our Northville and Estate Reserve Riesling. I always look at these larger events as an opportunity to showcase our new releases. It gives me an idea of what people will think of our new wines.
What are some wine tasting tips you can offer to people coming to your vineyard, and in general?
Come during the week if possible. I understand that most people have weekends off, but take a vacation day or play hooky! Yes, I am condoning playing hooky. For those that can only make it on the weekend we offer live music and horse and carriage rides (weather permitting). I would recommend selecting a few wineries to visit, don’t try to cram too much in a day. It is supposed to be enjoyable, not a race.
What drew you to work in the Long Island Wine industry?
Well, I grew up in Manorville and was a graduate of Center Moriches High School in 1995. After graduating I went to the State University of New York at Binghamton where I received a B.S. in Psychobiology in 1999. During my time at college I discovered wine because of a college housemate that developed an interest. I decided my senior year of college to pursue the wine industry and even told my housemates at the time that I would become a winemaker, they all laughed at me. I knew there were vineyards on Long Island from my days of playing baseball in High School. We often took trips to the East End to play other teams. I figured after graduating from College that I would take what was supposed to be my last summer job to learn about wine. Well, I am still working at that last job and I actually became a winemaker!
What are some of your favorite things about Long Island Wine Country?
I love the diversity. We are capable making so many different varietals, types, and styles of wine. In addition to the great wine there is a bounty of great foods that are grown here as well. I feel like we live in Whole Foods here on the East End and it just gets better each year.
Describe the relationship between LI wine and the agriculture, aquaculture and overall East End culinary culture.
There is a great relationship in terms of flavor. The synergy continues to improve. It is great working with local farmers of all types and local chefs.
What was the moment/incident/etc that made you a true wine lover?
I would say it was working as a cellar assistant at Pellegrini Vineyards in 1999. The two coolest things for me that year were getting grape samples in the vineyard and later that same harvest shoveling out my first red fermentor. That was the year that I realized that winemaking is really crafting a product. It was awesome to see the process first hand and literally getting my hands into it.
What is the best thing you’ve ever heard anyone say about your wines?
It would probably be just how much they enjoyed them. It is always flattering to win awards, but it is even better to be in the tasting room or out at an event and have someone that spends there hard earned money come and say, “I really enjoyed wine xyz.”
What is the funniest way you’ve heard somebody describe a wine?
I always want to be encouraging to people trying to figure out the wine world, but some of the ways people pronounce varietals is pretty precious. Some of the notoriously challenging to pronounce varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon and Gewürztraminer.
Where do you see Long Island wines in 5 years?
I see growth in the recognition of the quality produced from the region. I think as each year passes we learn and experience more in the vineyard and winery. In addition to us learning more there is also an increase of the people that begin to recognize what we are doing.
What key factors are helping Long Island wines increase in quality and reputation outside the region?
The key factors helping Long Island Wines increase in quality and reputation ourside of the region is our dedication to the highest quality viticulture and our desire to be sustainable in the process.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the Long Island wine industry?
The competition for development is the biggest challenge that our region faces.
Without naming names (but you may if you like), what do those infamous numerical wine ratings mean to you?
It is flattering to receive any recognition for what we do, however numbers do not define us. We do what we do because we have a passion for what we do. Some people may like what we do, some may not. If I do not receive a high rating, I still go to bed at night and rest peacefully.
Talk a bit about the relationship among the winemakers here, the camaraderie, the collaboration and the competition aspects.
I think there is a great synergy amongst us all. While we may all represent different wineries and/or brands we are all on the same boat. We try to help one another as much as possible when needed.
What are some aspects of your wines that would surprise people discovering them for the first time?
A lot of people perceive us as being a HUGE winery. We are not. We have 102 acres planted to vine. We will for the first time this year (weather permitting) plan to produce 20,000 cases of wine. We do have the ability to produce more, but we sell the additional tonnage to other local wineries. Despite our size we are still a small winery in the grand scheme of the wine world. If lucky we will harvest approximately 380 tons from our 102 acres of planted vines. I had an opportunity to work at winery in Australia and we crushed 11,000 tons that year. That winery was a small winery on the big winery scale. So, we really are just a small blip of a blip on the wine radar.
If you weren’t making wine, you would be…
Hmm… I have this interest in male fashion. I have always had an interest and respect for tailors. I have really enjoyed the fashion that has been demonstrated more recently in popular television such as Downton Abbey, Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire.
Make a toast to Long Island Wine: Here is to the next 40 years!
Dan’s Harvest East End is Saturday, August 23, from 7:30 to 10 p.m. at McCall Vineyard & Ranch in Cutchogue. For tickets, including Vin-IP entry (starting at 6:30 p.m.), and more info, please visit HarvestEastEnd.com.
Martha Clara Vineyards is located at 6025 Sound Avenue in Riverhead. Visit marthaclaravineyards.com or call 631.298.0075 for more information.