Long Island Wine History 101

While Long Island wine-making is a relatively recent phenomenon (in the history of wines), many of the East End’s top wineries have been around for decades, and most are family owned. The stories of these vineyard families are as varied and complex as the wines they make. Together they form a mosaic that is a rich new part of the fabric of Long Island and winemaking history. Here are just a few:

Lenz Winery in Peconic founded in 1978, has some of the most mature vineyards in the region, or – given the extensive replanting of California vineyards to avoid further damage from the phylloxera louse – in the country. The Lenz vineyard has nearly 70 acres planted with vinifera grape varieties: Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. At Lenz, the philosophy in the vineyard is high-touch. They are interventionists and intervene, at great expense in time and effort, to micro-manage each vine to ripeness each year. Leaf removal, shoot thinning, cluster thinning, crop reduction, triple catch wires, super-attentive pest and fungus control (the “open canopy” approach keeps fungus problems to a minimum), all combine to ensure fully ripe grapes of the highest quality. [expand]

In the Lenz winery, the philosophy is lower-touch, though not taken to dogmatic extremes. If a wine needs an acid adjustment, it gets it. If reduction threatens a sulphide problem, they fix it. And Lenz uses cultured, not wild, yeast to start the fermentation. Beyond that, they want the wines to express the character they have brought out in the vineyard by developing full “varietal ripeness.” One important facet of their approach is the “estate” element. All their wines are “estate bottled” which legally means that their wines are made entirely from grapes grown in our own vineyards or vineyards under their direct care and control. In general the commitment to creating only estate bottled wines signifies an approach that eschews winemaking-as-chemistry. They never add concentrates, flavor or coloring, even where it is technically legal to do so.

Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue was founded, and the vineyards were planted, in 1979 by the late Ray Blum. It was originally managed by viticulturalist and winemaker Charles Flatt. At first, Peconic Bay intended to sell all of its grapes, but by 1989 the fruit was all going to producing wines on the estate. Manhattan-based banker Paul Lowerre and his wife Ursula purchased the winery from Blum with the intention of bringing the property to new heights. By 2008, all the improvements and renovations to the winery had been made and in 2009 Jim Silver, a long-time wine industry veteran, was brought on to manage the rebranding of the winery and the products produced.

Today, Peconic Bay Winery produces varietals like Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvigon and Cabernet Franc. The old vines also produce Chardonnay, produced both as a steel-fermented wine and as a traditional barrel-aged version called La Barrique. The winery recently released a brand new label called Nautique to much acclaim, and will soon be releasing a selection of spirits. Peconic Bay wines are produced with a minimum amount of intervention and are among the most natural and traditionally made wines to be found on the North Fork. As the stewards of this old vineyard and its terroir, the Lowerre family is the protector of part of the region’s rich legacy.

Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue, formerly known as Bidwell Vineyards, is owned by the Metz, Lamanna and Bortone familes. It was established in 1982 on 33 acres, some of Long Island’s earliest vineyard plantings. Vineyard 48 is committed to producing fine wines and hosting unique and memorable events, including performances by top Long Island bands. Meticulous management of traditional winemaking with the help of their winemaker, Matthew Berenz, has resulted in Vinyard 48 becoming a favorite at the New York Food & Wine Classic.

Vineyard 48’s well-balanced wines include their fresh and lively white table wine, a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The red table wine is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with medium body and rich fruit notes and subtle, ripe tannins. They make a vibrant Chablis style of Chardonnay that finishes with flinty notes and lively fruit. The elegant Sauvignon Blanc has a zing that stays vibrant to the end. The winery’s flagship wines are an exuberant, concentrated Riesling with a nose of peach and pear and a finish with interplay between acidity and sugar with a honey overtone, and an intense, complex and  a wonderfully rich Merlot that is smooth and elegant with layers of black cherry, plum and wild berry flavors.

In 1996, Dr. Charles and Barbara Smithen, proprietors of the Sherwood House Vineyard in Mattituck, had finally found their dream home. They had always wanted to live among the vineyards, and were determined to make that dream come true. They were North Fork residents for more than 20 years when they found the property that would soon become their vineyard lifestyle. The farmhouse, which was built in 1860, and the surrounding 38 acres of former corn and potato fields offered outstanding conditions for growing wine grapes. The Smithens initially planted Chardonnay vines from Burgundian clones, but after careful research and planning with vineyard manager Steve Mudd, they have since added Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The Smithens’ house and vineyards are proudly displayed on the front of each bottle of Sherwood House wine.

Sparkling Pointe in Southold specializes in making Champagne, and the story of its owners is indeed a love story. Tom and Cynthia Rosicki shared a passion for Champagne; in fact they toasted each other with Champagne on their very first date. One day in 2001 they paid a visit to Steve Mudd, the pre-eminent vineyard developer and manager. He suggested to them that they should start looking for property in the area. They looked all that day to no avail and decided to buy some Champagne from Showcase Wines in Southold. Corinne, the owner of Showcase, opened a new brand of Champagne that she was carrying for them to taste. As they were standing at the counter, Corinne exclaimed, “Here comes Champagne George!” George walked in and Corinne poured him a tall flute. As the four bubbly devotees chatted, Tom mentioned to George that he and Cynthia had been looking at property for a vineyard. George replied that his brother-in-law was just about to put a parcel up for sale, a nursery on the North Road – across the street from Steve Mudd. George made a phone call and Tom and Cynthia met the owner, walked the property and put down a binder that afternoon.

A year later, after Steve had prepared the ground, he asked Tom and Cynthia what kind of wine they wanted to produce. They looked at each other with sparkle in their eyes. They both answered at the same time, “Champagne!” Steve replied that there was only one winemaker for this project, Gilles Martin, a talented international winemaker who had previously worked with a major French Champagne house. Award-winning winemaker Gilles Martin has directed the operations of more than two dozen wineries during his 15 years of viniculture experience and has been the head winemaker at Sherwood House since its inception.


Lenz Winery, Route 25, Main Rd., Peconic. Open year-round, seven days a week. Tasting from November-May. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Memorial Day-Columbus Day, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Closed New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Contact 631-734-6010 for more information. Lenzwinery.com.


Peconic Bay Winery, 31320 Main Rd., Route 25, Cutchogue. Winter tasting room hours: Sunday-Friday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Summer hours: tk. Closed New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Contact 631-734-7361. Peconicbaywinery.com.


Vineyard 48, 18910 Route 48, Cutchogue. Tastings Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Sunday-Thursday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Contact 631-734-5200 for more information. Vineyard48wines.com.


Sherwood House, 2600 Oregon Rd., Mattituck. Tasting room open seven days a week, noon – 6 p.m. Closed News Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Contact 631-298-1396. For more information on the Jamesport location call 631-779-2817. Sherwoodhouse.com.


Sparkling Pointe, 39750 Route 48, Southold. Tasting hours: May 27-June 28, Thursday-Monday, noon – 6 p.m. June 28-Sept 6, open seven days a week, noon – 6 p.m. Closed Good Friday, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Contact 631-765-0200 for more information. Sparklingpoint.com.

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