LI Merlot Alliance Gets New Director: Deborah Brenner

Deborah Brenner, new Executive director of Long Island Merlot Alliance
Deborah Brenner, new Executive director of Long Island Merlot Alliance, Photo: Courtesy Deborah Brenner

Deborah Brenner first fell in love with Greenport five years ago, when she sailed her sailboat from Connecticut to the North Fork. Little did she know that she would eventually be docked for much longer than a summer afternoon.

Recently named as the executive director of the Long Island Merlot Alliance (LIMA), Brenner brings a rich background of oenology to the region, and is here to stay.

Wine Spectator magazine named Brenner’s book, Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste and Enjoy Wine, on its Top 100 list. In the book, she interviewed some of the most prominent female winemakers in California, and developed a firsthand knowledge of viticulture. In 2007, she founded the first cooperative wine brand with six women winemakers of Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles, which handled sales, marketing and distribution for 23 states.

As part of a broad reorganization that included changing the alliance’s name from Merliance to LIMA, Brenner has already begun executing an expansion plan that includes redefining the mission and vision of the brand. She recently hired a research fellow and oversaw the launch of the new Merliance Wine Trail, as well as helping to coordinate the production and release of Merliance wine, the only cooperative wine made on Long Island.

Profits from the sale of Merliance provide sole funding for LIMA.

“It’s the business model that supports the organization and promotes the varietal,” says Brenner. “The member wineries commit one to four barrels of their merlot. Then we sell it, and they recoup the cost. [The object is] to promote community, share and network. Everything we are learning will benefit each other.”

“The Long Island wine business is on fire, and we’re excited to have Deborah on board to facilitate the growth of our alliance,” said Roman Roth, president of LIMA and partner/winemaker at Wölffer Estate Vineyard. “Her enthusiasm and expertise will be instrumental in growing this cooperative effort. It’s imperative for the wineries of Long Island to collaborate in order to achieve our quality goals and ultimately benefit the region as a whole.”

Brenner will work closely with LIMA members. “We want people to think Merlot equals Long Island,” says Brenner. “We eat locally, we need to drink locally. The talent of the winemakers, it’s not just agro-tourism. It time to put Long Island’s appellation in the same league as the big wine makers.”

A life-long New Yorker—Brenner was born in the Bronx and grew up in Rockland County—she says she is “so excited to be bringing my industry experience to my home town. The Hamptons are producing world-class wines. The talents are under-recognized by many. It’s great to work in an organization where everyone is working towards one goal: to benefit Long Island Wine Country as a whole.”

Contributing on both a Long Island-based level and statewide as a member of Farm Aid and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Working Agricultural Group, Brenner is thrilled by the culture she has found here. “I can immerse myself in the local agriculture and wines. When people really embrace the local food, they are also supporting the local economy.” Gillibrand has held listening sessions in agricultural communities throughout the state to make sure the next farm bill is good for New York.

Brenner is looking forward to increasing LIMA’s presence on Long Island and beyond. In addition to participating in Harvest East End, Merliance Wine will be featured at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester in October.

“We are working to get out there,” says Brenner.

She is also enthusiastic about the Merliance Wine Trail, celebrating the release of the 2011 Merliance cooperative red blend. Tastings are held at each of the seven participating wineries: Sherwood House Vineyards, Clovis Point, T’Jara Vineyards, McCall Wines, Lieb Cellars, Raphael, and Wölffer Estate Vineyard.

Participants can pick up a Merliance Wine Trail Map at one of the member wineries and after each visit, the winery will stamp a card. At the final winery, they will receive a free bottle of Merliance. Better hurry: summer is short and the trail awaits! 

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