Hamptons Epicure: My Backyard Winery Is a Bucket—Yours?

My first grape harvest!
My first grape harvest! Photo: S. Dermont

North Fork vineyards are so gorgeous, wouldn’t you like to have one of your own—or at least a winery?

My friend Carol offered me grapes from her backyard last week, saying that her grandfather used to make wine from them. Yes! I’ve never made wine before, but clearly this was suddenly my destiny.

Did she have any of his equipment? Nope.

Did she know how he did it? Nope.

Are they wine grapes? Niagara and Concord. So that’s a “double-nope.”

Forging ahead, I picked Wölffer Estate Vineyard Winemaker Roman Roth’s brain clean. He said we could make red wine pretty handily in our five-gallon beer-making bucket. He even offered to measure the sugar content and the pH of our juice and provide remedies. So I convinced my husband to help me pick the grapes. We hauled them home in three baskets, an old plastic toy cubby and a cardboard box (shown above). Then the picking-over began—it took me all afternoon to sort the berries and discard all the stems.

The next day my husband took a juice sample to Roman in Sagaponack. True to his word, Roman stopped by our house at 9 p.m. after a very long day of testing his own winery’s many juices. He gave us yeast and acids to dissolve and stir into the juice and he told us to add 4.6 pounds of sugar. Yikes, this was quite an undertaking. I mashed the grapes down with my largest wooden rolling pin and it took us about half an hour to add all of the amendments.

The winemaking begins
The winemaking begins, Photo: S. Dermont

I’m hopeful but exhausted—someone must have figured out a way to make your very own wine in Long Island Wine Country by now. Research says…Stephen Scarnato of Long Island Vine Care Residential Vineyard Management (LIVC) has it all worked out. His company is now offering a variety of services that begin with LIVC planting a vineyard in your backyard. Yes!

I got him on record saying, “We can do anything you can imagine!” Beautiful.

Though I admire Jim Ryan’s homemade vineyard in Aquebogue—vines arching out in two directions all around his house—he’s just getting his first harvest after seven years. Scarnato says he can have vines producing in just two to three years.

First Scarnato and his crew test your soil, amend if needed, install trellising and drip irrigation. In April or May they plant the vines of your choice and you’re off and running. You can tend your vines or they can. You can harvest or they can. You can make your own bucket wine or they can have fine wine made from your grapes through an East End winery.

Backyard vineyards have been a thing in California for decades. Homeowners either grow grapes for themselves or they contract with a vineyard to sell their grapes. I can’t imagine giving up the grapes grown in my backyard, but I guess if I had a larger property I might consider selling them to a winery. Or maybe I’d just throw my shoes off and get stomping!

Find out more about Long Island Vine Care Residential Vineyard Management and how to make a backyard winery at longislandvinecare.com or call 516-698-8278.

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You can now follow Stacy’s adventures on Twitter, @HamptonsEpicure.

Just one of Scarnato’s backyard vineyards by LIVC
Just one of Scarnato’s backyard vineyards, Photo: Courtesy LIVC

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