Laurel Lake Vineyards is one of the most intimate stops on the North Fork Wine Trail. Winemaker/co-owner Juan Sepulveda shares his insights about the various wines in production, the winery’s history and more.
“My family is in the wine business,” says Sepulveda, originally from Chile. “I’m the fifth generation growing grapes and making wine.” Originally, Sepulveda didn’t want to follow in his family’s footsteps. “Following years and years of seeing the working conditions and watching my father trying to make the business work and all the struggling, I studied engineering,” he says. Sepulveda also has a marketing degree from a school in Japan. Eventually, though, he decided to return to winemaking. “I worked in Chile, and one of the companies I was working for asked me to explore different places [for potential winery locations] and we found Long Island. Laurel Lake was a vineyard [already], but we came here and did all the work to create the winery we wanted,” Sepulveda says. “We saw, as well, the opportunity to make wine with a different style that would bring something fresh [to the area].”
Sepulveda emphasizes that it was “the beauty, the people and the potential” that brought him to the North Fork. The move from Chile to Long Island may sound like a huge change, but Sepulveda knew he’d found the right place. “I saw it could be unique on Long Island,” he says. “There’s a personality here. The fingerprint of the wine is very special.” Sepulveda loves working with Long Island grapes, and notes that there’s a large distinction between Long Island wines and those in Chile. “When we saw the wine here, we thought the style was absolutely different compared to what we were doing,” he explains. “We found it was totally different from Chile. For example, cabernet franc is difficult to find with such an elegant and distinguished aroma. Here on Long Island, it’s a very beautiful grape. Cabernet franc is the most dramatic [difference I’ve found].”
The unpredictable weather has proven to be a challenge, as Sepulveda is in the midst of harvest time. “The harvest is going well. We picked most of the grapes right before the rain. In my opinion, it turned out very well—chardonnay, gewürztraminer…all the white grapes are here fermenting now. We were lucky because this summer had better ripening than last year. I’m happy with the summer and growing season. We’ve had a good amount of sun and have good quality grapes. It was really amazing.” Of course, the year-to-year climate change has made for some new situations and flavors. “The other thing affecting us was the winter; it’s lowered the amount of grape. But overall, that makes for more flavorful concentration,” he notes.
So, what’s on the horizon for Laurel Lake Vineyards? “We have a big portfolio of products and make wines that are different from other wineries,” explains Sepulveda. “We’re planning to release our gewürztraminer soon, and we’re in the process of fermenting [several others]. By the end of the year I plan to release the Meritage, which will be exciting for wine connoisseurs.” And the wine release for the beginning of spring next year will be cabernet franc, which is aged 16 years. “We’ve gone from a small amount of visitors back in 1999 to many today,” he notes. Most importantly, though, Sepulveda is enthusiastic and optimistic about Laurel Lake Vineyards’ continued success.
Laurel Lake Vineyards is located at 3165 Main Road, Laurel. For info about their wines, as well as membership in the wine club, call 631-298-1420 or visit llwines.com.