Nothing beats summer and fall on the East End of Long Island, says Randy Frankel, one of the North Fork wine country’s newest and increasingly important players. His love for the area and his appreciation for the quality of the wines has led Frankel to develop a burgeoning wine empire here.
Frankel first entered the market in 2017, when he and his wife, Barbara, purchased Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck, later rechristening it Rose Hill Vineyards & Inn. Next, the Frankels became the majority partner at Croteaux Vineyards in Southold in 2019.
Last year, the Frankels purchased the three-parcel, 66-acre Ruland farm property in Mattituck and are preparing to turn it into what Frankel says will be the “most beautiful vineyard on the North Fork.”
“It’s been a working farm for hundreds of years, producing potatoes, winter wheat and sod. Hopefully for the next 60 or 70 years, it will be a beautiful vineyard,” he said. “It’s a big property, and I planted 70,000 vines form Northern California. There are 12 different varietals, and they were transported on a refrigerated 18-wheeler. They’re in the ground, and we’re 36 months away from our first harvest.”
Frankel, who purchased the historic estate from the Ruland family, has also been focusing on preserving the farmhouse, which dates to the early 18th century.
“I told Mrs. Ruland when I bought it, that I had no intention of taking down the house,” he said. “I’m a history buff, and I couldn’t sleep at night if I did that. I said no matter what it costs, I would jack the house up and redo the foundation under it to keep it as preserved as possible. Ninety percent of the work is behind me, and I’m looking forward to having the Rulands back over when it’s completed.”
Frankel’s aspirations for the property include adding a wine production facility and tasting room.
The wine business is a recent pursuit for Frankel, who describes himself as a “sports guy.” A former Goldman Sachs managing director, he is a part-owner of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team and the majority owner of four soccer teams in Europe.
“Owning a vineyard was something I really wanted to do. I was looking to buy one out in Napa [California], but it’s three time zones and six hours away,” he said. “I had bought a home on the South Fork, and I didn’t know much about what was going on in the North Fork until I visited and saw the quality of the wines. I thought this was a better fit, since it’s just 35 minutes from my Water Mill home.”
Frankel spends part of the year in Florida and the Bahamas and travels to Europe in connection with his soccer teams, but he has increasingly spent time on the East End to tend to his expanding wine empire.
Croteaux has a distinct vibe, he said.
“It has a barn that was built in 1749, before we were even a country, and you enter this courtyard with a weeping cherry tree and you hear music that you never usually hear,” he said. “It’s a very chill place to go.” Croteaux produces rosés exclusively, with nine varieties.
Approaching Rose Hill from Oregon Road, “you feel like you’re on the Silverado trail in Napa Valley,” Frankel said. “It’s hard to believe you’re less than two hours away from 8 million people.” The property’s location about a mile off the main road adds to its “off-the-beaten-path” feel. Rose Hill includes an inn with four guest rooms, an outdoor patio and seating next to the vines. Its so-called Library Tasting Room was recently redone with a bar from a London pub, circa 1921.
The wine business is a family affair for the Frankels. The couple’s daughter Chelsea started running Rose Hill about six months after the purchase, and their daughter Amanda runs Croteaux.
With several family members working in the business, “the dinner table might not be as fun as it used to be,” Frankel said. “But we hammer out any business problems, drink some good wine and by the time we get to dessert we’re through it.”