Tag Archives: David Mudd

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Wölffer Estate (revised & updated)

Wölffer Estate entranceChristian Wölffer, a real estate entrepreneur, bought the 14 acres of potato fields known as Sagpond Farms in 1978. Enchanted by the idea of a vineyard of his own after tasting a Chardonnay planted by a Sagaponack neighbor, in 1988 he asked David Mudd to plant fifteen acres of vines. It has since grown to 55 acres, with ten parcels of vines with sub-parcels.  The vine rows were planted running North to South and East to West, depending on the best orientation to the sun based on the terrain. By 1996 he had assembled 168 acres, which he devoted mostly to grazing land for his horses. His first release, a Chardonnay, was in 1991.

Roman Roth and Richard Pisacano are the team that together produces some of the finest wine made in Long Island.  Roman, of course, is the winemaker (and now partner) at Wölffer, and Richie—as he’s known to his friends and colleagues—is the winegrower.  One is, as it were, the right hand and the other the left.  So close are they that Richie’s own wine brand, Roanoke Vineyards, is made by Roman.  Roman himself has his own label, Grapes of Roth, which, since he became partner this year, will be sold in Wölffer’s tasting room.

Roman has been with Wölffer Estate as winemaker since 1992, Richie came to the Estate in 1997.  Both of them had years of experience in the wine trade before coming to Wölffer’s.

Roman & full-time vineyard crew at lunch

Roman & full-time vineyard crew at lunch

Roman comes from southern Germany and learned about vineyards, varieties, and vinification there, as his was a winemaking family. He travelled and worked at wineries in California and Australia before returning home. In 1992 Roman received his Master Winemaker and Cellar Master degrees from the College for Oenology and Viticulture in Weinsberg.  Soon after, he accepted the position of winemaker at Sagpond Vineyards, a new winery in the Hamptons. This was a winemaker’s dream—to be part of a new and growing wine region with the chance to create something new, to leave a footprint at the foundational level.

Over the next several years, Roth managed the expansion of Sagpond Vineyards into “Wölffer     Estate,” now a 55-acre vineyard with a state-of-the-art winery producing a wide range of award-winning wines, all nestled in a 175-acre property with horses, paddocks, stables, and riding trails. Under Roth’s meticulous direction, Wölffer has become a Hampton’s destination, producing wines of excellent caliber and reputation.

In April 2003, Roman received the award of “Winemaker of the Year” presented by the East End Food & Wine Awards (judged by the American Sommelier Society). This reflected the excellence of the wines he produced as winemaker and as a consultant, and was recognition of his contribution to quality winemaking on Long Island as a whole. After Christian Wölffer’s untimely death in a swimming accident, the Estate was in the hands of his children, Joey and Marc. At that time Roman was made a partner in the firm and basically runs it.  In December 2015 he was elected as President of the Long Island Wine Council to serve for two years.

Wolffer Estate, RichieRich started his career with greenhouse plant propagation, then worked for Mudd Vineyards  (the first Vineyard Consulting Management firm in Long Island)  in 1977, while still in high school.  He went on the design and maintain vineyards for Cutchogue Vineyards (now Macari South), Pindar, Palmer, Island (now Pellegrini), Jamesport, and others before he came to Wölffer.  He was invited by Roman to come to Wölffer to help “rescue” the vineyard, to help bring the Estate to the next level and further improve the quality and reputation.  When he arrived he brought along with him the ideas of sustainable viticulture and in fact followed the precepts of Cornell’s VineBalance program for the last ten years.

The first fifteen acres of Wölffer vines were planted by David Mudd in 1988, and it has since grown to 50 acres, with ten parcels of vines with sub-parcels.  The vine rows were planted running North to South and East to West.

Wolffer Estate, views, 05Wölffer’s terroir, given its location on a hill, varies considerably, much more so than the vineyards on the North Fork.  The Estate has two types of soil, Bridgehampton loam and Haven.The Bridgehampton soils are mostly the flatter ground and the hillside soils, which are lighter, are mostly Haven. [i]    Where the two converge one overlaps the other with interesting effects on the micro-terroir of individual vines.  Both soils offer good drainage and the way that the vineyard slopes allows the cold air to flow out of the vineyard across to the Montauk Highway.  With its undulating topography and overlapping soils, it makes for an especially interesting terroir, particularly so for Long Island.  Rich refers to it as a “unique setting.”

Both Richie and Roman agree that “The vineyard comes first,” and “we focus on what we can do in the vineyard, then we can make wine from that.”

The California model is not a good one to follow in LI; Wölffer has healthy low vigor/well balanced vineyards.  With respect to viticulture, Rich’s is a balanced approach, with individual attention to the vines.  Indeed, given his 30-years of experience, they call him “the grape-whisperer.”  As Rich pointed out, in his straightforward but modest way, “given time, one develops an intuition.”

For Rich, rule number one for a vineyard manager is to throw out the personal calendar and appointment book—the vineyard has precedence over all matters personal.  The Manager is like a doctor on call, always ready to respond to an emergency.  Or, as Rich puts it, “Sometimes I’m not a vineyard manager as much as I am vineyard-managed.”

For example, in 2011, despite the terrible weather, including Hurricane Irene’s contribution, Wölffer had no crop loss whatsoever thanks to the adequate manpower that was available to manage the problems engendered by the weather.  Wölffer managed to harvest 2.79 tons per acre, which was right at the 20-year average for their harvests.  The biggest challenge of the season was the sudden changes in the weather, and that requires a very nimble and highly attentive manager.

The symbiotic relationship between vineyard manager and vintner was demonstrated in the 2005 vintage, which had been a very good season until 20 inches of rain were dumped on LI in the space of a week just at harvest time, with the result that grapes were so swollen with water that the sugar levels were diluted to as low as 16 degrees Brix.  Some growers went ahead and picked the swollen grapes immediately after the rain, others abandoned entire parcels of fruit.  Roman, however, saw the potential for patience rewarded and had Rich leave the grapes alone for a few days.  Three days of dry weather led to the grapes shrinking back to normal size and reaching 23 Brix, and by the fifth day the sugar level had reached 25 Brix, which was unheard of in terms of sugar levels that increased so dramatically in so brief a time.  At that point some of the crop began to shrivel and raisin, so a 35-person crew was sent out to pick what were now very ripe grapes.  Some other vineyards had been watching what was going on at Wölffer Estate and held off as well, but none had the resources that the Estate enjoyed, so as soon as the grapes were brought in the crew was sent out to help harvest the grapes at the other vineyards as well.  As a result, some very good wine was made that year, although at much smaller yields than usual.  This is part of what Rich calls Roman’s “wine-rescue program.”

The fact of the matter is that Richie and Roman “get energy from  one another.”

Wölffer now has seven varieties planted, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Trebbiano and Vignoles—of which there is a half-acre.  Chardonnay needs to be picked at full ripeness.  In the mid-1990s the significance of proper clonal selection became better appreciated, so that optimal results can be obtained in the vineyard. Presently there are three Chardonnay clones planted:  Davis 3+4  Dijon 76, and Clone 96.  Dijon, which is a Burgundy clone, tends to offer comparatively low acidity by comparison with Davis 3+4, which was developed for the warmer climate of California.  Merlot clones include 181 (from France), 3 (from U. of C. at Davis), and 6 (from Argentina).

Wölffer planted Trebbiano Toscano [aka Ugni Blanc] in 2010, the only Long Island vineyard to do so.  The vines were productive by the 2nd year, yielding 3.5 tons / acre and by the 3rd year, 8 tons of good fruit.  Given the large and experienced vineyard crew that the Estate can call on at harvest time, it was possible to harvest by hand 6 to 8 tons per hour, or about 40 tons at the end of a 7-hour day.  In fact, many of the crew are people with other jobs but who have helped harvest the crop by hand for as long as ten years or more.  They know what they are doing and are very efficient.  According to Rich, the best of all the pickers are invariably women, who are more careful and attentive than are most of the men.

Vines’ vigor affects wine character.  For that reason, there are rows of Cabernet Franc and Merlot that are reserved for making rosé that run down a slope, with Bridgehampton Loam  eight feet thick at the top that is overlaid with Bridgehampton Loam  as one goes down the slope, until the Haven is only eight inches thick.  The Bridgehampton soils are mostly the flatter ground and the hillside soils, which are lighter, are mostly Haven.  This represents ever-changing terror, which is to say that each vine in a row has a micro-terroir of its own.  Indeed, thanks to drainage and soil changes along the rows, the vigor of the vines changes along the length of the slope.  Consequently, in order to “harmonize” that vineyard parcel, Rich has leaf-pulling and green harvesting done along the rows at graduated intervals, with the vines furthest downslope getting the most attention, and those at the top less.  Thus, the vines mature and are ready for harvest at nearly the same time.  This is the work of a ‘grape-whisperer.’

Roman & crew at soccer. Goal!

Roman & crew at soccer. Goal!

Wölffer always has an adequate vineyard crew—for one thing, the Estate make harvesting fun and treats the harvest as a celebration.  They feed the workers very well, with much coffee and snacks available throughout the workday.  Because of so much attention in the vineyard throughout the season, there is mostly clean fruit at harvest time, which makes it easier and faster to hand-pick.  In fact, a good crew can pick [clean fruit] by hand faster than a mechanical harvester is able to do.  Naturally, by harvest time there are an abundance of workers available due to the fact that the tourist season has come to an end and many of the workers had been in the hospitality industry for the summer season.

Wölffer has already joined the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers program, which leads to certification in sustainable farming.  They had, as mentioned above, been growing their vines responsibly since the mid-90s, so the transition to the LISW program was actually very easy, as they’d been following the VineBalance guidelines that are the basis for the LISW ones, but modified to better fit the conditions of Long Island, rather than for the whole state of New York.  For example, they do not use pre-emergent herbicides or added nitrogen to the soil—the use of nitrogen-fixing cover crops takes care of that.  Periodically, given the high acidity of the Long Island soil, about 1½ tons of lime per acre is added to raise the pH level of the soil to make it more amenable for the vines.  By May of 2013, the vineyard had succeeded in meeting all 200 requirements of the LISW and obtained its certification for sustainable winegrowing.

The winery is large and sophisticated, enjoying excess capacity such that not only does Wölffer buy grapes from five other vineyards, including Mudd’s vineyard,  Dick Pfeiffer’s, and Surry Lane’s to make Long-Island appellation wines under the Wölffer label.  Roman gets to use the winery facilities  to make his own Grapes of Roth and Richie’s own Roanoke Vineyards wines.  He also uses the facilities to make wine for clients Scarola Vineyards and Gramercy Vineyards as well.  Indeed, in 2009 an extremely selective picking of botrytised Riesling grapes took place in Jamesport Vineyards, allowing Roman to make a TBA  under his Grapes of Roth label.  Not too many TBAs are made anywhere in the US of A; the very first one was a feat of the late, great Konstantin Frank, in 1965, of Finger Lakes fruit, of course, not LI.  That one made headlines—in 2015 Roman’s two latest efforts with botrytised wines have earned him the highest scores ever awarded for Long Island wines.

In fact, given that Roman makes three rosés, eight whites, thirteen different reds, three award-wining dessert wines, two sparkling wines, and two apple ciders (a total of 29 different wines alone for Wölffer’s, not to speak of the wines he makes for Roanoke Vineyards), the question arises. How does he do it? Well, as he explained, working at the Karlschüle in South Germany he dealt with a wide variety of reds and whites. There he learned that close attention to detail mattered: every tank had to be topped up, every bung properly place, etc. He also gave credit to the excellent wine-growing climate of Long Island, which shares the same latitude and Madrid and Naples and gets the most sun of all of New York State. So, in early August they begin picking the grapes for sparkling wine, when they’re not fully ripe, then grapes for the rosés, which also don’t need full ripeness, and on to the whites, then the reds, which need more ripeness, and at the end of October, the late-harvest grapes. It means he has time to deal with the winemaking over a period of as much as three months. He gives as much attention to a basic white as he does to a Christian Cuvée red, because he can, all because of the enabling climate and soil.

For Roman, to make good wine demands a very scrupulous attention to detail. Not only are the grapes all hand-picked at the proper time, but when the fruit arrives at the winery they have as many as 56 hands at work at the sorting table, so no bad fruit goes into the must. Few wineries have the resources to bring more than a dozen hands to that task. When the must is fermenting in the tanks they do pumpovers three times a day, where most wineries do it only twice or even once. Of course, it helps to be able to afford a cellar team that can give this kind of time to such matters. It also helps to have had one fabulous vintage after another since 2010—2011 being the exception—and it may be true for 2015 as well.

To Roman, the great untold story about Long Island wines is their longevity: a 20-year-old Chardonnay still drinking well, for instance, and red wines that can mature and hold up for 25 to 30 years. The word has not yet gotten out to collectors that the wines of the region can be laid down and over time they will increase in value—not yet like great Bordeaux, perhaps, but as rarity and demand increase, even that is a possibility.

Roman introduced a dry rosé to the Long Island wine repertoire in 1992, within a year of his arrival at the winery—he was quite bullish in his pursuit to make Wölffer rosé a respected and fashionable wine.  The 2011 is made with 54% Merlot and 21% Chardonnay, 9% Pinot Noir, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8%Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2012 consists of 69% Merlot, 16.5% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir, 4.5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The blend, as one can see, varies considerably from year to year, depending on the results of the harvest.  Whatever the blend, Wölffer calls it “Summer in a Bottle.”

Along with its wide range of varietal wines, including Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Trebbiano, and so on, Roman also makes a non-alcoholic verjus that is a low-acid alternative to vinegar (used in a salad make the salad much more wine-friendly), but it is also an eminently quaffable beverage that is its own “Summer in a glass.”  Perfect for those friends who can’t or don’t drink wine, yet almost as enjoyable.

Wolffer merlot 2007And I cannot omit mention of the time that I stopped by at Wölffer’s tasting  room to try a glass of the 2000 Merlot, which at a $100 a bottle had caused a sensation.  The glass of wine cost only $25, and I sipped it slowly for over an hour, observing how it evolved with time and exposure to air.  Slightly closed at first, it wasn’t long before it was offering notes of plum and black berries, and then hints of cedar and clove, becoming brighter and deeper in bouquet and flavor, and lingering long on the palate.  An extraordinary wine.  I knew then that Long Island wine had arrived on the world stage.  I had become hooked.

More recently, an article on the North Forker website of July 6, 2015, “Long Island wines receive record-breaking reviews in The Wine Advocate” stated that the critic, Mark Squires, of the Advocate had awarded two Wölffer Estate Vineyard wines — the Descencia Botrytis Chardonnay and Diosa Late Harvest — the highest scores ever received in the region, each earning 94 points.

Wölffer wine offerings board“If I had to name a ‘short list’ of top wineries in the region, this would have to be on it, without requiring any thought,” Squires wrote in his review. “Under winemaker/partner Roman Roth and Vineyard Manager Rich Pisacano (who also owns Roanoke, at which Roth is also the winemaker), this winery excels in making age-worthy, structured wines.”

Further to that, in the Nov. 16 issue of Wine Spectator Wölffer’s Grapes of Roth 2010 Merlot one of the top 100 wines of the year 2015.  No other Long Island winery has ever achieved that accolade.  Tom Matthews wrote:  “A polished texture carries balanced flavors of tart cherry, pomegranate, toasted hazelnut and espresso in this expressive red. Features firm, well-integrated tannins and lively acidity.  Elegant.  Drink now through 2022. 2,592 cases made.”

Wölffer logo139 Sagg Road, PO Box 900. Sagaponack, NY 11962.   Phone 631-537-5106

Wölffer Estate

P.S. – Wölffer’s also has some sample vine trellises alongside the winery.  It provoked yet another post on the blog:  Wölffer’s Trellis Sampler.

An excellent article about Roman Roth by Louisa Hargrave can be found at Roman History:  Winemaker Profile published by the North Forker in April 2015.

[i] According to the  LISW Climate & Soil Web page, “Bridgehampton-Haven Association: These soils are deep and excessively drained and have a medium texture. It is its depth, good drainage and moderate to high available water-holding capacity that make this soil well-suited to farming.”


Viniculture in LI, Part III: Raphael Winery

Raphael Winery entrance, by Petrocelli Construction

Raphael Winery, in Peconic, on the North Fork of Long Island, was founded by John Petrocelli Sr. and his wife, Joan, and is family-owned.  Petrocelli is also the owner of J. Petrocelli Construction, which specializes in quality design and building, and the handsome, 28,000 sq. ft.  winery was designed by him, inspired by the architecture of the Neapolitan monasteries of his native Italy.  He named it after his father, Raphael, who was an avid home winemaker like his own father before him, so John Sr. came by his oenophilia perhaps genetically.  The venture was five years in planning and cost $6,000,000 to complete, with the intention of making the premium winery of Long Island, Italian-inspired but Bordeaux-oriented.

When the commitment to build the winery was made, it was clear that a vital component, the vineyard, needed to be tended to by expert viticulturalists.  The family then hired David and Steve Mudd—Mudd VMC is the premier vineyard management consulting firm on the Island—to help guide them in the development of a Bordeaux-type of winery.  Also hired as advisers were Paul Pontallier, managing director of Ch. Margaux—one of the five Premier Cru châteaux in Bordeaux— along with Richard Smart, a respected Australian viticulture consultant who had earned his Ph.D. at Cornell.   With their advice the cellar and equipment was developed along those lines, and built twelve feet below the ground in order to allow for the first gravity-fed fermentation tanks to be used in the region, using as models Opus One and Mondavi, of Napa Valley.   (Gravity feed is considered to be less stressful and damaging to the fruit and organic matter that constitutes the must than is mechanical pumping.)

One of Raphael’s vineyard plots

In 1996 the Mudds planted the first vineyard for Raphael with Merlot, and have been managing the vineyard, which has grown to 60 acres over the years, ever since, using sustainable practices, including what Steve Mudd calls “fussy viticulture”—green harvesting by hand—from the very beginning.  (In fact, the first wine made under the Raphael label came from Merlot vines grown at the Mudds’ own vineyard and were vinified at Pellegrini Vineyard.  The first wine produced at the new facility was the 1999 vintage.)  Other varieties have been planted since the Merlot, including Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

According to Steve Mudd, a nine-foot space between rows is supposed to provide room for equipment to move along the rows, but it’s a myth that that much space is necessary.  Pontallier, when asked his opinion about the row spacing and vine density, said, “it is not for me to say” what it should be, but back in 1994, when the vineyard was still in the planning stage, he had argued against close spacing, suggesting 3 meters (10 feet).  The density of the first planting at Raphael is just 820 vines per acre (9’x6’ spacing) as opposed to about 2,550 in Bordeaux.  Later plantings increased the density somewhat, and the rest of the vineyard is now spaced at 9’x5’, or 968 vines/acre.

The quality wines produced by Raphael simply would not be possible if it weren’t for the work done in the vineyard by Steve Mudd and his crew.  High-quality fruit is always there for the winemaker, even in a bad-harvest year like 2011.

For further insight into the viticultural practices at Raphael, the reader is referred to another post, on Mudd VMC, the contracted vineyard manager for the winery.

Richard Olsen-Harbich, who had been Raphael’s winemaker since its founding and helped define its style of wines—made reductively, using native yeasts, with minimal intervention, in order to allow the hand-picked grapes to more clearly express the terroir.  After he left in 2010 to work at Bedell Cellars  Leslie Howard became winemaker, but in 2012 Les moved on and Anthony Nappa, former winemaker at Shinn Estate, maker of Anthony Nappa Wines, and founder of the Winemaker’s Studio, took over as winemaker at Raphael.

I met Anthony several years ago, when he was winemaker at Shinn (2007 to 2011). When he first went to there it was with the understanding that he could use their facilities to make wine for his own label, which bears his name. His first wine under his label was 200 cases of LI Pinot Noir. After he left Shinn he focused more on his own wines and made them at Premium Wine Group, the custom crush facility in Mattituck.

Anthony-Nappa at RaphaelHe now has same arrangement with Raphael. As he explains, “We keep everything very separate. [Raphael’s] business is very separate from ours. We pay to make the wine here; it’s just like at Premium. We pay to store it; we pay everything just like we would if we were just a customer. A lot of times I’m working on my stuff, I’m working on their stuff or whatever, but I just try to keep everything very separate. They don’t sell our wine, we don’t sell their wine.”  (To read more about Anthony Nappa and his own wines, see Oenology in LI: Anthony Nappa Wines.)

For Anthony, who has certainly had plenty of experience on both coasts, Long Island is the place to make wine in the East. He told me that “I really think Long Island is the best wine region on the East Coast by far. It’s so diverse; we’ve so much potential. The wines that I’d tasted even ten years ago were better than anywhere else along the East Coast, and they’re even better now.”

To the question, “What have you done since you’ve been here to in any way define the wines of Raphael to a new standard, an Anthony Nappa standard?”

He replied that by “having standards, the first goal is to just figure out where we are and what’s going on with sales and production, and try to get the business side of things in line as far as what we’re making, cutting packaging costs, and streamlining the whole production side. Raphael wants to make money, so obviously the financial side of it is important. And then on the winemaking side, it was just looking at every product. The first thing is to only make as much as we sell. A lot of wineries just bring in the fruit, make it, bottle it, warehouse it. Our goal is to figure out what we’re selling, and any excess we sell off in bulk—any fruit or wine or whatever—and then figuring out each product and having a standard for it.

“We have a whole line of what we call ‘First Label.’  It’s all the Reserve wines, and those are all from our vineyard. We buy a lot of fruit too, but those are all from our vineyard. It’s just like with my own wines, we have very high standards for fruit and we have very high standards for the quality of each wine. I’ll just not make a wine. If the quality is not there, if the fruit doesn’t deliver, it gets downgraded to a lower level wine, and if the vineyard doesn’t deliver, we just don’t buy the fruit. That’s easy for me, because I’m the one buying the fruit.

“It’s easy to fuck things up. You’re taking grapes and from the moment you pick them, it’s all downhill. You’re just trying to protect it through the process, but it’s on a long, slow trail to becoming vinegar from the moment you pick it . . .”

I replied, “It seems to me every single winery should have a sign that says ‘First thing, don’t fuck it up.’”

He went on: “But we try to make everything.  I’m a non-interventionist. I want the grapes to express themselves. I want the Cab Franc to taste like Cab Franc and I don’t want to just make everything taste the same. So usually I just bring things in and let everything ferment wild and let things go. And then I intervene when I have to. When the fruit comes in we look at it and we make decisions sometimes on the fly based on what we’re going to do. Then I always err on the side of caution. If I’m not sure about something I do nothing, and I intervene when I have to.”

Anthony concluded with this remark: “I think a lot of wineries just go through the motions and just make the same wines every year and there’s a huge separation between upstairs and downstairs and outside and inside and there needs to be more synergy, there to have some more consistency. No one has done anything different ever in this business that hasn’t been done for the last thousands of years. It’s just about taking thousands of decisions and putting them in a different order and you get a different result. But there are no secrets, you know.”

Trying Raphael’s wines in the spacious and handsome tasting room proved to be very interesting, as there was a wide range of wine types and styles on offer, and he had plenty to say about them.  (Please note:  the wines identified as “First Label” are considered to be Reserve Wines; i.e., the best produced by the winery.)

The 2010 First Label Chardonnay ($39), which came out of Mudd Vineyards (there is no Chardonnay planted at Raphael) was pressed to yield 120 gallons per ton of grapes (clone CY3779), so out of 5 tons of this particular parcel 600 gallons, or about 3,000 bottles, were made.  It underwent a 100% malolactic fermentation, was kept on its lees, and spent eight months in oak barrels.  It was bottled unfiltered, with low sulfites.  The result was that in the glass the wine was clear, offering citrus, butterscotch flavors, and toasty notes.  It has the typicity of an oaked Chardonnay, somewhere between a Burgundy or California version.  2010 was perhaps the greatest wine vintage in Long Island—given its early budding, excellent weather, and early harvest—and the quality of the Chardonnay was also a reflection of this.  Made by Leslie Howard.

The 2013 First Label Sauvignon Blanc ($28)  The last months of the growing season had no precipitation and no notable disease pressure, so Raphael was able to harvest each grape variety at leisure and at each one’s peak. According to them all the wines from 2013 show exceptional natural balance and full ripeness, which is also promising for the future longevity of the wines of this vintage.  The Sauvignon Blanc was made from hand-selected grapes from their oldest vines to help produce balanced, structured wines. Made with partial skin contact and cold-fermented in stainless steel, this dry wine exhibits a bright nose of citrus and pineapple, along with flavors of pineapple, grapefruit and lemongrass, a full body and a long dry acidic finish.It’s a clear, pale-lemon colored wine with aromas of pineapple, white peach, and, citrus; clean, medium-bodied, with high acidity and a mineral finish.  An exceptionally enjoyable Sauvignon Blanc that matches well with seafood and spicy Indian and other Asian cuisines.  Made by Anthony Nappa.  13.1% ABV.

Raphael Riesling 2013The 2013 First Label Riesling  ($28) from the same excellent vintage as that of the Sauvignon Blanc described above.  The grapes were hand-harvested and pressed very gently after two days of skin contact in the tank. The juice was fermented using naturally-occurring indigenous yeasts from the  skins. Fermentation was carried out cold at 55F and lasted 5 weeks. The wine saw no wood, as befits a Riesling.  It was blended from several batches and then bentonite-fined for heat stability, cold-stabilized and sterile-filtered before bottling.  This is a limited-production, dry Riesling that offers a firm but balanced acidity matched by fruit concentration that produces a beguilingly aromatic and rather full-bodied—for a Riesling—with a dry, minerally finish.  This wine shows flavors of fresh apricot and ripe pear.  Excellent as an aperitif or to accompany seafood, chicken dishes, and spicy cuisines.  Anthony Nappa.  12.4% ABV.

The 2013 Cabernet Franc ($25) also benefited from the excellent conditions of the vintage.  The fruit was hand-harvested, de-stemmed, and crushed. The grapes from different lots were then fermented apart.  The fermentation was carried out at 75F to retain fruit flavors and took a month with pumpovers twice a day. The wine was aged with 50% in stainless steel and the rest in French oak barrels, where it underwent natural malolactic fermentation. The aging took ten months before the wine was blended and then bottled unfiltered and unfined.  The resulting wine has a firm acidity, full body, and offers a pronounced fruity aroma of ripe red berries with herbal notes and a hint of tobacco.  It is actually ready to drink now bout would certainly bear aging a few more years, given that it was so recently bottled.  A fine accompaniment to any variety of pork, beef, or lanb dishes.  It would be good with cheese or chocolate as well.  Anthony Nappa.  12.9% ABV.

In June 2015 the Wine Advocate blog posted a review of 200 Long Island Wines, of which 7 were from Raphael, earning scores of 86 to 92 points.  The top Raphael wine was the 2010 Merlot First Label, by Leslie Howard, with 92 points, followed by the 2014 Suvignon Blanc First Label, at 91 points, by Anthony Nappa, and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon by Howard at 90 points.  Quite a track record from Robert Parker’s Website.

Based on interviews with Anthony Nappa and Steve Mudd

13 June 2012; updated 22 June 2014

39390 Main Road/Route 25, Peconic, NY 11958; (631) 765.1100

Raphael Wine


For further reading, Anthony Nappa and his own brand of wines were written about by Eileen Duffy in her book, Behind the Bottle (Cider Mill Press, 2015).

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Channing Daughters Winery

Channing Daughters, entranceChanning Daughters Winery, in Bridgehampton, founded in 1996 by Larry Perrine—soil scientist and oenologist—and Walter Channing—venture capital executive and gifted wood carver—is one of three Hamptons AVA wineries; the others are Wölffer Estate, in Sagaponack and Duckwalk Vineyards in Watermill.   In 2012 Channing Daughters was one of the four founding vineyards of Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, Inc. (LISW), offering the first independently-assessed certificate for sustainable viniculture in the East.  As of 2016 it has grown to 17 members.

There are a total of 73 producers and wine brands in Long Island, most of them located on the North Fork, a separate Long Island AVA.  Of all of them, Channing stands apart from all the rest by its choice to produce wine from varieties that almost no one else on Long Island, let alone the United States, have planted or made into wine.  These include Muscat Ottonel, Malvasia, and Tocai Friulano among the white varieties, and Blaufränkisch, Dornfelder, Refosco, Teroldego, and Lagrein among the reds.  There are, of course the more usual grapes—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, often sourced from other properties, particularly Mudd Vineyards.  Its wines may bear The Hamptons, Long Island, North Fork of Long Island or Long Island AVA.  French, American, Hungarian, and Slovenian oak barrels are used to age many of their wines, while many see only stainless steel.   In other words, there is nothing standard about what they do at this winery.  From all of this one can divine that Channing Daughters is fond of experimentation.  Thus, in the very capable—let’s say gifted—hands of winemaker Christopher Tracy, Channing Daughters makes unique blends and varietal bottlings, a total of thirty in all.

Larry Perrine (rhymes with terrine), was a consultant when he and Walter Channing founded the winery. He became its founding winemaker and partner with Walter Channing, and is now CEO of the enterprise.  He heads the team that actively runs the winery.  These include not only winemaker/partner Christopher Tracy, but also partner/general manager Allison Dubin, vineyard manager Abel Lopez, Jacqui Perrine, Anthony Persico and Debbie Huneken.

Larry, born in 1951, grew up in Southern California, but by the time he graduated from high school he was ready to peregrinate.  While still in California he earned a BA in English and thought to teach, but it turned out that the California school system at the time was retiring teachers faster than it was hiring them.  In the meantime he took jobs in wine shops and took to gardening, which he liked so much that he decided that it would be very nice to make money doing it.  Hence his decision to go back to college and major in soil science at California State Polytechnic University.  Studying soil science wasn’t exactly the same thing as earning an agronomy degree, which is really about how to farm.  Soil science involves hard-core chemistry courses and two years of Calculus, among other things.  He did so well that his professors urged him to go on to graduate school.  Three schools offered him positions, including the University of California at Davis, Cornell University, and the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities.  As Minnesota was the only agricultural school located in an urban setting and Larry had always wanted the experience of living in a city, he chose Minnesota.  It was a good choice for him, as it turned out.  He studied advanced soil science and microbiology.  As part of his studies he worked on soybeans and their nitrogen-fixing capacity (a trait shared with other legumes and even the locust tree).

While living in Minnesota in the late 1970s, Larry came upon a small Minnesota winery that was pioneering cold-climate viticulture and worked a few harvests with them.  Another grower, Elmer Swenson, was busy breeding his own cold-hardy grape varieties, setting the stage for what would become a formal University of Minnesota grape-breeding program.   Eventually it developed into today’s well-respected grape-breeding, viticulture and winemaking program for new hybrids able to withstand the very cold Midwestern winters.

Early in Larry’s life, while still in California, his partner at the time (she later became his wife) turned him on to wine in a serious way, as a result of trips to Europe.  Nevertheless, his work in soybeans and agricultural development led him to involvement with local food cooperatives which in turn resulted in his becoming engaged in politics—food politics, with all that that entailed, including working on political campaigns, raising money, and helping to elect progressive politicians.  He did this for three years, after which he wanted to return to work in agriculture.

It was a New York Times article published around 1980 about the rise of quality wines in the Finger Lakes that persuaded Larry that he should move to upstate New York to return to agriculture.  So began Larry’s stint at a Finger Lakes winery and vineyard on Keuka Lake with a grand stone house in Greek Revival style that was, sadly, in very run-down condition.  It turned out that the wine operation was in the same shape.  There was no wine lab, despite the fact that all the equipment for one had been purchased years before and was left lying around.  It was, in Larry’s words, “a macabre operation.”  He was hired to install the lab with the available equipment—a job for which he was well-suited, given his work as a research scientist.  Dana Keeler, a protégé of Hermann Wiemer, had been recently hired as a winemaking consultant and he and Larry went through the cellar to determine which wines were salvageable and which were not.  It was a good way to learn about wine faults.

In 1983 Larry was admitted to the Food Science and Technology graduate program at Cornell’s New York State Agriculture Experiment Station at Geneva in the Finger Lakes.  He did his Masters program from 1983-85, working on viticulture issues on Long Island.  After Cornell, Larry moved to Long Island and worked for the Mudd family, viticulture pioneers on Long Island, during 1985-86.  This led to his getting a job at the Long Island Horticulture Research and Extension Center in Riverhead as a Research Associate in viticulture, working with the viticulture team at the NYSAES/Geneva, which included Robert Pool, Tom Burr, Roger Pearson, Bruce Reisch and Alan Lakso.  Larry worked as a viticulture researcher for three years focusing on bird control and Botrytis bunch rot management.  His tenure as a Cornell viticulture researcher overlapped with the arrival of Alice Wise, the new Fruit Extension agent (which, of course, included grapes).  When Larry left Cornell in 1988, Alice Wise took over a newly-consolidated viticulture position working for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County as the grape research and extension specialist, a position she still holds today.

He then went on to work at Gristina Vineyards in the fall of 1988, so that he participated in its first vintage.  He stayed with Gristina as winemaker and general manager for six years, but left in early 1994 to pursue his expanding viticulture consulting career.  Larry became a consultant to more than twenty wineries and vineyards in New York State (including Long Island), Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Michigan, for five years.

In 1995 he met Walter Channing, who was looking for a consultant to advise him on improving his vineyard property he’d started planting in 1982.  Tom Drozd, then winemaker at Palmer Vineyards, told Larry about Channing’s search and put them in touch.  So, in 1995, Larry—who had an attorney friend staying with him at the time—went with his friend to meet Walter at his farm.  Walter and Larry immediately connected with one another.  The lawyer then suggested that they formalize a contractual relationship between them.  Within the span of a year Larry went from being a consultant to helping Walter found Channing Daughters Winery in 1996 (a reference to his four daughters), becoming its winemaker and a business partner.

Walter started with a one-acre vineyard planting on his farm in 1982, planted 3 acres of Merlot in 1987, and an additional eight acres of Chardonnay vines in 1991.  There is now a total of 28 acres planted to wine grapes.  About 60 acres of farmland (including the vineyards) are permanently protected through a conservation easement held by the Peconic Land Trust.  Channing Daughters Winery has grown into a 12,000 case winery from 1996 to the present.

About Vineyards

Channing Daughters vines & trellisThe cover crops between rows include a mix of fescue, clover, and rye, and during the growing season these are always kept mowed.

The first wine grapes of the modern era were planted on the east end of Long Island in 1973, and the industry is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  Basic planting decisions include vine spacing.  Vine spacing on Long Island is various, but most of the earliest plantings from the 1970s-1980s were planted 9’ X 8’ (9 feet between rows and 8 feet between vines within a row).  That was the initial recommendation coming from Cornell and was the typical Concord vine spacing.  Over the last 20 years, most new planting are spaced more closely—commonly 8’ between rows and 4-5’ between vines within a row.

As an academic in the 1980s, Larry used to wake up at night pondering the prevailing theories of “vine competition” and the notion that close vine spacing stresses vines, leading to better fruit quality.  Did vines really compete with each other, thereby reducing vine vigor and promoting fruit ripening?  In Bordeaux, for example, vines have traditionally been planted as close as 1 meter by 1 meter, producing modest-sized vines, good yields and ripe fruit (depending on the vintage).  The traditional popular notion, even in Bordeaux, at the time was that the close spacing produced smaller vines and riper fruit.

It even reached the New World.  Opus One, the famous collaboration between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, planted its vines according to the spacing that was used at Mouton-Rothschild in Paulliac, a commune of Bordeaux—1 meter by 2 meters.  The result in the fertile and fairly deep Bale Loam soils (up to 48” rooting depth) was a jungle in the Napa vineyard.  Too much vigor, thus too much growth.  The close spacing that is de rigueur in Bordeaux is not as practical in the flatter and richer soils of parts of Napa Valley.

Busting a Myth: The Theory of Vine Spacing and Competition

When visiting Bordeaux Larry once asked Gerard Seguin, a soil scientist who worked at the INRA (Institut National de Recherche Agricole) about the question of planting density in the region and he replied that the vines were planted closely in order to fill the trellis due to the rather low vigor soils in much of Bordeaux.  Not to devigorate the vines.  In other words, high vine density has less to do with stressing the vines to improve the resulting fruit.  It has more to do with filling the trellis and keeping yields up on less vigorous soils.  So the theory of vine competition appears to be a myth, though a very-well entrenched one.  Another point to bear in mind is that in Bordeaux as well as in other traditional vine regions in France as well as much of the rest of Europe, close planting also reflects the fact that when vineyards were first planted centuries ago there were no machines, which require wider rows; a person, a horse, an ox, could easily pass along closely-spaced rows.

Larry also explained something about vine canes.  A cane is a series of buds on a hardened off shoot that grew last year.   These buds produce new shoots upon budbreak.  In wide vine spacing (8’ between vines) if there is a four-foot cane (fairly long), for example, you’d find that the vine will, physiologically, provide more nourishment to the proximal and distal buds on the canes, leaving the middle ones less nourished and less likely to produce fruitful shoots.  In this case it would be better, then, to have a second two-foot cane and let them  overlap the center of a 4 ft cane from the same vine, so that one has a double cane for a short distance and the entire length of the trellis is filled.  With two-foot canes one has, in effect, eliminated the middle buds.  As Larry points out, overlapping canes is a growers’ technique that is not found in textbooks.  However, with closer spacing between vines, this issue is mitigated.

Early Variety/Clone and Rootstock Work on Long Island

In 1977 a non-replicated varietal grape planting was installed at the LIHREC in Riverhead.  That planting was subsequently replaced in 1982 by a replicated wine grape varietal/rootstock experiment known as the Dyson Trial .   The focus was on Riesling and Chardonnay, two vinifera varieties that had been grafted to six separate American rootstocks.  Additional varieties were also included.  The Dyson Trial was also undertaken in three other viticultural areas of the State—the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes and Lake Erie.  Over a lifetime of at least a decade, these trials singled out specific rootstocks as preferred because they produced smaller vines and promoted earlier fruit ripening.

According to Larry, “In the early 1990s, there emerged an interest in evaluating the performance of different ‘clones’ or sub-types of commercially important wine grape varieties on Long Island.  This led to the planting of a new experimental vineyard at the Riverhead station by Alice Wise and Libby Tarleton. The focus was primarily on Chardonnay and Merlot, but also included numerous other varieties.  This clonal and varietal evaluation trial is still yielding results as it gradually evolves to eliminate some varieties.

“This ongoing trial on Long Island is an outgrowth of work done in Burgundy in the 1950s and ‘60s by Raymond Bernard, a research viticulturist in Dijon, Burgundy.   His group discovered then that there were many types and subtypes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Burgundy.  These different ‘clones’ produced different aromatics, cluster sizes, levels of acidity, and amount of fruit sugar.

“New grape vines are produced by selecting dormant cuttings or ‘budwood’ from a known planting of a specific grape variety.  New vines are ‘cloned’ from ‘mother vines’ to keep the genes identical and the varieties ‘true’.  Seeds are not saved as they, if planted, would not produce the same grape variety.

“Traditionally, vineyard managers used mass selection (an arbitrary harvest of budwood from of a varietal planting) of cuttings to produce new, baby vines.  These cutting were then grafted to resistant rootstock.

“However, Raymond Bernard, who was asked by his industry to determine why the region’s vineyards were in long-term decline (it turned out to be caused by grape viruses), saw differences in the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines that had been newly planted.   He not only helped ‘clean-up’ Burgundy’s new vine supply system, he also began identifying and selecting what he saw as clear subtypes or ‘clones’ with the most desirable wine characteristics for different conditions and terroirs.  (Some clones, for example, were unsuitable for Burgundy but would fare well in Champagne—a much cooler region with a shorter growing season, thus needing the right amount of acidity at harvest.)

“Finally, in the 1980s, New World viticulturists became interested in these sparingly available Old World clones.   Initial imports of the clonal cuttings ended up spending years in quarantine upon arrival in the United States until they could be certified virus-free and safe to plant in American soil by the UC Davis Plant Material Services program.  Over time agreements were made that facilitated the import of the clones and by the mid-‘80s, numerically identified clones of were being offered for sale by American vine nurseries.

“For example, Channing Daughters has a block of 8 ½ acres planted to ten different Chardonnay clones, including Burgundy clones 95, 96, and 76.   One of the advantages of using many clones is genetic diversity and potential wine complexity.  The clones that are in the field have been selected for their wine quality, and include not only the three Burgundy clones, but clones identified in California (e.g., at UC Davis), and there is also a Muscat clone of Chardonnay with distinctive flavors and quite aromatic.  Chardonnay Daughters makes a field blend out of the mixed clonal plantings and calls it Clones.”

[End of Perrine interviews]

Christopher Tracy, the winemaker, is proudly non-ideological in his approach, and will make some wines with wild yeasts, others with inoculated ones. Some wines are filtered, others not. Everything depends on what he perceives to be the best way to work with a particular batch of juice. Varieties can differ widely in what kinds of treatment they will best respond to. In consequence of making so many different wines—often only differentiated on the label by a vineyard name—it’s very evident that the philosophy of this winery is strongly terroir-oriented. It also means that all the wines are made in relatively small batches. Since production of each wine is small, there is a likelihood that they will sell out sooner than later.

On the other hand, Christopher is very firm about his preference for corks over screwcaps. It has to do with a strong romantic streak in him—a love of the process of extracting the cork and hearing that satisfying ‘pop’ as the cork comes out. He’s convinced that cork taint has been largely—though not entirely—vanquished, thanks to new technology and treatment of raw cork, which one must remember is the product of the bark of a living tree.

The winery website describes Clones as:

“a barrel-fermented chardonnay with a skin-fermented twist! Clones is an exotic white blend that is based primarily on ten distinct clones of Chardonnay and also includes three other grape varieties.  The 2010 version is composed of 89% Chardonnay, 8% Gewürztraminer, 2% Tocai Friulano and 1% Pinot Grigio.  The wine was fermented and raised in Slovenian and French oak (7 hogsheads and 3 barrels) of which 11% were new and 89% were neutral (17 months in barrel). All of the wine was fermented with ambient/wild yeast and went through a ‘natural’ secondary or malo-lactic fermentation.”

  Some Other Channing Daughters Wines

A selection of some other interesting wines in the Channing portfolio includes the following (with the descriptions taken from their Website):

Channing Daughters Due Uve bottle2010 Due Uve  “Due Uve from 2010 which is just a fabulous red wine vintage to boot. Here is a new vintage, a new blend (more Syrah), and a new experience. Our 2010 Due Uve (two grapes) is a blend of 84% Syrah and 16% Merlot. The Syrah comes from the Mudd West vineyard in Hallocksville and the Merlot comes from Sam’s Vineyard in Aquebogue. All the fruit was hand-harvested, de-stemmed into one ton bins, stomped on by foot, punched down by hand and fermented with naturally occurring wild yeast. After primary fermentation the wine was racked to all old neutral barrels, where it spent sixteen months before being gravity bottled without fining or filtration.”


Channing Daughters Mudd 2007 bottle2007 MUDD  “The 2007 Vintage, along with 2005 and now 2010, is considered one of the best growing seasons for ripening red grapes on the East End of Long Island, ever. We believe our 2007 MUDD is a scrumptious reflection of that great 2007 vintage. Not only is it delicious now, but because it is just a baby, it will improve in the bottle for at least six to eight years and drink well for a solid dozen! Our 2007 MUDD is composed of 60% Merlot, 21% Syrah, 9% Dornfelder, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Blaufränkisch. All the fruit was hand-harvested on the North Fork and de-stemmed into small one ton bins where it was stomped on by foot and punched down by hand. After primary fermentation, the wine was racked to a variety of barrels, hogsheads and puncheons (42% new oak, 23% 1yr old, 16% 2yr old, 16% 3yr old and 3% 4yr old) where it spent twenty-three months before being bottled by gravity without fining or filtration on September 22nd 2009.”

2010 Mosaico “Mosaico is an exotic field blend that comes from a complanted block in our Sylvanus vineyard on our estate in Bridgehampton. Our 2010 Mosaico was fermented with naturally occurring ambient yeast and is composed of 32% Pinot Grigio, 29% Chardonnay, 14% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Muscat Ottonel, 7% Tocai Friulano and 8% Gewürztraminer. This is a dry white wine where all the varieties were grown, harvested, pressed and fermented together in a stainless steel tank (86%) and a new French oak puncheon (14%). All the fruit was hand-picked and whole cluster-pressed, except for the Muscat and Gewürztraminer which were fermented on their skins and blended back in. . . . All the fruit was hand-picked and whole cluster-pressed, except for the Muscat and Gewürztraminer which were fermented on their skins and blended back in. . . .  The 2010 Mosaico spent a year on its lees and was bottled by gravity on September 13, 2011. . . .”

As one can see from the description above, each wine, including the single-varietals, has some judicious blending to add complexity and balance, making the wines even more interesting.  (The notes are very technical, testifying to the seriousness of the winery.)  Channing also makes eight different rosés, each distinguished by choice of varieties and vineyards—for Channing believes in terroir and seek to express it in each of their wines.  There are no wines made like this anywhere else—but then, it could be argued that each and every winemaker and every winery take pride in making wines distinct from all others.  That, of course, is what making wine is about.  And that leaves us, the consumer, with thousands of choices, thirty of which come from Channing Daughters.

There is one other thing that distinguishes Channing Daughters winery from all others, and that is the charming and witty sculpture by Walter that is seeded in the vineyard and public spaces.  To wit (pun intended):

Channing Daughters, sculptures, 2 This carving, made from a tree stump, adorns the area around the winery.






Channing Daughters, sculptures, 4And this one greets a visitor to the tasting room.  How can one not like a winery like this?






Sadly, Walter Channing shall carve no more, for he died on March 12, 2015, after a long illness.

Channing Daughters LogoChanning Daughters contact strip

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Mudd Vineyards

Based on interviews with Steve Mudd as well as online sources

Steve Mudd is a man whose light-hearted demeanor masks a serious character and a professional viticulturalist of deep knowledge and long experience.  Steve has been involved with wine agriculture since he and his father, David, then an airline pilot, started their vineyard in 1974, in Southold, on the North Fork, planting a single acre to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc just a year after Hargrave Vineyards was established as the first winery in Long Island.  (In fact, Dave Mudd, who then raised hay, had already been thinking of planting a vinifera plot even before the Hargraves had arrived.)

Steve and his father had planted some ungrafted Cabernet in their new vineyard.  When Nelson Shaulis, the eminent professor of viticulture at Cornell (who developed the Geneva Double-Curtain trellis system used worldwide today), visited to see what was going in the vineyards of Eastern Long Island and when he saw the vines, he argued that own-rooted Cabernet Sauvignon could not survive more than a few years.  (Dr. Shaulis, long an advocate of French-American hybrids and hybridizer of Cornell varieties, had long ago turned a blind eye to vinifera, due in part perhaps to his deep antipathy to Konstantin Frank–who had aggressively advocated for vinifera–and to rip out hybrids.)  After 3 years he came back and saw that the same vines were still doing well.  He announced that within a few years they’d be gone.  Several years later he paid another visit and was astonished to see that the vines were still productive and healthy.  He was so impressed that he decided to take a root cutting back to Cornell to see what there was about it that made it so resistant to Phylloxera—it took him three hours to surgically remove a complete vine.  39 years later the same own-rooted vines are alive and well; sadly, however, Dr. Shaulis is no longer with us to bear witness to it.

The vineyard also has the oldest Merlot vines on the Island, planted over 40 years ago.

David Mudd, by NorthFork Patch

Today, Mudd Vineyards, the business started by David Mudd 42 years ago and now run by his son, Steven, is the leading vineyard management and services company on Long Island and one of the most in demand on the East Coast.  Mudd has since been involved in planting more than 1,500 acres of vineyards (nearly half) in the East End—including Palmer Vineyards and what is now Pellegrini Vineyards—which amounts to almost half of all the vines in Long Island.  Today the business continues to manage numerous farms and sells grapes from its own vineyard to wineries that either have no vineyard of their own, or that use designated parcels of the Mudd vineyards, such as is the case with Channing Daughters, which produces several wines that are identified as coming from Mudd or Mudd West vineyards.  (The Channing Daughters website states that “The soil in the Mudd Vineyard is mostly Haven Loam with some portions being Riverhead Sandy Loam,” with “some of the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines on Long Island which were planted in 1975,”  while “The Mudd West Vineyard is in Hallockville (Aquebogue) and is a warm, dry site. The soil is predominately Riverhead Sandy Loam. The Mudd West Vineyard was planted in 2005 making the vines 7 years old.”)  The wines, such as the 2007 Mudd illustrated here, are in homage to David Mudd, who was Larry Perrine’s (Channing Daughters’ CEO) first employer in Long Island and who helped expand and plant the Channing Daughters vineyard.

Over the years the Mudds acquired more land and now have a 50-acre vineyard, the grapes of which are sold to other wineries.   They make no wine of their own.  David Mudd once said in an interview that “Wine-making is laboratory work and that’s not for me.”  The same is true of Steve, but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand winemaking, and he certainly understands the importance of delivering quality fruit to a winery.

Together father and son developed the largest vineyard management company in the East that also has its own vinifera vineyard.  Not only did they consult for but even helped establish a number of Long Island vineyards, beginning with Lenz in 1984, as well as Palmer, Paumanok, Peconic Bay, Pellegrini, and Pindar in the North Fork, and Channing Daughters in the Hamptons AVA.  Mudd was deeply involved with the creation of Raphael Winery, including the layout and design of the winery itself, the purchase of equipment, and also helped obtain the expertise of Paul Pontallier, general manager at Châteaux Margaux, one of the great First-Growth wineries of Bordeaux, with the objective of making wines inspired by the style of Bordeaux wines such as those of Margaux.  Today, Steve Mudd continues as the vineyard manager for Raphael and also has a close relationship with other LI wineries, such as Channing Daughters, but he now runs the company alone, as his father died one year ago.  He’s so busy that “the only way I know it’s Sunday is when the church is full.”

Mudd Vineyard Management Company is now a nationally-recognized VMC firm that has consulted in other regions beyond Long Island or even New York State, but along much of the East Coast as well.  Such was the case with the Upper Shore Regional Council in Maryland, where over sixty landowners met with Steve to discuss establishing vineyards in that region of the state.  For them he produced a “Prospective Vineyard Owner’s Handbook:  A Three-Year Estimate For Establishing Your Own Vineyard Utilizing A Vineyard Management Company.”  Included in the document, which can be downloaded from the Web, was a table of projected investment costs and returns for a new vineyard.  In addition, there were recommendations by Steve bearing on such matters as:

  • Maryland tax laws that affect vineyard operations and profitability (they need to be changed to be more favorable to on-site sales of wine to consumers and directly to restaurants)
  • Vineyard worker psychology as affected by the nature of the work expected or demanded, such as reduced performance due to boredom from repeating the same work over and over again.
  • Vineyard row length should be no more than 600’ to 800’—longer rows result in lost time when workers are called in for breaks or reassignment to other locations.
  • Row widths should be adequate to allow for drying of grapes from morning dew—he recommended 10’ width with vines at 6’ (10’ x 6’ = 726 vines per acre).  Greater densities increase costs per acre.
  • To encourage Agricultural Land Preservation a special sales transfer tax could be used to fund the purchase of land to be preserved.
  • Use clean pruning to keep dead cordon spurs from becoming harbors for vine infections and disease.
  • Growers should not push the vines too hard, so balanced pruning is essential to the plants’ health—by neither under- or over-pruning.
  • Vine trunks should be as straight as possible to reduce damage to them by tractors and equipment.
  • Water-retention capabilities of the soil can be enhanced by the addition of organic matter and irrigation when needed is encouraged.
  • To reduce wire tension problems in the rows, Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP), as used in Long Island, is recommended.  This results in a band of fruit that leads to better sun exposure, spray coverage, and easier harvesting.
  • Leaf-pulling by hand should be done around the fruit zone to improve exposure to the sun.

From his years of experience, Steve can impart all kinds of wisdom for the viticultural neophyte.  For example:

  • “It’s necessary to rotate old vine trunks as they are given to splitting, developing crown gall, and the like.”
  • “The main reason to plant grafted vines is to get higher yields.”
  • “Longer hang time will lead to some dehydration of grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon can be dehydrated by as much as 10-15% before being harvested late in the season.”
  • “Organic inputs require more eradicants than protectants—which can be nasty to human consumption.”

Furthermore, Steve goes on (you can’t stop a good man once he gets going):

  • “There are more recovery sprayers in LI than in the rest of the US.”
  • “Long Island vineyards started with the Umbrella Kniffin trellis system, but converted to VSP after about ten years to create a band of fruit rather than scattered fruit.”
  • “In the 1970s the vines on the East End were sprayed about five times a year, but now it’s necessary to spray as often as fifteen times due to the introduction of inoculum that was the result of the planting of over 3000 acres of vines.”
  • “2010 was a unique vintage in LI, given that there was early bud break and, given the nearly-perfect weather, an early harvest.  It was perhaps the best ever for LI wine.”
  • “2011 had downy mildew all over the vineyards—it was an unbelievable outbreak.”
  • “2012, so far [in mid-June], has had too much rain and too little sun and the plants look like crap.  The disease pressure is phenomenal . . . .  But, at this point [in mid-September] the vintage has the potential to be a really good vintage.”
  • The sun’s arc flattens after August 15.
  • Steve likes to refer to the process of green harvesting as “Fussy Viticulture”—that was the topic of Steve’s talk in Maryland and is now the general practice in Long Island (among many other wine-growing regions).
  • “Ripe rot is a problem especially  in wine-growing regions like Virginia, where the weather is frequently wet and warm”

Plus a touch of viticultural history:  In 1982 it was discovered that vines identified as Pinot Chardonnay were actually Pinot Blanc, but it took a few years for the newly-planted vines to produce fully-developed leaves, which allowed Lucy Morton—a viticulturalist who translated Pierre Galet’s book, A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification, from French to English—to correctly identify the vines as Pinot Blanc by the shape of the vine leaves.  (Incidentally, what was called Pinot Chardonnay—on the assumption that Chardonnay is a member of the Pinot family—is now called just Chardonnay.

Today Mudd Vineyards produces about 100 tons of grapes from its 50 acres of vines–a mere 2 tons an acre, proof of rigorous “fussy viticulture.”  The quality of the fruit is therefore very high, and Mudd supplies its fruit not only to wineries on the East End such as Channing Daughters and Raphael, but also as far away as New Paltz, NY, in the Hudson Valley (Robibero Winery) and even Arrowhead Spring in the Niagara Escarpment AVA.

Long Island with its three AVAs may be one of the newest important wine regions in the United States, but over a period of nearly forty years its vine growers have learned much about growing vinifera grapes in challenging terroir, and people like Steve Mudd  and others from there clearly have a great deal of knowledge and expertise to share and impart to others.  Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is how such a young region has gained so much respect in so brief a time.  It is people like Steve and his late father Dave, and the other vineyard managers, the winemakers, and the wines themselves that speak of a major, if small, region that produces premium wines.  Quality fruit is where it all begins.

—13 June & 17 Sept 2012 (update April 2016)

Mudd’s Vineyard Ltd

39005 County Rd 48, Southold, NY

(631) 765-1248

It does not encourage visitors as it only sells fruit to the wine industry.