Tag Archives: Steve Mudd

Viniculture in the Niagara Escarpment: Arrowhead Spring Vineyards

First, a story.

I first learned of Arrowhead Spring Vineyards a few  years ago when I was shopping for wine at Empire State Cellars, a wine shop in the Tanger Mall in Riverhead, Long Island (since closed).  Asking if I was interested in trying something new and unusual, I of course said yes and was immediately directed to a section of the shelves that displayed a Pinot Noir from the Niagara Escarpment in Northern New York State.  It was only $17 so I thought, “What the hell can I lose by trying this?”, for though I trusted the recommendation I couldn’t help but be skeptical.  After all, I’d never heard of the Niagara Escarpment.  It certainly didn’t sound promising.

Arrowhead Springs wine dinner, 04The Pinot Noir, a 2009, utterly took me by surprise, with its aroma and flavors of red fruit (especially wild cherries), tobacco notes, already integrated tannins, balanced acidity and the promise of depth that should evolve over the next three to four years; a sapid, well-made wine with real typicity, as good a Pinot as any I’d had from a New York winery.  It was also very good value.  As a result, I began following this winery for a couple of years.  Then, this past June my wife and I went to a dinner held at The Riverhead Project, a Long Island restaurant, at which the owners of Arrowhead Spring were being honored with a dinner sponsored by Empire State Cellars.  As it happens, Vals and I were seated with Robin and Duncan Ross, the owners, and regaled with an excellent dinner by Lia Fallon Stanco accompanied by their wines.

I interviewed Robin at her vineyard in the Niagara Escarpment AVA on a warm August day in 2013 after spending a day in Ontario Wine Country on the other side of the Canadian border, which is to say, the Niagara Peninsula VQA, which includes part of the Niagara Escarpment that runs through there (and terminates some 500 miles to the West).  Indeed, the Escarpment is a geological feature so vast and significant that it is worth some background before I proceed with the interview with Robin.

The Niagara Escarpment

Niagara_Escarpment_mapStretching nearly 700 miles in the shape of a sickle that extends from Wisconsin in the West across Ontario to New York State in the East, and encompassing over 480,000 acres, the Niagara Escarpment—in Canada—is a UNESCO-designated World Biosphere site.  Essentially, it is the remnant shore of an ancient sea.  Its name is derived from its most well-known feature, the Niagara Falls.  An escarpment is a type of cuesta—a geological feature defined by an erosion-resistant caprock of dolomitic limestone overlaying fragile shale and other soils that was laid down nearly 450 million years ago.  The result is that differential erosion undercuts the more vulnerable layers under the caprock so that the land slumps more on one side than the other, with steep slopes in some places and more shallow ones elsewhere, depending on the makeup of the layers of the underlying soil.  In the vicinity of the Niagara River the collapse of the undersoil has resulted in the spectacular cliffs over which the Niagara falls.  Because the Escarpment here runs along the south shore of Lake Ontario, there is a pronounced “lake effect” in which the cold air of winter blows off the caprock down to the water and warmer air from the lake rises to the upper layers of the Escarpment, depending on how the winds blow.  The end result is that the Escarpment is warmer, overall, that any other wine-growing region of New York State, except for Long Island.

The North slope of the Escarpment as seen running through the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

The North slope of the Escarpment as seen running through the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

The escarpment is home to two AVAs at either end of the feature—Wisconsin Ridge AVA (2013?) that runs along the Western edge of Lake Michigan and the Niagara Escarpment AVA (2005), which comes to an end near Rochester, NY.  In between them are the Ontario VQAs—Niagara Peninsula’s Niagara Escarpment Region (which also includes the Short Hills Bench, Twenty-Mile Bench, and Beamsville Bench VQAs with a total of 22 wineries).  New York’s Escarpment AVA (at 18,000 acres the third-smallest of the State’s nine AVAs) has been home to wineries since the mid-1800s.  Since the 1990s six resident wineries have been establish in the Escarpment, including Arrowhead Spring, which was founded and opened in 2005 by the Rosses, the same year that AVA status was granted to the region.

The 2005 AVA application for the Escarpment stated that it possessed “‘well drained soils, a steady but moderate water supply’ in combination with the mineral content found in the soils, ‘result in superior pigment and flavor compounds in the resultant wine.’”   (see Appellation America, Niagara Escarpment, description)

Duncan, in a 2007 interview, describes the Escarpment in his area thus:

Escarpment cross-section“The Niagara Escarpment is an uplift of bedrock that runs parallel to Lake Ontario in Niagara County. It’s about a 200-foot drop in elevation facing north, with slopes of one half to several miles long. The underlying rock is dolomitic limestone and – in our vineyard – we have springs where the hydrostatic pressure from the escarpment releases water. This results in a great mineral quality being imparted to the fruit, and wine.

“The Niagara Escarpment also offers natural frost protection. Lake Ontario is a large heat sink and this powers wind towards the lake when the lake water is warmer than the air and away from the lake when it is cooler.

“It’s a maritime climate because the lake is so large. Moderate rainfall and more sunshine than any other major U.S. city in the northeast US contribute to the uniqueness of the escarpment for growing wine. We are the second warmest growing region in New York State.”

 The Interview:

Robin and Duncan had been in the software business, but after Duncan was laid off in a work-force “reduction” they decided to look at another lifestyle and, given their love for and fascination with wine, they decided to buy land in an area they knew and loved to grow wine grapes.  At first they bought their fruit from vineyards in Canada and would have from the North Fork of Long Island, as they’d only planted their own vineyard in 2006.  In fact, Robin recounted, she’d bought–and paid for–several tons of grapes in 2005 in advance of the harvest from Mudd Vineyards.  It turned out to be bad vintage due to the weather around harvest time, and they got a check in the mail from Steve Mudd, who explained that the crop was lousy and he couldn’t keep their money in consequence.  “You have to really admire and respect someone like that,” said she.

Indeed, it was the Canadian winegrowers in the Niagara Peninsula, which includes the continuation of the Escarpment, who helped them with variety selection and advise about growing vines in a cool climate (albeit the second-warmest in New York State).  Robin mentioned, in particular, Kevin Watson, of Watson’s Vineyard, in Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario.

When they began looking for a vineyard site they based their search on soil maps that laid out the soil composition of the area.  Having come from a farming family, she knew what she was looking for and understood how to read the maps.  Duncan and she were looking for land that didn’t have too much clay in the topsoil, and they knew that the dolomitic limestone that underlay the topsoil would be especially good for winegrowing.

Since planting the vineyard in 2006 Robin has developed growing experience and knowledge that grows by the year.  She still asks questions of Kevin Watson occasionally.  Another person from whom she’s drawn inspiration is Barbara Shinn, of Shinn Estate in Long Island, whom she has found unstinting in helping her with advise and insights into issues of organic and Biodynamic viniculture.

Syrah is one of the varieties that have been planted, and Robin remarked that the only problem that she has with it is the uneven berry size, but that has not had any effect on the quality of the wine made from it.  The Syrah is on a Scott Henry trellis, which allows for two lines of fruit, one over the other, but they’ve been having some trouble with it this year, given that the season started very wet.  The thing is, Scott Henry allows for two wires for fruit, one above the other.  The lower line of fruit, however, can be covered over by very heavy foliage, which increases the disease pressure, especially from mildew.  Despite regular leaf pulling, the foliage “grows gangbusters,” as Robin says, due to the varieties high vigor.

When I asked her why they had decided that the particular mesoclimate of the vineyard, as well as soil and aspect (the terroir) was suitable for growing Syrah, she explained that while they are the first on the U.S. side of the region to plant Syrah, on the other side of the border there has been some success with the variety.  One thing that is important to understand about Syrah is that once it reaches ripeness it must be picked or the berries will begin to desiccate.  “If you have the grapes at 23º Brix and you hope to let them ripen to 25º Brix, forget about it, the grapes will start desiccating,” Robin warned.

Given the vigor of the vines on the vineyard, before they can run a tractor through the rows for a Spring spray, for example, they first have to go into the vines and spread apart the tendrils that have intertwined, lest they get caught in the tractor.

Arrowhead Spring, 14For ground cover the Rosses first planted clover for its nitrogen-fixing qualities, along with a broad-leafed orchard grass.  They need to plant cover that would not be torn up by the tractor, given that soil erosion can be a problem in the vineyard, since parts of it are very steep, what with the amount of rain that they get there.  They also planted rye, as it is so fast-growing, and one other fescue.  Robin is especially pleased that so wild plants have germinated in the cover as well, such as dandelions, which have deep-tapping roots that bring nutrients up to the surface.  One of the issues with farming a monocrop is that there isn’t much bio-diversity, which is something that one wouldn’t find in nature, so the diversity of the cover crop is important—for instance, in some of the alleys wild sweet-pea is growing, which attracts beneficial insects such that the pests are not a big problem in the vineyard.

With respect to disease pressure, for example with spores, it seems that the cover holds the spores close to the ground and they do not reach into the fruit zones.  In the space within the vine rows they actually weed with a hoe rather than use herbicides.  Essentially, it is apparent that this is very much an organic approach, though they are not certified nor are they seeking to become so.  Given that on the Canadian side there are two vineyards that are certified Biodynamic (Tawse, in the Niagara Escarpment VQA, and Southbrook, in the Niagara-on-the Lake VQA), they had looked into pursuing certification for either organic or Biodynamic farming, but they couldn’t find useful guidelines for going about it in their area on our side of the border.  Indeed, it was while doing research into the certification guidelines that she learned that copper, sulfur, and lime are all acceptable inputs that she thought, “Oh, good.  I can use Bordeaux mix on my vines.”  Then she realized that the sulfur she was using wasn’t approved for organic use, even though it was produced organically.  She found these kinds of things frustrating to deal with.  So they just go ahead and they follow the standard, but they remain.  For Robin it’s enough to be “clean and green.”

Thus, for instance, they have a windmill generator for electricity and they are trying not to have too much of an adverse impact on nature.  So, the fact of the matter is that they would like to be certified from a commercial point of view.  When people come to taste the wines one question that they often ask is, “Are your wines organic?”

The thing is, when people drive up to the tasting room they pass the vineyard and they can Arrowhead Spring, 03see how the Rosses farm.  It’s pretty obvious.  Also evident are their chickens, which they keep “as a last line of defense” against insect pests.  The chickens are kept in a fenced area because they would otherwise be lost to predation.  In a bug-heavy year they do let them loose in the vineyards where they are especially effective against Japanese beetles.  As Robin explains, “I rise at sunup and go shake the vines, and as the beetles don’t yet fly in the morning they fall on the ground and the chickens would eat them.”  This way they can have a few vines done one day and another few the next day and so on.  To do this, they invested in a mobile chicken house that can be towed behind the tractor—not a unique idea, farms with other crops may use one, but new to NY vineyards, I suspect—so that they can get the chickens to range where they want them to.  The only problem is that though the chickens are very effective at eating bug pests, if the coop is moved too far to the next place they often go to the last location they remember coop had been set, so they need to be directed to where the coop has been moved.  Sometimes at night she can be chasing the chickens around the vines—some of them will roost in the vines— which can take some time, so it can be very frustrating sometimes.

For mammalian pests like rodents and raccoons they have hawks and owls that nest and roost around the vineyard.

The vine rows not only run along the Escarpment North-South, which means that the northern rows  catch the sun at an advantageous angle but also towards the West, as the Escarpment has a shape not unlike an aircraft wing, with a sharp slope forward from the apex, and a shallow slope from there back to the trailing edge.  Here the trailing edge slopes to the West and catches the afternoon sun.  It makes for interesting driving on the tractor.

In describing the dominant aspect of the vineyard, Robin says, “Most of the land tilts—the hills run South to North and the vineyard actually slopes slightly to the West—you can notice this particularly when you’re driving a tractor, because you can be tilted in two directions [driving back and forth], which is interesting—but what it means is that we get a lot of Western sun in the afternoon.”  She goes on to explain, “I guess that it’s because that’s the way that the water drains.  My grandfather had it drilled into my head at a young age—my grandparents were fruit farmers—when he said, ‘You always plant north to south; that’s the way water flows.’ So that was in my head when we put the vineyard in.”

I asked Robin about what they do as the grapes get to veraison, given that birds will then be attracted to the fruit as it begins to develop sugar.  She explained that rather than use bird netting, they go out as the fruit changes color and attach glittery ribbon to the vine posts and pretty soon the entire vineyard looks like it’s festooned with these ribbons, which serve to dissuade the birds for a few weeks.  Later on they set up speakers in the vineyard that are attached to solar cells.  At sunup they turn on, at sundown they turn off, so during the day they play bird distress calls.  So that works pretty well for them, and they also put up balloons that look like owl eyes.  When all else fails, they put out propane cannon that make a loud boom and run on a variegated pattern.  They go off roughly every twenty to thirty minutes and go off from sunup to sundown.  But as Robin says, “That’s a last resort.  Obviously no one likes hearing cannon going off on the hillside, but sometimes it’s necessary, not to lose a crop.”

When I pointed out that in Long Island bird netting is used predominantly, she responded that one of the advantages of their site is that there aren’t a lot of power lines on which birds can roost.  In fact, towards the tree line behind the vineyard there are many birds of prey and the hawks also helping discourage birds from going into the vineyard.  I also mentioned how Carol Sullivan, owner of Gramercy Vineyard, has a dog that takes care of the raccoons that can decimate a vineyard; Robin told me that they once had a dachshund that had the same effect of driving raccoons away.  They now have a border collie, Ian, that does the same thing.  “In fact,” she said, “just the other day I saw him chasing a skunk.  He’s learned his lesson because last year he got sprayed by getting too close, but now he keeps about twenty feet away, but he continues to go after the skunk until it disappears into the tree line. . . .  As far as rats, mice, moles, we have an army of three cats, so from the bodies I find I can tell that they’re quite successful.”  Indeed, Robin hasn’t seen any raccoons in the vineyard since the dachshund first went to work.

The varieties that they grow on their property include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot , Malbec, and Syrah.  They make a Meritage wine from a blend of their red Bordeaux varieties.  All the varieties’ vines are spaced at 8’×4’6″.  The grapes for the Pinot Noir that I mentioned that I like so much they buy from a vineyard five miles to the West on the Escarpment.

While most of the vines are on Scott-Henry trellis, some, like the Merlot, are clearly not doing well on it, so Robin is converting the Merlot over to VSP, because the variety isn’t not particularly vigorous, and Scott Henry is meant for vigorous growth.  The Cabernet Sauvignon is already on VSP trellises.

Cab Fran grapes at the beginning of veraison.

Cab Franc grapes at the beginning of veraison.

Last year the Cabernet Sauvignon hit 26° Brix and was picked in October, the day that the first frost came to the vineyard.  Typically they harvest the Cab Sauv and Cab Franc around November 4th.  That they can pick so late is due to Lake Ontario, which, given its enormous size, is a heat sink that provides a long autumn for the vineyard, which lies about eight miles away.  The lake is, in fact, a body of water even larger than Long Island Sound, and it also provides an early spring, thus prolonging the growing season.

Robin has one full-time employee, Tim, who helps her with leaf thinning and green harvesting by hand, as well as doing the spraying and driving the tractor, and Ryan, who now works full-time assisting Duncan in the cellar, can also give a hand when needed.  At harvest time, when they need more hands, they can call in professional apple-pickers who come in to help out, as well as customers who like to pitch in.  Harvesting can be a tense time for Robin, but it’s always worked out.  Furthermore, given the range of varieties, they tend not to all ripen at the same time, and with only seven acres of vine, it isn’t as though they have to race to pick all the fruit in a day.  The first thing that comes in is the Chardonnay, then the Merlot, followed by Syrah.  Then comes the Malbec, but there are so few vines that Robin could pick them by herself in less than an hour.  Unfortunately, the Malbec doesn’t do that well, and she’s essentially told it, “If you can’t do better than that, you’re gone!”

The issues with the Malbec have led to discussions about what to do about it.  Part of the problem is that it has been planted on an edge of the vineyard where it catches a lot of wind, which it apparently doesn’t like—it’s too rough.  Even the Cab Franc doesn’t care much for a lot of wind, but it’s terrible for the Malbec.  If Robin were able to do it over again, she’d plant the Malbec in a more sheltered location and move the Syrah to less vigorous soil and replant the less vigorous Cab Sauv to where the Syrah is planted now.  Grafting is an alternative to planting new vines, but she’s leery of grafting because it is prone to go badly if people don’t know what they’re doing—even grafting houses have graft failures.

Up until mid-August the 2013 season has been very difficult, thanks to too much rain along with high humidity and elevated temperatures—conditions that are mildew’s delight.   When I suggested that the spray schedule on the Escarpment must be less than it would be on Long Island, Robin pointed out that they’ve had to spray every week to ten days so far this year.  In fact, Robin keeps meticulous records after each spray, and when she reviewed them she found that it rained every single day after the vines were sprayed—“pretty awful.”

As we were walking the vineyard we came upon a patch of stunted vines where, it turned out, in 2007 a neighbor had been applying herbicide in his field in preparation for planting corn.  Apparently the spray boom hit a rock and lifted, pouring spray into the vineyard, wiping out a number of their vines.  The vines have still not recovered, with many killed and the rest have not recovered, as she’d hoped, even to this day.  When I asked her about whether or not Arrowhead had received compensation, she said that she turned the offer down—she’d rather have good-neighbor compensation:  were she to need help, they’d be more likely to lend a hand.  When they next buy new vines for the vineyard, they’ll replant this patch.

As it happens, after such a bad beginning to the season, the harvest on the Escarpment, including for Arrowhead Spring, was very good indeed.  By October 28 they had harvested seven tons of Cab Franc from a two-acre parcel—that’s 3.5 tons per acre on Scott Henry, which makes possible from 3 to 4.5 tons per acre; a lot of grapes.  In fact, it was good on both sides of the Niagara River.  We can look forward to some excellent wines from that part of New York and Ontario for 2013.

As for the Arrowhead Sprint Vineyard wines, I tried several in the tasting room, and ended up buying a number of them to take home:  Syrah, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Vidal Blanc Icewine, and Chardonnay.  No wonder:  the list of prizes that the wines have won is impressive, and not just from local tasting contests:

  • 2008 Estate Syrah
    87 points from Wine Spectator Magazine. Highest scoring Syrah from New York State in the history of the magazine.
  • 2008 Vidal Blanc Icewine
    89 points from Wine Spectator Magazine.
  • 2007 Vidal Blanc Icewine
    92 points from Wine Spectator Magazine (highest in New York).
  • 2006 Chardonnay
    86 points from Wine Spectator Magazine.
  • 2005 Vidal Blanc Icewine
    90 points from Wine Spectator Magazine.

awardsIn fact, Duncan first won a prize for his 2002 Pinot Noir, made years before he and Robin had purchased the vineyard or built the winery.  An inspired amateur then, who has since become a dedicated professional, along with Robin–his partner in wine–she runs the vineyard with considerable skill and aplomb, learning as she deals with each season, with some help from a dog, an army of cats, an occasional owl or hawk, and a very small but hard-working staff.

  •  2005 Gold – WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition. American Wine Society Quality Award.

Quite a track record for such a new and very small winery in so seemingly improbable a location as the Niagara Escarpment.  (Psst!  In Ontario they’ve been doing it for years.)

Since the 2013 interview,  a May 2016 article in the May 2016 issue of BizJournal.com reported that Arrowhead Springs is expanding its operations significantly, a clear indication that it has enjoyed significant success:

“BeauVine Vineyards LLC in Lockport is spending $1.3 million to add a 14,000-square-foot grape processing/retail facility, new harvesting equipment and purchase nearby land for more farming.

“Plans call for expanding juice production not only for its own use, but also for other wineries on the Niagara Wine Trail and in other parts of the state.

“’As we plant more vineyards, that will allow us to have more grapes for our winery, but also to have more to sell to expand our presence as a wine-growing region,’” she said. “’Then with the equipment purchase portion, we’re hoping to get harvest equipment and other equipment we can use as a vineyard services company.’”

“In addition to crushing grapes for its own wines, the production equipment will be available by contract for other growers who need their grapes crushed on a custom basis, or those who want to buy bulk juice to finish at their own facility. The vineyard is also buying new harvesting equipment with help from a $370,000 grant from Empire State Development through the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.

“The project supports growth of the wine sector in Niagara County, where more than 20 wineries make up the Niagara Wine Trail. The ESD grant will pay for harvesting equipment, which will also be available for lease to other vineyards in the region.

“Prior to last year, the company had 8,000 vines planted on seven acres. That’s now up to 20 acres, with more than 20,000 vines planted, including nine varieties of grapes. A land purchase now pending will allow the company to add more acreage nearby and grow even more. Meanwhile, the company broke ground this week on the building that will replace the existing 2,000-square-foot production/retail facility built into the hillside on the property.”

 Further to that, a June 2016 article in the Buffalo News reports that:


“Arrowhead Spring Vineyards . . .  has acquired 23 acres of additional land just a half-mile west of its property on the Niagara Escarpment, doubling its size as part of a larger $1.6 million expansion that includes vineyards and a new facility.  . . . It bought the land at 5126 Lower Mountain Road in Cambria from the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Lockport. Cornell had received it from George Kappelt of Flavor Farm, a produce grower for restaurants in the Buffalo area. The purchase price was $80,500.

“Duncan Ross, who co-owns the vineyard with his wife, Robin, said they plan to “prepare the land for planting in 2017, and then begin planting in 2018,” reflecting a typical two-year advance period for vineyards.

“’There is a lot of work to do in clearing some brushy areas and amending the soil with compost,’” he said. “’We will install many miles of drain tile under the surface to drain excess water, which improves quality and longevity for vines on the Niagara Escarpment.’”

“The purchase comes just after Arrowhead finished planting its current 23 acres with a mixture of Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo grapes.

“The winery also hired Molly Crandles as assistant winemaker and Molly Baillargeon as assistant vineyard manager.”

 4746 Town Line Road (route 93), Cambria, NY 14094

Arrowhead Spring Vineyards

 For a 2007 perspective on Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, see Lenn Thompson’s interview with Duncan Ross, Appellation America, Niagara Escarpment

 Arrowhead Spring Vineyards interview with Robin Ross,  14 August 2013, updated 5 November 2013; added material on 10 August, 2016.

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: Lieb Cellars

Lieb Family Cellars Lieb Cellars Oregon Road Spring 2013  At first, the original 20-acre property was called Lieb Vineyard when it was established in 1992 by Mark and Kathy Lieb, but soon after, a new entity, Lieb Family Cellars, was created.  Today both are under the rubric of Lieb Cellars.  Because the vineyard has no winery of its own, at the beginning it used the winery facilities at Palmer Vineyards, and then those of Lenz Winery, where Eric Fry is the winemaker, but as of 2000 it has used the custom-crush facilities of Premium Wine Group (PWG), itself co-founded by Mark with Russell Hearn.  By 2001 Lieb’s tasting room at PWG was opened and it began acquiring more land for vinifera vines.  In early March 2013 PWG and Lieb Cellars came under the ownership of Southport Lane, a private equity firm.  Peter Pace, a marketing executive with long experience in the spirits industry, was appointed as Managing Director of Lieb Cellars this past March, and Russell Hearn is Directing Winemaker of PWG and the winemaker for Lieb.

Lieb’s vineyards have been sustainably managed since its founding and it recently has been awarded a USDA grant of more than $23,000, which will help it support its management practices and sustainable viniculture over the next ten years.  Indeed, it has also joined the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing program—its conversion to the programs guidelines and regulations should be straightforward, given that it already follows the VineBalance sustainable program by Cornell’s Agricultural Extension.

It should be pointed out that Lieb’s commitment to sustainable winegrowing is decidedly emphatic.  From the beginning, it has said in its mission statement that Lieb is dedicated,  “. . . to produce the highest quality estate-grown wines, without compromising the land on which we live.”  Among the practices that they point out in particular are:

  • avoidance of herbicides
  • use of organic fertilizers
  • preservation of topsoil
  • replenishment of nutrients on a disciplined schedule
  • hand-tending and harvesting of vines
  • keeping fruit yields intentionally low

Lieb Cellars staff, 3I met with the management staff at the tasting room on Oregon Road, Sarah Kane who is Director of Operations, as well as her colleagues Logan Kingston and Jean Partridge.  They were very helpful and plied me with tastings of various Lieb wines—as the saying goes, liquor is quicker.  We spoke about many things, including Lieb’s operations and its long-term plans for expansion, We spoke about many things, including Lieb’s operations and its long-term plans for expansion, and some of our conversation was quite philosophical and very interesting.  Indeed, I’ll have to write a separate post for the discussion that we had, for there were some excellent insights into what the challenges are for Long Island wine producers, particularly with respect to competition and the selling of the wine in the larger marketplace.  What was clear was their passion and commitment to not just Lieb, but Long Island wine as a whole.

But when it came to discussion of the viticultural practices of the operation, they got me in touch with the head of the vineyard crew for the original Lieb parcels, Jildo Vázquez, originally from El Salvador, who has been with Lieb for the past sixteen years.  He’s held in very high esteem by the staff who cannot praise him enough for his work ethic, skill, and dedication.

Lieb vineyard, Jildo on tractorJildo came in from the vineyards where he’d been working on a tractor when I asked to speak to him.  Speaking in Spanish, I asked him what he and his crew did to bring quality fruit grown sustainably to the winery.  Rather shy and very soft-spoken, particularly with a stranger, even though speaking Spanish, I had to draw Jildo out.  He answered my questions very simply and directly:  “Well, this first thing that we do is check that each vine is health and clean.  Then we make sure to spray them as needed.”  When I asked him what kind of sprays he uses, he said, “I don’t know, as I don’t do it.  I dedicate myself to making sure that the plants are clean.”  It turns out, according to him, that there are individuals who are trained to do that particular job and must be properly licensed.  It wasn’t enough that a sprayer have the requisite experience; he needed, as Jildo put it, “to have the backing of the law.”  An answer, I thought, that was very reassuring in the context.

For that reason, he only maintains the vines and keeps them clean of any diseases that may threaten them.  Towards the end of the season and just before the harvest he’ll spray the vines to clean them of any bacterial or fungal growths.  He also ensures that each vine has no more than fourteen or sixteen shoots so that it grows well.

I asked about the use of fertilizers and he told me that though he knows that they are used in some places, they are not employed at Lieb because they can adversely affect the vines.  With respect to using machines to harvest the grapes, he made a point of explaining just why they aren’t used at Lieb:  they gather not only fruit, but also leaves, stems, bird droppings, damaged fruit, dirt, and so on.  That’s why they only pick by hand—the harvested fruit is clearly superior.

As his replies suggest, this is a vineyard that is closely and carefully managed, and the quality of the fruit shows in their wines.

Lieb Cellars, Russell & JildoJildo has been collaborating with Russell Hearn closely since PWG began making Lieb’s wine thirteen years ago, especially now that the two firms have been merged.  Jildo is himself a gifted winegrower, as Russell himself attests, given that with his long experience and acute eye he’s able to see if anything is wrong with a vine, and even without tasting can visually see when a vineyard is ready to harvest.  Russell thinks very highly of Jildo and enjoys working with him.  During the growing season, Russell goes out into the vineyard about once a week, and during the harvest he goes every day with Jildo.

As Logan pointed out, Jildo is extremely dedicated, and with the acquisition of the Peconic Bay vines he has been getting up at 5:30 every day and doesn’t quit until 7:00 in the evening.  He has a crew of eight, some of whom have been working with him for years.

At present Lieb has its vineyards planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Blanc, and Petit Verdot, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.  Some of the vines were planted as far back as 1982.

Indeed, Lieb/PWG (Southport Lane) has taken control of Peconic Bay’s vineyards, as the latter is has just put its winery up for sale.  That’s an additional 58 acres in two large parcels, in consequence of which Lieb has hired Steve Mudd, a long-time wide-ranging vineyard consulting manager in the East End to help run Peconic Bay’s Main Road  vineyard and Bill Ackerman of North Fork Viticultural Services (NFVS) who works the one on Oregon Road.  The two men coöperate on certain aspects of the management of the fields, particularly with respect to the sprays to use.  Ackerman mixes his sprays at his own property and then brings in his equipment into all the vineyard parcels, using double-curtained machines that help keep the sprays contained and partially recycled.

Lieb Cellars labels, 4And then there are the Lieb wines. For starters, Sarah pointed out that Lieb Cellars labels, 2Lieb Cellars’ 91-point Blanc de Blanc brut sparkling wine, made entirely of Pinot Blanc, which we were tasting during the interview, was the result of the cooperation of two winemakers:  Eric Fry of Lenz Vineyards, who made the dosage, and Russell, who finished the making of the wine.  In fact, Lieb has employed the gifts of Eric to make dosages for the last twelve years, other than the 2009, which was entirely Russell’s effort.  Eric, according to Sarah, has the right palate for the Pinot Blanc sparkler that Lieb so famously makes.  Tom Collichio’s Craft Restaurant house sparkler —is made by Russell as well as another for Topping Rose House, another Collichio restaurant.

Lieb Cellars labels, 3Essentially, Lieb has two brands:  Lieb Cellars, which includes the Reserve wines, and Bridge Lane, its second label (right).  I’ve tried most of their wines, of which I have purchased several over the years and a few of which are still in my cellar.  All of them, without exception, are clean, well-made, and taste true to the varieties from which they are made.  Lieb is especially well-known for both its award-winning Pinot Blanc sparkler and its also medalled Pinot Blanc Reserve wine.  I’m also especially fond of the 2008 Cabernet Franc, which is wonderful to drink, mature and ready now, or cellared for a few years more.  One that I’ve not yet tried is the White Merlot, where the grapes are picked early in the harvest season and crushed without any skin contact.  From its description on the Lieb Website, it sounds intriguing.

Bridge Lane is being rebranded and is the first label in Long Island to sell wine in boxes, according to a piece by Eileen Duffy, just published in East End Magazine on Feb. 5, 2014:  Forget Screwcaps, Lieb Puts Second Label, Bridge Lane, in Boxes.

All the wines are made at PWG by Russell Hearn, so how could they be anything but good?  (see my interview with Russell about PWG.)

A final note: as of September 24, 2013, according to Lenn Thompson in his New York Cork Report, Lieb has joined Merliance:

. . . formerly known as the Long Island Merlot Alliance, [which] announced today that Lieb Cellars has joined its ranks and that two barrels of Lieb Cellars’ Merlot will be included in the 2012 vintage of Merliance, the group’s cooperative merlot blend.

This move isn’t surprising. Acquired along with Premium Wine Group by private equity firm Southport Lane earlier this year, Lieb Cellars is now under the business leadership of Peter Pace and technical direction of Merliance co-founder winemaker Russell Hearn.

“Lieb seeks to expand the visibility of Long Island wine at high-profile venues across the Northeast,” said Pace in a press release, citing Citi Field, Navy Beach, JFK Airport and other destinations as the winery’s newest points of distribution. “With this expansion, we will certainly elevate the perception of our region as a source for quality wines, with merlot foremost among them.”

Lieb currently makes three merlot-based wines: its Reserve Merlot — always a NYCR favorite and a great value — its second-label Bridge Lane merlot and Right Coast Red blend. “There’s a reason merlot wines dominate our red portfolio,” said Hearn. “The grape thrives on Long Island, enabling us to make wines of consistent quality, no matter what the vintage brings. By joining the Merliance, we seek to continue the important research and quality initiatives the organization advances, and grow the perception of merlot and merlot blends as the signature wines of Long Island.”

With the addition of Lieb Cellars, the Merliance has seven members, including Clovis Point, McCall Wines, Raphael, Sherwood House Vineyards, T’Jara Vineyards and Wölffer Estate Vineyard.

Lieb logo Lieb Cellars Mattituck • 35 Cox Neck Road, Mattituck, NY 11952 • 631.298.1942
Lieb Cellars Oregon Road • 13050 Oregon Road, Cutchogue, NY 11935 • 631.734.1100
Lieb Cellars East Hampton • 26 Park Place, East Hampton, NY 11937 • 631.527.5100

Lieb Cellars Interview with Sarah Kane, Logan Kingston, & Jean Partridge, augmented by information from its Website and PR releases, June 6 and October 4, 2013

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Bill Ackerman & North Fork Viticultural Services

Bill Ackerman interview at Sherwood House

 From the Sherwood House Web site:

Established in 1996, Sherwood House Vineyards is committed to the production of world-class wines using only estate-grown vinifera grapes. Owners Dr. Charles Smithen and wife Barbara believe that producing fine wine is a combination of passion and patience, handcrafting their wines using traditional methods combined with the latest scientific techniques. “There’s very little nature and man can do in true harmony,” says Dr. Smithen. “A vineyard is one of those things. Making wine requires both science and art to excel. Anyone can learn the science. But it’s the art, the near-intuitive understanding, the smell, sense, and feel, that makes the difference.”

On their 38-acre farm, the Smithens initially planted Chardonnay vines from Burgundian clones, but after careful research and planning, have since added Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Sherwood House currently produces a Stainless Steel Fermented (un-oaked) Chardonnay, Barrel Fermented (oaked) Chardonnay, Blanc de Blanc (sparkling), White Merlot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and a Bordeaux-style red blend, using the facilities of Premium Wine Group, as Sherwood House has no winery of its own [author’s emendation].

The team at Sherwood is led by two veterans.  Winemaker Gilles Martin received his Master of Oenology from France’s prestigious Université Montpellier and directed production at more than a dozen prominent wineries in France, South America, and California, before settling on Long Island.  Viticulturist Bill Ackerman has 15 years of experience growing grapes on Long Island and a reputation for meticulousness, outstanding grape quality and viticultural innovation.  In 2012, the New York International Wine Competition held in New York City named Sherwood House the “North Fork Winery of the Year.”

Bill Ackerman Interview

Bill Ackerman, owner of North Fork Viticultural Services, originally came to the North NFVS, Bill Ackerman, 01Fork for both the land and the proximity to the sea, as he likes sports fishing.  He went on to start his own vineyard, Manor Hill Vineyard, in 1995.  He started NFVS in 2009 and the first harvest he worked was in 2010, so that was the operational beginning of his business.  I caught up to him in the middle of the 2012 grape harvest at Sherwood House.

At present he has five full-time employees, including Irwin, who’d been with him since when he had Manor Hill.  Of Irwin, he says, “I’m eternally grateful to him because he’s the only one who speaks Spanish and English.”

NFVS already has six clients, including Onabay, Sherwood House, Clovis Point, Lieb, Sargon, and, as of 2013, one of the two vineyard parcels of Peconic Bay (the other is looked after by Steve Mudd).

Sargon vineyard, located in Orient, on the North Fork, is owned by a retired neurosurgeon out of NYC—about 12.5 acres planted to grapes planted around 2002 by Steve Mudd.  The vineyard is about five-eighths red-grape vines, the rest is Chardonnay (Dijon clones 76 & 96).  The reds include Merlot (clones 1 & 314), Cabernet Franc clones (1, 332 & 327); Cabernet Sauvignon (clone 327).

Sherwood House’s 12.5 acres of vinifera vines were also planted by Steve Mudd.  Nevertheless, Bill states that he is not an active competition with Steve nor does he go out of his way to compete.  Rather, he says, he spends his time trying to grow the best grapes he can for making wine.  “It makes a difference if you grow grapes just for the sake of growing grapes versus knowing that the grapes are going to be used to make a varietal.”

He’s largely self-taught, based on the work he’d done at Manor Hill, from roughly 1995 to 2006 and reading is a big part of his knowledge.  He points out that, “I use empirical evidence; based on what I’ve read I’ll ask myself, does this make sense for this environment, this climate, will it work?  Certain parts of what I read will make sense, certain parts probably will not make sense, because of the environment.  I take a look at how plants react to what it is we’re doing, and that’s the empirical side. When I had Manor Hill, that’s I made a lot of changes to then current growing practices.”

With regard to organic practices, Bill says that it’s a good objective, but given the Long Island climate, which is humid and wet, one is really hard-pressed to adhere to pure organic practices.  It’s a noble cause, but he likes sustainable winegrowing, because it offers degrees of freedom that are needed here.  When I asked him about Biodynamics, he replied, “Biodynamics, as in, taking compost material and turning it into energy sources?”  And he laughed and went on to say that the closest he gets to it is in orienting a vineyard so that its rows run directly north to south, the he can take advantage of the sun, or for that matter east to west, depending.  Actually, he acknowledges having heard the term but never paid it much attention.

With respect to the LI Sustainable Winegrowers program, Bill has attended a majority of the meetings that have been held before the program was incorporated.  Given the newness of the program, on behalf of his clients he wants to know more about the standards that will have to be met:  for example, the inputs or sprays that will be allowed, the spraying schedule, things that we have to get comfortable with.  The irony of it is that his clients are already doing sustainable practices.  As he says, “I didn’t even know the word ‘sustainable,’ I just did what I thought was appropriate, based on what I read and what I knew about other areas of the world that grew grapes for wine.  While I was in California writing software I visited tons and tons (no pun intended) of grape areas, if you will.”

To the question, “What do you do for the Sherwood House vineyard that is different from what was being done before you came on?” Bill answered:

“Well, we did what I call ‘renewal pruning.’  What I noticed, as far as I could see, was that when they pruned the vines they weren’t anticipating what would happen in subsequent years.  So what happens is, if you don’t pay attention to how you are pruning for subsequent years . . . it isn’t just a question of this harvest year or that harvest year; you end up getting a fruit zone—or actually a ball or a knot right at the apex of the vine, and all these little shoots come out of it, and you have little or no real new growth coming out of it, which means it’s not strong enough to accommodate a healthy crop.  And if you do get a shoot out of it, it tends to create a much thicker cane—which they call ‘bull canes’—so, long story short, what we did is to try to bring the down the head of the vine–down lower—in order to promote the growth of younger shoots down below so that we could train them to come up.  Ideally what I want to see is a ‘Y’, a single trunk and then a left and a right cane each year.

“One of the things that I did when first I got out here and started my own vineyard—which is, again, Manor Hill—everybody was growing two trunks per plant, and nobody ever said ‘do it’ or ‘don’t do it.’  The reason that they did it out here at the time was that they were concerned about frost killing the plant and they’d have one trunk left.  And I was, like, if the frost killed the plant, which had two trunks coming out of one rootstock, you’re going to kill the plant, period.   And I spoke of ‘empirical’ before—I went around my vineyard and saw that naturally there was one trunk, and the vines, canes, the vertical shoots, all seemed to be much more balanced to me.  And I saw several vines that way and so I said to my guys, ‘We’re cutting off that second trunk, period, end of story.’  And that’s what we did.  And I never told anyone to do it elsewhere, I just wanted to do it in my vineyard—I guess because they saw the quality that we generated, that gave them the impetus to cut off the second trunk in their vineyards.

“Part of that renewal pruning that we do is first to push down what I call the fruit zone of the vines so that we can renew the canes so that they’ll have the vertical shoots.  And the other thing to do where appropriate is to cut off the second trunk; if it’s giving healthy growth you leave it alone, but if it’s aged and not giving that growth you cut it off.

“From my reading and experience I’ve come to understand that the trunk is nothing more than a highway or conduit for the nutrients.  And the other side of the coin is that if the plant is putting too much of its effort into growing trunks and canes, it’s not going to put in as much effort to grow healthy and flavorful fruit.  We [also] fruit-thin for two reasons: a) in order to improve ripening, and b) if you have too many clusters bunched close together that makes them more prone to disease—so we also thin in that regard.  The more I learn about trunks and canes, again, if you have too much cane growth, that detracts from the quality of the fruit.  I didn’t know this when I was doing this eons ago, I just saw a more balanced plant, and that was enough for me.  Again, you can read all you want, but you have to check and see what’s going on in the field to make sure that what you’re reading and trying to implement field, you need to check to be sure so that what you’re doing is beneficial to the plant, the region, etc.”

Bill tells me that he uses the same practices in all the vineyards in which he works.  He pointed to the Sherwood House vineyards and mentioned that they use dry farming—there is no drip irrigation.  His view of irrigation is that it is:

“ . . . strictly an insurance policy, and you don’t use irrigation [for vines] as you would for tomatoes, for instance.  You know, vines, specifically vinifera, do not enjoy a wet environment.  The more you irrigate it the less flavor you’re going to have in general.  The more canopy you’re going to have, so that’s going to detract from the flavor.  There’s a huge balance between having the right, healthy canopy and the right degree of cane growth—we literally go about cutting, but there are places where we just let the canes grow laterally, and you’re not hedging them.  So when you hedge them you’re not going to catch every single cane, so when I see lateral canes that the hedger didn’t catch then I send my guys in to cut them off.  To me there are three key things:  balance, uniformity, and the right amount of dryness—you don’t want to stress the plant so much that it’s going to die.  In dry periods obviously I use irrigation to keep the plant healthy, but there’s another reason, especially around here, and that is because . . . we know that it’s going to rain here and when it does rain we don’t want the vines to soak it up immediately and then crack and then that induces disease.”

Upon my remarking that the area has a very high water table, He went on to say:

“The thing is, the soil is not that deep . . . maybe six inches in some shallow places and as deep as it goes is twenty-four–maybe—the average being about twelve to eighteen, so I could dig anywhere from twelve to twenty-four inches down here and I’ll hit gravel and then sand.”  (Sherwood House’s vineyards lie on sandy loam with a good amount of clay.)

Another thing that Bill pointed out, with respect to sustainable practices, is the use of minimal herbicides underneath and he cultivates under the vine, which is very difficult to do without [specialized and] expensive machinery and it’s difficult to train the crew to use it.  According to Bill, it’s valuable for two reasons:  1) it takes off the suckers from the root zone which prevents it from sucking up unnecessary water; 2) when it does rain it acts like a sponge and sucks it up and lets it drain quicker to the ground, through the soil [meaning unclear].  And if there is any herbicide material it’s less likely to go into the plant because it’s taken the suckers off.  The fundamental reason is for dryness and then the residual reason is to help with minimal use of herbicides.

I made the observation that there was a lot of disease pressure in 2011, due to the bad weather, to which Bill remarked that there was a lot of Downy Mildew in 2012 as well.   It was so humid and there was so much rain that it was ideal conditions for growing things that want to be green, like grass, for example.  “You get a lot of water and then you get a lot of sun; well, the vine doesn’t really want that.  What grows in that environment on a vine is fungus.”  Vines, after all, are unique in their own needs and that they can thrive where other plants don’t.

In fact, many vineyards in Long Island, including Sherwood House, are planted on what were once potato fields.  Potatoes, as Bill explained, want an acidic environment whereas grape vines need a more neutral soil environment, with the result that many vineyards need to add lime to the soil to help bring the pH to that neutral level.  Many people have been putting Dolomitic lime, which contains a lot of magnesium [calcium magnesium carbonate CaMg(CO3)2] to the vineyards, which is a positive.  But the thing about magnesium is that it binds up the aluminum, which is what potatoes want; so NFVS uses lime that has no magnesium, but rather a high-calcium lime, which is CCE [Calcium Carbonate Equivalent] rated.  Another kind of lime that he uses is a pelletized version that is more soluble, so it breaks down more evenly.  He also does a certain amount of foliar sprays to help where there might not be enough nutrients in the soil.  Furthermore, he pointed out, adding too much fertilizer puts more nitrogen in the soil, and vines don’t tolerate an excess of that either.  Whatever inputs NFVS uses, incremental nitrogen is avoided to the extent possible.

As Bill says, “everything’s a balance.  What do I think that I need to get the best flavor, to get the best health out of the vine.  Flavor first, then health; you don’t want a diseased vine, because then you don’t get the flavors; it’s that combination.”

For foliar inputs Bill uses a recyclable sprayer.  He applies the foliars in conjunction with whatever other sprays are needed at the time, but he points out that one has to be very careful not to mix a highly alkaline component with a highly acidic one.

With respect to cover crops—if he could change the cover in all the vineyards he works—his preference is fescue or a [indistinct word]; rye, for example, has an effect on certain soil enzymes that encourages denitrification, as do some flowering plants.

Bill meditated about winegrowing in France:

“In France they grow some of the best fruit and make some of the best wines on some of the least fertile soil in the world.  And what they have that we don’t have here naturally is the natural limestone.  I think that they tend to forget about that.  I was talking to someone from France not long ago, [and he pointed out] that their topsoil is barely soil—it’s just dirt.  They don’t irrigate or anything, but was it a foot, two feet, three feet—how far under the ground?—they have limestone, and it sweat and wept a little bit of moisture—like condensation on a glass—that was just all that the plants needed.  But it’s also a calcium-rich environment . . . .  If I was going to do anything artificial, I’d try to bring in some crushed limestone and let it dissolve in the soil naturally.”

As our interview drew to a conclusion, he went on to tell me that Sherwood House is going to plant the remaining acreage—about seven—to vines, and he’d like to see a little bit of that put in there, as that plot has been fallow and hasn’t had potatoes and hasn’t had any chemicals on it—so for Bill it’s a kind of virgin environment, perfect for sustainable farming.

North Fork Vineyard Services doesn’t have a Website of its own, but there is an interview with Bill posted on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150271354530247.

Other than that, NFVS doesn’t advertise nor provide contact information.  Why should it?  Those who need him will know how to reach him.

NFVS, license plate










Based on an interview done on 26 September 2012, updated 28 September 2013

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.