Tag Archives: Tom Drozd

Oenology in Long Island: Premium Wine Group–John Leo

Interview with John Leo about PWG (& Leo Family Wines)

on Sept. 27, 2012, updated on Jan. 21 & May 24, 2013

PWG, 01

 From the PWG Website:

Premium Wine Group is a contract winemaking facility designed to allow an economical way to produce wine without the huge investment in equipment and facility. The individual style is driven by each Producer / Client in the production of their wine. PWG is designed with an array of technologically superior equipment which allows our clients complete freedom in producing wine. Our experienced staff of wine production professionals allows our clients the comfort that their wines are being handled in the highest quality practices.

Both “custom-production” and “custom-crush” services are provided to licensed producers and wholesalers of wine. These services are being utilized by many local wineries and wineries in the Northeast that source fruit from the North Fork of Long Island, see our Producers / Clients

Established in 2000, an initial 545 tons were received, we have steadily grown to 1,000 tons with an ultimate capacity of 1,400 tons. Premium Wine Group’s mission is to continually upgrade plant, equipment and services to allow our Producers / Clients the highest quality environment in which to sculpt their individual wines. This is evident with more than 18 Wineries producing over 100 individual wines each vintage.

NOTE:  While Premium Wine Group makes wine for its many outside clients, there are also three employees that work there who are themselves clients:  Russell Hearn, Managing Partner/Director of Winemaking, John Leo, production winemaker, and Erik Bilka, production winemaker.  While this article is, foremost, about Premium, it also includes sections devoted to the wines of these three producers.  (The winegrowing at Lieb Cellars (owned by partner Mark Lieb) and its wines will be the subject of a separate article, as will be the case with Clovis Point, whose wines are made by John Leo.)

It should also be noted that a press release issued on March 28, 2013, states, “Lieb Cellars and Premium Wine Group announced a merger of the two companies. Established in 1992 and 2000 respectively as two separate businesses with Mark Lieb as an investor, the combined companies have received substantial funding through their parent company Southport Lane, a private equity firm focused on growing its portfolio businesses. Southport Lane selected Lieb Cellars and PWG in part for their “custom crush” business, which is the production home of many North Fork wineries and the only one east of the Mississippi. There has been talk of the company going public.”

Because I interviewed John and Russell separately, and the conversations are so extensive, I’m dividing this post into two parts:  The first (this one) is based on my conversation with John, and subsequently my interview with Russell, which also includes discussions of T’Jara Vineyard and SuhRu Wines:  Oenology in LI:  Premium Wine Group–Russell Hearn.

According to the bio of John Leo from Winemakers’ Studio Website, “A native of the Hudson Valley, New York, John graduated with a journalism degree and immediately proceeded to wander slowly around the world. He started working in wine in 1982 and joined the PWG, John LeoEast End wine growing community in the early 1990s, becoming winemaker for Clovis Point, in Jamesport in 2004. John works full-time at Premium Wine Group where he makes the Clovis Point wines as well as Leo Family Red. A journalist by training, traveler by inclination, and grape grower by preference, John believes in honest hard work, natural transformation and the pleasure of sharing a bottle with friends.”

Personally, I found John to be thoughtful, articulate, soft-spoken yet straightforward, as well as clearly professional in outlook and attitude.  It was a pleasure to converse with him.

Interview with John Leo (JL):

JM-L:  I want to begin by asking you about your client list on the PWG website.  I recognize all of the names but on [see below], but there is one that puzzles me, DeSeo de Micheal [sic], but actually that’s Deseo de Michael . . . What’s his full name?

JL:  Michael Smith.  His wife is Puerto Rican, so I think that she anointed the name.

JM-L:  So that explains that mystery.  Well, one of the reasons that I called you was because I’d been in touch with Chiara Anderson Edmands, and she’d said that one of the people that I have to speak to is you.  So the advantage of speaking to you now is that I can now speak to you of your wine, their wine, and possibly Sherwood House, because I will be speaking to Bill Ackerman, the vineyard manager.

JL:  You know, the consulting winemaker for Sherwood is Gilles Martin, so he’ll have more answers about style and things like that, but about the logistics part I can help out with because it all does come in here.

JM-L:  So Gilles and Juan—who used to work here—and other consulting winemakers formulate what they want you to do and how do you work with them?  How do they formulate what they want you to do?

JL:  Well, we sit down to talk about that.  I guess that in a stand-alone winery the winemaker is not only making the decisions but lifting the hoses and doing the work.  But they usually have assistants, especially around harvest time, so they’re making their own plans about how much tonnage to bring in, how to ferment it, etc. etc., and their usually delegating that to their assistants in the cellar.  So in a sense that’s what we are . . . we’re custom production, so the consultant tells us that he will bring in 5 tons of this Merlot, 6 tons of that Merlot, we want you to handle this one way and that another way.  So we’re basically the cellar hands . . . we’re the winemaking service for that . . .

JM-L:  So you are, in effect, the cellar assistants.

JL:  In a sense, yes.

JM-L:  Except that you actually do all the hands-on of making the wine . . .

JL:  And we have all the equipment—that belongs to us, and the facility belongs to us, and they’re being charged, sort of, per finished case. [See below, From the PWG website: Wine Production; which lists all the equipment they own.]

JM-L:  I see.

JL:  So we’re the winery with the labor to get the job done that they want, but in terms of how they formulate things, it’s straightforward, just like in any winery, they decide how they want to handle certain batches, what yeasts to use, what temperature to ferment at, how often to pump over, all those decisions they can make to then communicate them to us and we do the work.

JM-L:  The thing, of course, is that they’re not being hands-on, so what happens when some kind of issue, say a stuck fermentation, takes place (which I’m sure doesn’t happen too often) . . .

JL:  Not too often, no.

JM-L:  or, for example, a temperature issue with the tanks, or you find that the amount of pumping over that they request perhaps is not optimum for the wine as its coming out . . .

JL:  Right.  That last one is a different issue.  I might personally disagree with their protocols, but if that’s their protocol that’s what we do.  Lots of oxidation, no oxidation, no air at all. They can ask for seven pumpovers a day or no pumpovers. They can demand of me whatever they want.  If it seems that out of the ordinary we’ll clarify.  We’ll say, “Are you sure that’s what you’re asking for?  That’s not the norm.”  Maybe we’ll have to charge more for more pumpovers, so we just want to make sure that that’s what you want.”  When they confirm it, it doesn’t matter what I like or think is right or wrong for that batch of wine . . . they’re the boss.  In terms of stuck fermentations or a little bit of sulfide issues or things like that, Andrew’s very attentive [Andrew Rockwell, the Laboratory Director].  We’re testing everything every day, after rackings, every day’s ferment, so Andrew’s sticking his nose in the tank every day, and he’s got a good nose and palate and he’s very sensitive, so he’ll let Russell or I know, or if the consultant’s already sitting in the room he’ll go directly to them, or we’ll call the consultant and say, “Hey, there’s an issue with tank 1956, there’s some sulfite issue, a little bit of a stink coming out of it.”

Also, a lot of our newer clients, for example Deseo de Michael, say, “I want to bring in my grapes this year, 600 pounds . . .

JM-L:  600 pounds.  Well, if you only have a third of an acre . . .

JL:  Exactly.  So the first thing I explain to him if you want us to press it, that we need more than that because our presses aren’t that small, so we can’t press 600 pounds effectively, so you’re going to have buy some Chardonnay to put in with yours to make it.  So he’s so small that it doesn’t make sense to have a consultant, you know, realistically, but the first year I helped him through that and I didn’t charge him anything, and I said, “You know, you can do it this way or you can do it this way.  Here’s the decision points now.  You can taste the juice coming out of the press, do you want to cut it there?  Do you want to keep on pressing harder?  You’ll see the change.”  So we just walked him through it.  So for 2011 he hired Gilles [Martin] to be his winemaker for his one Chardonnay, so now it’s at a more professional level.

JM-L:  Good.  But the vines must be very young . . .

JL:  Sure.  So that’s an extreme example of someone who wants to do things right, is willing to pay commercial charges, but he doesn’t have enough volume to get a full-time consultant . . . so we try to be as helpful as we can.

JM-L:  Of course.

JL:  We have other clients like that, they have a little bit of fruit in their back yard, so we try to avoid it, but when it’s a friend of a friend, we do stuff like that . . .

JM-L:  Sure.

JL:  You know, Juan [Micieli-Martinez, Manager and Winemaking Consultant of Martha Clara Vineyards], Gilles [winemaking consultant to several vineyards], Tom Drozd—who makes the Baiting Hollow wines, and Erik [Bilka, the other PWG production manager] has his own wine, and other clients who know what they’re doing.  So we expect them to make all those decisions, so we’re just backing it up.  We do have some non-Long Island clients, but that is just coincidence.

JM-L:  So who are your non-Long Island clients?

JL:  Well, you know, Silver Springs, up in the Finger Lakes.

JM-L:  All the way up there?  Do they send their fruit down?

JL:  Mmm, no.  When they started five or six years ago, they bought Long Island red, so they make some things up there in the Finger Lakes, and that goes for the white, the hybrid stuff, and they wanted to buy some red, so they approached us and said, “We want to buy a few tons, and how do we get it up to us and what can we do?”  And, I don’t think they actually have a winery, I think all their production is custom, either here or there.  So anyway, that’s how we got started.  And now, every couple of vintages they’ll send some white juice down, and they’ll have us ferment it here because it’s going to be part of a bigger blend or something like that.

JM-L:  I see.  Very interesting.

JL:  So they’re one.  And then there’s Belhurst, Belhurst Castle . . .

JM-L:  Are they also in the Finger Lakes?

JL:  Yes, they are.  They’re basically a hotel, a resort hotel, and again, they might have a little show winery, but I haven’t actually been there.  But we make their wines, sort of for the same reasons, they’re purchasing all their fruit, both red and white, and we’re making the wine for them.

JM-L:  Is PWG unique in New York State?

JL:  Not any more.  We were the first on the East Coast as a custom crush, and I don’t know, but I think that there are one or two in the Finger Lakes now.  I know that East Coast Crush started up and it’s connected to one of the bigger wineries.  I don’t know if it’s the exact same facility or if they have separate business names to bring in more clients, or it’s a whole new facility.  Russell might know that.  And I think that I heard of another place, White Springs was, again, doing their own thing but doing a lot of custom work, I think that just changed ownership and might now be all custom.

JM-L: I see.

JL:  But, anyway, we started people thinking about it as an option, since they save a lot of money and only pay for what they’re bringing in rather than buying equipment that’s going to cost them two million to put in and they’re only going to use it once a year, so . . .

JM-L:  Yes, like Raphael, which spent six million dollars on their own winery . . .

JL:  Yeah, it’s a different interest.  If you have the money to invest and you want that showpiece, you know, that’s . . .

JM-L:  Well, they have that showpiece, there’s no question of that.  Pretty impressive!  So, when you have a really abundant harvest out here, even the wineries that have facilities of their own may find themselves with more fruit than they can handle . . .

JM-L:  So you do take overage, as it were . . .

JL:  Yes.  If we have the space for it, sure, and it happens where we have one particular client, another  winery that knows pretty much that they’re going to have more fruit coming in every year than they have space for themselves, so they’ve been saying fairly consistently that they need a tank of twenty tons, or something, for this overage.  There are other wineries where it’s more vintage-related, most years they’re self-sufficient but some years they’re looking for extra space, so as long as we have the room we’re happy to do that.  We also do pressing and settling; some Connecticut buyers of wineries, are buying local Chardonnay or other varieties and they’re looking for a place to have it destemmed, pressed, cold settled [chilled], and then they’re taking it as juice so that they don’t have to drive [the purchased grapes] all the way around.  So that’s another part of our business that is pretty consistent every year.

JM-L:  So you’re just sending them the must?

JL:  Yes, either the must for reds or the settled juice for, say, Chardonnay.

JM-L:  And then they ferment it.

JL:  Yes, and we have fee schedules—so they don’t have to bring things just to bottle; we have a pressing and settling charge, or you can ferment it here, age it here, and then sell it in bulk, instead of selling it in the bottle, and you’re not paying the full cost . . .  In other words, PWG has a fee schedule for all its varied services that allow a client to decide whether to take a wine all the way to bottle, or to sell it early in the process as juice (before fermentation) or later in the process as bulk wine.

JM-L:  OK.  Well, you and Russell, and who else helped found this?

JL:  Well, I’m not a partner, Russell is.  It’s Russell and Mark Lieb and a fellow called Bernard Sussman—he isn’t located out here.  He lives in New Jersey or may have moved to Florida now.  They’re the three partners.  I’ve been here since it opened.  I was working with Russell at Pellegrini Vineyards when he was planning this, and when 2000 was our first harvest he asked me if, when this was done, I’d like to come with him.

JM-L:  Now, how many clients did you start with?

JL:   Roughly a dozen.

JM-L:  Really?  So in other words, you first determined that there would be a market out there, you determined that there would be people who would bring their fruit in, if you would just set up . . .

JL:  Yes. And, you see, the reason that we knew that—especially Russell—was that Russell, had been the winemaker for Pellegrini Vineyards, at that point, for eight or nine vintages, and people kept approaching him, saying “I have fruit for sale, I’m thinking of starting my own label, do you have room?”  So he was doing custom production at Pellegrini, with whatever excess space he had there, for Erik Bilka and everyone else . . . and, you know, people were looking for space.  He knew that there were more vineyards coming online, he knew that this would be a growth market.  And I think that Russell first approached Mark Lieb—or it might have been vice versa—because Lieb had a forty-acre vineyard and no facility, and he was trying to buy more property so that he could build a winery, and there was some political issue, possibly, and it was taking longer than he expected so they got together and he said, “OK, you build this and I’ll be an investor in it and instead of making it a Lieb winery we’ll make it a custom production winery.  And Russell, you’re going to run it, right?”  And it was very clever and it was the right time to get something started . . .”

JM-L:  Interesting.

JL:  Most of those clients are still with us.  I’d say that the only ones that aren’t were the ones that got sold or closed down.  But Martha Clara was there the first year, Sherwood House was there, so pretty much everyone who was looking for a place and found us in 2000 has stayed.

JM-L:  So Deseo de Michael [aka OR Wine Estate as of 2014] is the just latest . . . ?

JL:  Yes, pretty much.  Around 2010, in terms of having a license and all of that.  But for example, my wine, which is a 2007, and Erik [Bilka], who makes a Riesling from Finger Lakes juice that he brings down, and he started in 2009, and that’s it; it’s not so much new vineyards coming on line anymore, but rather people buying fruit who want to start their own brands.

Leo Family Red:  a History

JM-L:  I see.  So let’s talk about you . . .

JL:  I don’t own my own vineyard; my situation is a little different in that I lease two acres. Well, I have a long-term agreement since 1999, with a particular vineyard to lease the two acres and I bring in my own fruit, with the understanding that I’ll do all the handwork.  I do the pruning, I do the thinning, I do the harvesting.

JM-L:  So you’re not buying fruit, you’re essentially the vineyard manager for a parcel that’s leased to you.  So you have complete control of the fruit.

JL:  Yes.  The things that I didn’t have control over—I started at Martha Clara in 1999–where they controlled the spray schedule, the weed control, anything that had to do with tractor work—I could make suggestions.  So in that respect I didn’t have complete control.  But I was fine with that.  That lasted until 2006, when they decided that they wanted to harvest their own fruit on that plot, so they decided that I was too small to make an exception for . . . so I was all ready to move anyway, and I was fine with that; it was time to move on.  So I continued the same arrangement with Pellegrini Vineyards, in their easternmost vineyard, called South Harbor.  So there were two acres planted with Merlot there as well, same arrangement as before, so I don’t have control of the spraying schedule.   So I worked with the vineyard manager and that worked out nicely.  That was between 2007 through 2010.  In 2010 I started working for Onabay Vineyard as a winegrowing consultant, working out in the vineyard.  So they asked me, would I be interested in leasing a couple of acres with them, and since I was already telling them what to do and hands-on with their whole vineyard it finally meant that it felt like my own vineyard, in that sense.

JM-L:  Oh, that’s very nice.

JL:  So in 2011 I moved to Onabay.  I was very happy with Pellegrini, but at Onabay, where they’ve planted several varieties, I was able to have an acre of Merlot, half-an-acre of Cabernet Franc, and half-an-acre of Petite Verdot.

JM-L:  So you were finally able to make a Meritage.

JL:  Yes.  And I did . . . since 1999 I’ve made wine every year, selling it off  in bulk, but bottling a barrel for myself to have something to drink, and. . .

JM-L: I see.  So now you’re now making wine in your own way—originally you were only making Merlot . . .

JL:  Only growing Merlot.  So the early vintages were 100% Merlot, but I started to go to other sources—Premium, for example, and other clients, to get a little bit of  Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, whatever happened to be available depending upon the year, including Syrah, Malbec, as well.  Working here made it easy for me to know what was out there—the quality, the amounts, whatever was available . . .  2007 was the first wine I bottled and labeled myself; up to 2006 it was a just hobby project, what I kept at home for drinking myself and then to cover costs I’d sell most of the bulk; I sell anywhere from 200 gallons to 1000 gallons a year depending on my harvest yield and my blending needs.

Leo Family Red, bottle [From the Winemaker’s Studio Website, there is this description of the 2007:  “The first and so far, only wine released under the Leo Family label. A blend made of sustainably farmed grapes: 80% Merlot, 7% Syrah, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon from the North Fork of Long Island. Aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak, released spring 2011.”]  [NOTE:  I tasted this wine on Feb. 2 at a dinner party where venison was the main course.  It followed a rather funky Spanish Tempranillo, and it showed beautifully.  It was already showing secondary aromas and flavors, including lightly-smoked wood, coffee, lead pencil, and sour cherry.  It was balanced and had an agreeable persistence on the palate and a very clean finish.  I’d describe it as elegant and somewhat austere–rather like a Premier Cru from St-Emilion (Bordeaux).  Its structure suggests several more years of maturation and good longevity.  It was very much appreciated by all the guests at the venison dinner, and was a really fine food & wine pairing.]

Leo Family Red, RL

[The back label—shown at right—tells even more about the wine and how it is made. . . ]

JM-L:  And how much bulk are you selling now?

JL:  Depending on the harvest . . . it was a lot, anywhere from 500 cases to a 1,000, or 200 gallons, some years there wasn’t very much.  The 2007 was a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot . . . it’s not all Merlot.

JM-L:  Which means that it’s more of a Left Bank than Right Bank Bordeaux style of wine.

JL: Yeah, with the Syrah tossed in too.

JM-L:  And with the Syrah, which in the 19th Century, they used in winemaking in Bordeaux.

JL:  Yes, I read that too.  I’m not going to market it as Bordeaux . . . it’s just was the best that I could do.

JM-L:  Of course you’re not going to label it as Bordeaux.  Despite all the claims about how Bordeaux-like your wine is, this is still Long Island, after all . . .

JL:  Exactly.  There’s no French on the label, it’s just Leo Family Red . . .

JM-L:  And where is it available?  Can I buy it, for example, at Empire State Cellars?

JL:  It’s available there; you can also buy it at the Winemakers’ Studio, that’s my biggest outlet . . . Anthony Nappa’s.  They pour it and sell it on a regular basis.  There’s also a small wine shop right here in Mattituck, called J. Shields.  It’s owned by a woman who’s a real oenophile.  She just loves wine; I think she studied the sommelier’s course . . . so she took it in a couple of weeks ago.  So it’s on the shelf there.

JM-L:  What was your aim in making your particular wine?

JL:  Honestly, it’s kind of a cliché.  I wanted to make a wine that I would enjoy drinking.  There are no asterisks.  I wanted it to stand on its own on a commercial level.  I want make it only in good vintages and have it taste better than what people are expecting.  . I wanted to be able say:  Taste it and if you like it, buy it, and if you don’t, well, there are no questions asked.  I made 420 cases, I think I have about 160 left.  If I’m stuck with a hundred cases, fine, I’ll be happy to drink it for the rest of my life.

JM-L:  So you’re really saying that the 2007 has great longevity.

JL:  Yes, I think it does.  Because I released it last year and it’s certainly drinking better this year. It hasn’t shown any signs of fading and improving still.

JM-L:  You think that it has the structure to last another five, ten years?

JL:  Five, ten years from now?  I think so, but I honestly don’t know?  It’s hard to say.  Two to three years to reach its peak, and how long will it hold?

JM-L:  Well, as you know, that’s a sign of good wine and good winemaking.  The very fact that there is so much wine being made in Long Island that is age-worthy is, I think, a stunning testament to the level of the winemaking here, and the quality of the fruit and everything else.  It’s no secret, after all, that for us, that the quality of the wine from Long Island is, frankly, at times sensational—and, well, times that it’s not— but given how good it is I often to prefer it to that of California.

JL:  I’ve come the same way, obviously I’m in the industry and you could say that I’m completely biased, but I’m less and less happy when paying sixty or seventy dollars for a California wine that turns out to be an ordinary red wine, just high in alcohol but without much character.

JM-L: As soon as Robert Parker says “jammy and full of fruit,” I know immediately that that is a wine that I’m not likely to touch.

JL:  Exactly.  They’re making a style.  Good for them.  They’re marketing a style and making it work.  We’re just not that.

JM-L:  The other thing to remember is that everything here is “micro.”  You just do not have the production to take on California, you just can’t make enough for a national market.

JL:  And that should free us up a lot to experimentation, to be able to focus on quality, which more and more of our customers are asking for over the twelve years we’ve been in the business; at first our clients were just happy to get the fruit in, get it at 22 Brix, get the right pH.  It’s got to have flavor.  We’re all working on making higher quality wine, we’re challenging one another, we’re raising the bar.

JM-L:  And what other vintages have you made since the 2007?

JL:  Put into bottle and labeled—just the 2010.

JM-L:  And that was a fabulous vintage.

JL:  It was very good.  At first I didn’t think that it was going to be as good as the 2007, but as I sampled it from the barrel it just got better and better, to the point that I decided to bottle it.  Now I think it may even be better than the 2007.  Leo Family Red will only be made in the best vintages. And now that we have 2012 in barrel I’m optimistic that 2012 could be another Leo
Family vintage.

JM-L:  Well, that’s a good policy.

JL:  Well, it’s nice to have a day job!

JM-L:  John, you’ve been more than generous with your time, and I thank you for it.  I’ll get back to you when I’m ready to write about Clovis Point.

 

Erik Bilka, who was not interviewed, is the other production winemaker at Premium, and also has his own wine label:  Influence—a Riesling made from grapes sourced from Ovid Farm in the Finger Lakes.

From the Influence Wines Website:

“Every vintage a winemaker’s goal is to showcase the best attributes from the fruit he is presented. Fruit intensity, acidity, and sugar balance are all attributes which bring a wine to a harmonious blend of aroma, flavor, and palette impression. The winemakers’ influence determines the quality seen in the glass.

Influence Wine Riesling“Once harvested, Influence Riesling is delivered to White Springs Winery in Geneva, NY on Seneca Lake, where the experienced staff led by Derek Wilber crush, press, and cold settle the juice, which is then shipped to Premium Wine Group on the North Fork of Long Island. Upon arrival, winemaker Erik P. Bilka begins the winemaking process. The juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks. Before completion fermentation is halted in order to maintain the natural residual sugars found in this semi-dry vintage. The refining process which involves separating natural occurring sediment from the final product is done delicately in order to preserve the fruits integrity. This minimalist approach by the winemaker influencing only what the juice requires, allows the fruit to be showcased in the final wine.”

Brix at Harvest – 19.8
Ph – 3.10
Titratable Acid – 7.02
Residual Sugar – 22.00 grams/ liter
Aged – 100% Stainless Steel Tank
Bottled – March 31, 2011

 To me, the commitment by the oenologists who work at PWG simply goes beyond the normal range of expectation and duty.  For each of them is so passionate about wine, and apparently has so much excess energy, that it’s not enough for them to only work full-time at their place of employment, they have a deep need to practice their skills for themselves and their reputations.  One can’t ask for more devotion than that.  It’s also hard to find better winemakers.

Next, Russell Hearn.

From the PWG Website:

Services Provided

Services provided by Premium Wine Group range from grape sourcing, crush/pressing, fermenting, barrel aging, bottling, Methode Champenoise riddling and disgorging, and Compliance Issues. These services are available to “custom production” clients, Alternating Proprietorship and existing wineries. North-East wineries sourcing North Fork of Long Island fruit may wish to ferment rather than move unstable fruit during harvest. Or those that have exceeded their own production capacity might look to utilize our wide variety of equipment.

Contact us for (Fee Schedule or Component Services Fees) and (Standard Procedures for what is included).

The “producer” is to supply at their expense all:

  • Fruit (delivered to PWG)
  • Fermentation supplies (yeast, enzyme and tannin, malo-lactic bacteria)
  • Wooden cooperage or oak additives
  • Packaging supplies (bottles, corks, capsules, labels and related items)
  • Winemaking direction (consultation)

Wine Production

With a highly trained staff operating within a State of the Art facility, all wine production services requested can be performed in a timely and professional manner. Additional specialized equipment allows such processes as:

  • EuroSelect Destemmer-Crusher, the gentlest way of destemming
  • Tube-in-tube Must Chiller capable of dropping must temperature 20° F. downstream from the destemmer-crusher en route to press or fermentation tank
  • Reverse Osmosis System to remove water from grape juice
  • Ozone Machine for barrel sanitization
  • Lees filtration via Crossflow System
  • Crossflow wine filtration via Vaslin Bucher FX 8 System

Methode Champenoise

  • Complete semi-automatic Methode Champenoise bottling, riddling and disgorging equipment
  • Mainguet Crown capping device
  • Oenoconcept – Twin cage (1,000 bottle) automatic riddling machine fully programmable for the most complete riddling
  • Mainguet – Neck freezing
  • Disgorging
  • Mainguet – corking and wire hood application
  • Sick International – external bottle scrubbing/washing and drying unit
  • Sick International – capsule dispensing and eye sensitive/ orientating automatic double station capsule pleating device

Bottling

  • Full in-line 4,000 bottle/hour bottling line.
  • McBrady – cardboard dust evacuating and nitrogen bottle sparging device
  • GAI monoblock twenty (20) spout vacuum/ gravity filler with double (2) nitrogen sparging and triple (3) head vacuum corker
  • GAI single head screw capping machine, capable of applying Stevlin and Stevlin Lux screw caps
  • Automatic capsule dispenser and eight (8) head (reversible) capsule spinner and heat shrink capability
  • Sick Automatic champagne capsule dispenser and pleating device
  • Kosme – triple station (neck, front and back) six (6) turret pressure sensitive servo motor driven labeler
  • Manual inspection and packing station
  • Top and bottom ‘Little David’ case taper
  • Lanxess Velcorin DT 6 S dosing unit

Laboratory

Our facility has a fully-equipped laboratory, with a full-time Lab Director and assistant during the Harvest period. A production software system (Winemaker Database) allows our clients’ bulk inventory to be tracked from the time juice or bulk wine arrives at the winery, every moPWG, 08vement, addition, chemical analysis and process is recorded and tracked. Our clients have full access to this detailed history of their inventory.

  • Mettler Toledo Auto-Titrator, generating pH, TA, and FSO2 automatically for reliable consistency

Analytical

  • Brix
  • Total Acid (Automated Titration)PWG, 03
  • pH
  • Total and Free SO2
  • Alcohol
  • Heat and Cold Stability
  • CO2
  • NH3
  • Enzymatic R.S. and Malate
  • Volatile Acidity
  • Specific Gravity
  • Bottling QA/QC
  • Routine Wine / Lot Maintenance

Crush Pads

PWG, 14We can receive hand harvested fruit in small half-ton bins, or machine harvested in gondolas. The receiving pad consists of a Weightronix truck scale and printer, two 7-ton Membrane presses with s/s dump hopper for whole-cluster pressing. Two destemmer / crushers: Rauch E20 and Euroselect ES, to ensure uninterrupted receiving capacity. Both presses utilize direct to press systems, if requested, to minimize solids and for “dug-out” red fermentations. Our 50-ton Refrigeration system ensures more than sufficient capacity for rapid cooling of juice. Tube-in-tube must-chiller capable of decreasing must temperature 20ºF. Additionally we have a 700 KW generator to ensure uninterrupted electrical service.

Equipment

  • Numerous ‘gentle on wine’ Waukesha (twin lobe) pumps.
  • Pneumatic ‘punch-down’ tool above (18) red fermentation tanks.
  • (2) in-line tank heaters to maintain warm red ferments, correct malo-lactic temperature in tank, pre-bottling temperature control.
  • Crossflow filtration system Vaslin Bucher FX 3 with lees filtration add-on capability plate and frame pad filter as well as membrane cartridge filtration capability.
  • Steam and ozone capability.

Producers / Clients (all of which use only Long Island fruit)

  1. Baiting Hollow Farms Vineyard
  2. Bouké/Bouquet
  3. Brooklyn Oenology
  4. Clovis Point Vineyard
  5. OR Wine Estate (aka Deseo de Michael)
  6. Harbes Vineyard
  7. Lieb Cellars
  8. Martha Clara Vineyard
  9. McCall Wines
  10. Onabay Vineyards
  11. Pumphouse Wines (Scarsdale, NY)
  12. Sherwood House Vineyard
  13. [Leo Family Wines, by John Leo, employee]
  14. [Influence Wines (Finger Lakes fruit) by Erik Bilka, employee]
  15. [Suhru Wines, by Russell Hearn, PWG partner & production manager]
  16. [T’Jara Vineyards, by Russell Hearn]

PWG header Premium Wine Group 35 Cox Neck Rd. Mattituck, NY 11952

info@premiumwinegroup.com
phone 631-298-1900
fax 631-298-3588

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