Viniculture in LI, Part III: Gramercy Vineyard

Sadly, it was learned in a conversation with Roman Roth in  June 2015 that Gramercy is no longer making wine, but Carol Sullivan explained that while that is true, she has turned over the use of  the three-acre vineyard to Sal Diliberto, who also has his own vineyard and winery.  Indeed, Diliberto has already field-grated 600 vines to Cabernet Franc from Merlot and plans next year to do the same with Sauvignon Blanc.

Regarding her own wines, Carol said that  “. . . the reds are aging well and still available.  The 2010 Claret, a mix of Merlot and Reilly Cellars Cab Franc is exceptional as is the Merlot of that year. The ’07 and ’08 Merlots are maturing superbly too.“

Much of what follows below is for historical reference:

Gramercy Vineyards, 1In the words of Carol Sullivan, Gramercy “is a very pretty, pretty farm.”  Gramercy Vineyards was originally a chicken farm, still with many of its original buildings, including a hen house that once kept about 50,000 chickens and a hatchery (shown above) in a separate structure.  Both sweet corn and corn for feed were planted out back, as well as a hay field.  The woman who later bought the chicken farm then built greenhouses and hoped to turn it into a nursery, but it never happened.

The main house is essentially original, 167 years old (about 1857); the property is just shy of fifteen acres, with other structures as well as other houses.  A tenant burnt one house to the ground so she had to rebuild.  To her dismay, Insurance only paid for part of the loss.  As she pointed out, “One quickly learns the difference between insured value and replacement value.”

Carol said that at the time the hay field was replanted with it was replanted with three-and-a-half acres of Merlot vines in 2003, she “had no idea what I was getting into.  None whatsoever.”  Just two clones of Merlot were selected by Erik Fry, winemaker at Lenz Winery.  Merlot was chosen because Carol and Erich Moenius—her then-partner—loved the Right-Bank wines of Bordeaux, which are made predominantly of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, resulting in complex and focused wines, such as those of Pomerol and St-Emilion.  Besides, Merlot had already established itself as a premium variety of the East End.

According to Carol (on the Gramercy Website), “A year of living in Florence, Italy during college, being around vineyards and learning to love wine, had a profound effect on me. Planting and tending a vineyard has had a greater impact on my life than I ever imagined. Becoming a steward of the land is an immensely satisfying experience.”

“My partner, Erich, was incessantly saying ‘I want a vineyard, I want a vineyard, I want a vineyard.’  as we asked for a clearing and we found that this farm was for sale. “ , She went on to explain that “We got married, two years later we got divorced, but we’d been together for twelve years.”   Erich is now back in Germany.

When the vineyard was first planted, they hired a manager who just wasn’t doing a good job of it.  “In 2007 we hired Peter Gristina and bought the farm equipment and started doing it more hands-on.  Erich lasted barely a year doing that.  It was more work than he was willing to do.”  Once on she was on her own, Peter taught her good habits about spraying vines; Carol is meticulous about it and now handles the spray chemicals herself.

It’s a nice little vineyard and she gets 400-500 cases of wine from it.

Laurel Lake Preserve is adjacent to the Gramercy property—870 acres of woods so it gets a lot of animal pressure from all the woods—while the nets are for birds, they are primarily to help protect the vines from raccoons, but these are undeterred by ties, clip, and they’ll even untie string.  They also rip the nets.  In the 2012 season raccoons may have devoured as much as a third of the crop, just feeding from the lower bunches of grapes.  On the other hand, deer aren’t much of a problem because the vineyard is fully fenced.

Gramercy Vineyards, Carol & dogTo help bring the animal pressure under control, Carol bought a dog from a Mississippi breeder.   Cutie, is half-Jack terrier and half-Jack Russell, and is about three years old.  Cutie got her name before she Carol acquired her, and at three years of age you just don’t change a dog’s name (but I dubbed her “Jumping Jack,” for she couldn’t keep still).

Cutie keeps the raccoons under control.  She’s up all night, and cruises the vineyard during the day looking for woodchucks–there aren’t any anymore.  At night she’s looking for raccoons and she gets one or two a night.  But her face shows the scars of her fights with the ‘coons;  she was blemish-free when she arrived on Labor Day.  One night Carol had just come home from dinner and heard screams.  She knew something was wrong, so she got her flashlight and went to a section of the vineyard back near the woods where the shrieks were coming from.  Cutie had cornered a raccoon (about 20 pounds—twice her size) on a pole.

Roman Roth, the winemaker, refers to the vineyard as a “little oven” because of the way both cold air and water just drain away from the sight, which means that the grapes have more warmth to help them ripen.  Carol does irrigate when necessary—had to in 2012, and that involves a lot of work and a lot of expense.  That’s why she has worked more than full-time over the years—among other things, Carol has managed several construction projects as a residential and interior designer as well as a realtor.

However, in 2012 Carol told me that “I really don’t want to work anymore, I want to farm.  I want to take it over entirely myself by next year.  I can’t fix the end-poles, or tighten the wires by myself.  There are certain things that I know I just can’t do on my own.”  In that regard, she had a full-time worker who tended the vineyard very lovingly, but he went back home recently.  A friend who has a vineyard of his own has tried to help out, but it wasn’t the same.   Finally, after two years of trying to do it on her own she found that it was much too strenuous and physically exhausting.  It was time to call it quits.  She had finished renovating the house and it’s finally the way that she wants it.   She plans to stay on and enjoy the place now.  She’d been working on it for twelve years.  Her friends ask her “‘Now that the house is finished, when are you moving?’  Now it’s paid off.  I’d like to hang out here.”  Carol is now fifty-four and the Wanderlust bug has consequently been told to stop—she tells it, “You’re not going anywhere.”

It’s a very, very pretty farm producing quality fruit that made very good wine by Roman Roth, one of the master winemakers of Long Island. Indeed, in his skilled hands, Gramercy produced some really lovely wines, of which I have several.  The winemaker’s notes follow, and my own afterwards:

“Merlot Reserve:  After a spectacular growing season  [2007 was an outstanding vintage in Long Island] we selected this special section of the vineyard. The grapes were carefully hand-picked and sorted then cold soaked for 5 days before the fermentation started. The maximum temperature reached was 86F and the wine was pumped over up to 3 times a day during the peak of fermentation.

“The wine was dry after 2.5 weeks and was gently pressed and racked into barrels.
Malolactic fermentation was finished 100% and the wine received a total of 6 rackings.
It was bottled on the 28th of April 2009.

“Harvest date: 10.09.2007; Brix at Harvest: 22.4; 0% Residual Sugar, 100% Merlot.”

There are three wines: a rosé made from Merlot, an Estate Merlot, and a Reserve Merlot.

In January 2013 we shared this wine for lunch with friends.  These were our impressions:  Ruby in color with a narrow, clear meniscus.  Pronounced aromas of ripe, black fruit, with notes of leather, cigar box, and toast.  In the mouth it is balanced and rich, the fruit quite forward with nicely-knit tannins and a fairly long finish.  At seven years it is clear that this wine has some years ahead of it, but it is ready now.

In other words, the Gramercy team made some very pretty wines indeed.  Now Diliberto Wines & Vineyards enjoys the benefit of the vineyard that is a “little oven.”

Gramercy Vineyard wines can be still be purchased at the winery and at the Tasting Room in Peconic, but when the inventory is exhausted there shall be no more.

Gramercy Web photo10020 Sound Avenue, Mattituck, NY 11952
gramercyvineyards.com

 Interview with Carol Sullivan on 26 September 2012; updated 3 March 2013; 
further updated 26 September 2015

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