Following is a highly selective list of books that I’ve read or consulted that I consider particularly worthwhile. If I haven’t read or consulted a book, I do not recommend it. Alas, there are more that I’ve not read than have—I’ve only 140 books on wine in my library, and some are still waiting to be read, though nearly all have served as references.
Grapes, Wine, Wineries, and Vineyards
There are seven general wine books that one should own in order to be truly well- and completely informed:
1. Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th ed. (2015) is just indispensable, with a comprehensive coverage of just about every topic bearing on wine that one can think of, a true Abbocatto to Zymase encyclopedia. All articles are signed, all cited references noted. Robinson was both the editor and a contributor. The 4th edition adds 300 additional, new terms, though many will only be of interest to wine professionals. For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.
2. Equally indispensable is Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson’s The World Atlas of Wine, 8th ed. (2019). How else could one find the way around the vinicultural regions of the world, including NY State? The maps are in full color, ranging in scale from street-level for the Champagne towns and the lodges in Oporto, to 1:45,000 and larger for wine regions. The text for the many regions is the very model of pithy, clear writing. For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.
3. In 2013, two new, serious reference books on wine—sure to become indispensable and classic are: Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy’s American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States (a very useful feature is its summary of each AVA, including the best grapes grown, and listing the top wineries by category); the other must-have is Jancis’s encyclopedic Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours, written in collaboration with Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz. See my post, The Three Indispensable Wine Books, for a complete review of Wine Grapes.
4. Emile Peynaud’s vital and perennial The Taste of Wine: The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation (trans. Michael Schuster, 1987). Originally written in French as La Goût du Vin in 1983), it is considered definitive by many in the field.
But then, there is always Jancis Robinson’s How to Taste (2000), which is both a how-to for tasting and a guide to the aromatic and gustatory sensations of the different varieties and how they can differ from place to place (i.e., from terroir to terroir). Robinson’s is certainly the more approachable for most readers.
5. WSET students and graduates, anyone interested in wine certification, and indeed, even winemakers can benefit from David Bird’s Understanding Wine Technology: The Science of Wine Explained, 3rd ed., which has been required reading for all WSET students, is a very clear and lucid explanation—in laymen’s terms—of what goes on right down to the molecular level of yeasts, viruses, and chemistry generally. It’s also a very good read.
6. I very much enjoyed and admired Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop’s Authentic Wine: toward natural and sustainable winemaking (2011), which has many really interesting insights into what really goes on in a vineyard, a winery, and what it takes to be a sustainable winegrower and producer. Much food for thought, though some may cavil about a few of the authors’ conclusions.
7. If one wanted to carry as much information about wine in a portable package, there’s one that I cannot live without: Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2020. It is pithy, witty, thicker than ever, and claims to be the Number One Bestselling Wine Guide, which it deserves to be. I’ve bought every edition since the very first one, published in 1977 (it was rather slim then). Also available as a Kindle Book from Amazon.
8. A book not to be overlooked is Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course,Revised, Updated & Expanded Edition (2018). Zraly is a truly gifted instructor and virtually anyone can benefit from his guidance. His approach is original and his book is the most popular wine book of its kind, with over three million copies sold worldwide.
New York and East Coast Wine
Long Island Wine Country: Award-Winning Vineyards of the North Fork and the Hamptons, is an useful guide to visiting Long Island vineyards and wineries. Written by Jane Taylor Starwood, editor-in-chief of Long Island Wine Press, she gives us an insider’s track on the owners, the winemakers, and the wineries themselves. In a conversational tone (and amply illustrated), the book leads the reader from East to West on the North Fork, and then down to the Hamptons, as though it would be followed geographically. It’s a bit frustrating an approach if one wants to do research and would prefer an alphabetical organization, but it’s a quibble given the overall quality and usefulness of the book, although it’s now rather out-of-date, given that it was published in 2009.
Louisa Thomas Hargrave wrote a gracious memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery. One cannot begin to understand what was involved in creating the Long Island wine industry without reading this charming and touching account of the establishment of Long Island’s first winery, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973, when there were only small farms and potato fields. It is charming in its modesty, touching in its honesty, and a remarkable tale of what it takes to start a vineyard from scratch when you don’t even know what you’re doing! And look at what it started–a whole industry that is one of the dominant features of the East End of Long Island, begun with passion, commitment, and hard work, but ultimately at the cost of heartbreak and renewal. Now out of print, it may be available, used, on Amazon or AbeBooks.
In Marguerite Thomas’s Touring East Coast Wine Country: A Guide to the Finest Wineries (1996) we have the first important guide to the wines and wineries of the East Coast, from Maine to Virginia, replete with useful insights and a good background on the history of the viniculture of each state. It also provides biography capsules of some of the most important or interesting winemakers. Given that the book was first published in 1996, a good deal of its information is now more of historical interest, and it needs, and deserves, a new edition.
More recent is Carlo DeVito’s East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia, published in 2004. Still, even this needs to be brought up-to-date, but its value lies in its own take on East Coast wineries, with listings of the wines offered by each estate with brief descriptions, recommendations and excerpted tasting reviews of the wines. Let’s hope that, like Thomas’s guide, DeVito’s will also receive a new, updated edition soon. For the serious wine tourist, one guide complements the other, so why not buy both?
An interesting and somewhat chatty book is The Story of North Fork Wine: Historical Profiles and Wine Country Recipes (2009), John Ross’s up-close-and-personal look at the people who work in and run the wineries. A chef who owned Ross’s North Fork Restaurant, he became close to many in the wine trade, especially given that he was interested in devising recipes and menus that would best accompany the wines of the region.
Vital–thanks to its clear, lucid writing and very useful history of LI viticulture and winemaking–is the excellent Wines of Long Island, 3rd edition (2019) by José Moreno-Lacalle, based on the 2nd edition by Edward Beltrami & Philip E. Palmedo. It includes profiles of the most important personalities in the LI wine world as well as all the producers, with descriptions and reviews of wineries and their wines–both past and present–and a generally judicious insight into the trends and achievements of the region. Definitely worthwhile owning, if you love LI wines. (Is this called self-promotion?)
Organic and Biodynamic Viniculture
Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course: The Birth of the Biodynamic Method, is the foundation text of the biodynamic movement. A compilation of eight lectures delivered in Germany in 1924 provides, in Steiner’s own words, the basis for what he called a new science based on the natural rhythms of the world and the cosmos, as recovered from the traditional practices of the peasant farmers of yore. It is meant as a healthy antidote to the rise of farming methods based on industrial chemicals and fertilizers. Many leading vineyards are farmed by this method, from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy to Shinn Estate in Long Island. You owe it to yourself to read the lectures if you wish to really understand what Biodynamics is about.
Nicolas Joly is a leading proponent of Biodynamic viticulture, and he practices his preaching at one of the greatest vineyards of the Loire, the Coulée de Serrant. Joly’s Wine from Sky to Earth: Growing and Appreciating Biodynamic Wine, is a true believer’s panegyric to Biodynamics. His ideas and those of the founder of Biodynamics®, Rudolf Steiner, are put into practice at two vineyards that I know of: Macari Vineyards and Shinn Estate.
Lon Rombough’s The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture, is an excellent introduction to how to grow grapes organically. It’s also very practical, as the guide is really intended for the novice who wants to start a backyard vineyard or even a commercial one. It takes the reader step-by-step on establishing an organic vineyard, imparting along the way a good deal of knowledge and savvy advice.
Other Wine Books of More than Passing Interest (or Not)
Tyler Colman, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink (UCal Press, 2008). I highly recommend this book for its clarity and scholarship. The subject of politics in the wine world proves to be fascinating, and the author chose to approach it by comparing, for example, the AOC laws of France (and by extension, much of the EU) with the AVA regulations promulgated by the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). There are surprising insights into how and why wine is grown and made in different countries, why labels look the way they do on each side of the Atlantic, and the effects of custom, religion, crime, regionalism, nationalism, and so forth on the wine trade. Eminently worthwhile for the serious wine-lover.
John Hailman, Thomas Jefferson on Wine (UMiss Press, 2006). Another book that is based on sound scholarship and research, also well-written, but one may wish to skip all the tables and lists, which are difficult to grasp at times simply because the wines of Jefferson’s period (1743-1826) varied so much in name, currency, weights and volumes, that clear comparisons with our own period are so difficult to make. Still, if one has the patience, there is reward in seeing how all-encompassing were the interests and tastes of the first great oenophile of the United States of America.
Thomas Pellechia, Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade (Thunder’s Mouth Press, NY, 2006) A work with great potential written by someone who has long been in the wine trade but whose sense of history is lacking in scholarship and critical acuity. Some of what he writes is couched in such vague or confused historical terms as to be virtually useless, especially when dealing with antiquity and the Middle Ages. The writing style is breezy and casual, but it lacks polish and lucidity. Such a shame.
A far better foray into wine history would be the classic Gods, Men, and Wine, (1966) by William Younger, or the more recent Story of Wine (1989)—or the New Illustrated Edition (2004)—by Hugh Johnson, both of which are better-written and historically more reliable. Neither of the latter books is available in Kindle versions, but they do enjoy the virtue of been on real, durable paper bound in hardcover.
A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage (2005), is more than just about wine. It tells its story by means of six beverages: beer (Mesopotamia & Egypt), wine (Ancient Greece & Rome), spirits (Colonial America), Coffee (Europe in the Age of Enlightenment), Tea (the British Empire), and Coca-Cola (Modern America and the Age of Globalization). It’s both amusing and informative, but I’d put the emphasis on the amusement. Unless you’ve utterly uninformed about wine or the other beverages, this is really History 001, rather lightweight.
Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine, edited by Barry C. Smith (2007), with essays by experts such as Paul Draper, Jamie Goode, Andrew Jefford, and others, with an enthusiastic Foreword by Jancis Robinson. The contributors also include a couple of philosophers and a linguist. The language of wine as presented in this book is clearly academic. A worthwhile but challenging book, well worth the time to read.
Wine Wars, by Mike Veseth (2011), which, with chapter headings like “The Curse of the Blue Nun,” “The Miracle of Two-Buck Chuck,” and “The Revenge of the Terroirists,” is an interesting and amusing way of treating the effects of globalization on the modern world of wine. It is also rather informative, and occasionally provides some surprising nuggets of information (such as the fact that Trader Joe’s is actually a German company).
Anthony Nappa pictured with his wines prior to a Winemaker’s Tasting at Empire State Cellars in Riverhead
Anthony Nappa wears several hats at once: as winemaker for Raphael, a major winery on the North Fork, as founder and owner of Winemaker Studio in Peconic, Long Island, and as winemaker for his own brand of wines with intriguing names like Anomaly, Luminous, Spezia, and more. Of the eleven Nappa wines that are presently offered at the Winemaker Studio three have earned 90 points from Wine Enthusiast and a red has won 91 points–the highest score ever by WE for a North Fork wine. That’s really quite remarkable for such a small producer—albeit clearly a gifted one.
Anthony’s road to becoming a winemaker in Long Island was, as is so often the case, circuitous. Born in Massachusetts, he went to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst to earn a degree in agriculture with a focus on fruit-growing. A couple of years later he decided to obtain a degree in viticulture and found that the program at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand, was the most economical for an English-speaking country. It ended up being a degree in oenology as well, and that was where it discovered that he had an aptitude for it. Four years later he went to Italy, where his family is from, and spent a year at a winery near Naples. After six years abroad he returned and helped start a winery, Running Brook, in southern Massachusetts. He was there for a year before moving on to California to try winemaking there, but West Coast life wasn’t for him. Finally, in 2007, he came to Long Island, got married, and in partnership with his wife, Sarah Evans, who works as a chef, started making his own wine while working at Shinn Estate.
I met him several years ago, when he was at Shinn (2007 to 2011). He went there 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 that he dubbed Nemesis. After he left Shinn he focused more on his own wines and made them at Premium Wine Group, the custom crush facility in Mattituck.
He 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.” (To read about Raphael’s wines, see Viniculture in LI: Raphael.)
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.”
As Anthony Nappa Wines has no vineyards of its own, all the wines are made from purchased grapes. Anthony explains:
“I buy grapes from a dozen different vineyards. It changes all of the time. We buy grapes from Upstate, as well. We made a Riesling in the beginning. For me Finger Lakes Riesling is the best Riesling in the country, and I’m just buying grapes. Why wouldn’t I make Finger Lakes Riesling? We label it Finger Lakes and everything; we put vineyard designation on as much stuff as we can.”
Speaking of the dependence on purchased fruit, Anthony said, “The hard part about only buying grapes is we can’t necessarily be consistent. We don’t always get the same quality of fruit. So we might make a wine and then not be able to make it again for years. So it’s hard to be in the marketplace that way. But on the other hand, it’s got its advantages, because we can adjust our production levels every year. We can be opportunistic and jump on good vintages and make extra wine and hold back in bad vintages. We can just do a one-off wine with some grape variety that I was able to purchase and make whatever even just once, if there are some grapes available. We can be opportunistic at the last minute and buy fun stuff, different stuff. There are a lot of advantages to not owning a vineyard, and there’s a lot less risk.”
For example, Anthony has made Nemesis, his first wine, a Pinot Noir, only once. He eschewed making again until this year as he did not find grapes of the quality he demanded for making that varietal again. Talk about fussy.
Anthony operates on the idea of honesty in all things bearing on his wine: honest wine that is made with minimal manipulation (if any) and reveals its varietal character; honest marketing—with full disclosure of how the wine is made; and honest labeling—straightforward and direct, without unneeded embellishments. A testament to that is found in his wine spec sheets which accompany each of his wines. Talk about full disclosure.
The Winemaker Studio
Anthony’s The Winemaker Studio is owned and operated by him and his wife, Chef Sarah Evans Nappa, of Anthony Nappa Wines. They moved to the North Fork in 2007 and in the same year Anthony established his own wine brand, Anthony Nappa Wines while working as winemaker for Shinn Estate. His first wine was Nemesis, a white wine made from Pinot Noir, of which 200 cases were made. Sarah has considerable international experience and is previously the Sous Chef at the North Fork Table & Inn in Southold, NY. When she is not looking after their son Leonard (born in 2013), or running the tasting room, she is available for hire as a private chef for small events and dinner parties.
In the beginning Anthony invited other winemakers who were producing their own brands but had no tasting facilities of their own to offer their wines at the Studio. It was a cooperative venture, and tasting rotated with a different brand being highlighted for tasting each weekend. Over time a number of them moved to other tasting rooms that were more connected to their production. For example, Russell Hearn, John Leo, and Erich Bilka all work at PWG (Premium Wine Group, a custom crush outfit) which has its own tasting facility, The Tasting Group, for brands that are made at PWG. So while their wines are now available at retail from the Studio, their wines are no longer offered as part of the tasting menu, which now only highlights Anthony’s own wines and Greg Gove’s Race label of wines.
The Winemaker Studio is currently offering:
Anthony Nappa Wines from winemaker Anthony Nappa of Raphael Vineyards
Race wines by Greg Gove, former winemaker at Peconic Bay Winery—now closed.
Suhru Wines from winemaker Russell Hearn of Lieb Cellars and head production winemaker PWG
Leo Family from winemaker John Leo of Clovis Point and production winemaker at PWG
T’Jara Wines from winemaker Russell Hearn
Influence Wines from winemaker Erik Bilka of Castello di Borghese and production winemaker at PWG
Coffee Pot Cellars from winemaker Adam Suprenant of Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards, who now has his own tasting room.
Anthony’s own wine labels are elegant in their simplicity and he likes to give his wines distinctive names—each in a different typeface—that reflect something of the character of each. For example, of three that we sampled, the names suggest a story:
Anomaly, so named because it is just that: a white wine made from a red grape–in this case Pinot Noir. According to the spec sheet for this wine, the fruit is sourced from several vineyards: that from the Finger Lakes brings acidity and fruitiness, while from the North Fork the grapes impart more structure and body. Together the blend brings forth a good balance to Anomaly. All the fruit comes from sustainably-maintained vineyards. The grapes are hand-harvested and gently pressed with no skin contact, but using red-wine yeast from Burgundy. Cold-fermented for two weeks, no oak was used nor was there a malolactic fermentation. It was bentonite-filtered for heat stability, cold-stabilized, and sterile-filtered before bottling.
The 2013 Anomaly comes from an excellent vintage characterized by a cool summer and 50 days without any precipitation until harvest, resulting in fully-ripe and very clean fruit. The wine is of a medium lemon color with a slight blush, with a full body, firm acidity, and notes of strawberry, white peach, and a minerally finish, perfect as an aperitif or summer wine. 12.3 % abv; $20; ; 90 points from Wine Enthusiast. Drink within a year.
The 2012 Dodici is a blend of 67% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cab Sauvignon; the fruit, of an excellent vintage, came from two pre-eminent vineyards on the North Fork: McCullough and Matebella, which are sustainably farmed. The spec sheet also tells us that the grapes were fermented after 5 weeks of maceration and aged separately for 18 months in French oak, only blended just prior to bottling unfiltered and unfined. Just 187 cases were produced. The resulting wine is a deep brick-red color with suggestions of tobacco, licorice, and red fruit on the nose while offering a full body and a nice, long finish with mineral notes. Drinkable now, it could be laid down to evolve for five more years. It will happily accompany any red-meat dish or go with a full-bodied cheese. 13.2% abv; $35; 91 points from Wine Enthusiast.
Anthony’s 2013 Chardonnay has an Italian spelling that reflects what he considers to be a “rustic Italian style,” but given that the grapes come from McCullough Vineyards one might wonder if there weren’t a touch of the Irish about it as well. Anyhow, the vintage has been described above and as a result the fruit shows beautifully. Unoaked, the wine was fermented with wild yeast and then underwent a malolactic fermentation, yielding aromas of ripe peaches, citrus, and buttery notes. With that we have a full-bodied wine with firm acidity and a medium-length with some minerality. In fact, we’d call it elegant, and it has excellent typicity–this can be nothing other than a Chardonnay, and a very-well made one at that. Perfect with any fish or seafood. 13.9% abv; $20; ; 90 points from Wine Enthusiast; to drink now or hold for a few years.
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.
He 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.
The 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
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 East 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 . . .
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 . . .”
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.
[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.]
[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
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.
“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.
“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.
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)
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
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
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
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
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 movement, 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
Total Acid (Automated Titration)
Total and Free SO2
Heat and Cold Stability
Enzymatic R.S. and Malate
Routine Wine / Lot Maintenance
We 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.
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)