Updates to Wines of Long Island, 3rd ed., since it was published.
The book was published on August 19, 2019; since then, significant changes have taken place in the wineries of Long Island. This, of course, is no surprise. I knew that my book would be out-of-date the day it was published. But I’m not planning to write yet another edition. I haven’t even sold all the copies that I had printed so am still out of pocket. However, it’s now possible to update a book online, so I urge all the purchasers of my book to read this and even download it for reference when using the book.
First, the really good news: not a single winery in Long Island went out of business due to the Covid outbreak. In fact, the wineries thrived in 2020, partly because people couldn’t travel abroad, so locals and people from the City made their way to Long Island Wine Country.
Indeed, the Long Island Wine Council has changed its name to Long Island Wine Country, and as of May 2021 has 30 members, up from 24 at the time of publication.
Recently, three wineries have changed their names. Most notably, Shinn Estate, which was sold by Barbara Shinn and her husband, David Page in 2017, is now Rose Hill, according to an article in the Northforker by Grant Parpan (April 15, 2021). The owners, Randy and Barbara Frankel, felt that enough time had passed and they wanted a name that resonated for them. Rose Hill is a neighborhood in Manhattan where they first lived, and though the terrain of the vineyard is flat as a pancake, they chose the name Rose Hill for apparently sentimental reasons.
The second winery to change its name is Laurel Lake, which changed hands this winter when it was sold by the Chilean consortium that had owned it. The new owner, Dan Abrams of ABC News, also chose a personal name of great sentimental meaning, taking the names of his two young children, Everett and Emily, and deriving from them the logo EV&EM. For now, Juan Sepúlveda continues as the winemaker. While Rose Hill is now an official and registered name, EV&EM will not be official until this summer. Sentimental names are not unusual, by the way. Consider Channing Daughters, named in honor of the late Walter Channing’s two daughters when that winery was established, or Martha Clara, named for the mother of Robert Entemann, who purchased the property 1978, initially as a horse farm, but eventually it became a 100-acre vineyard, which was recently bought by a Mexican winemaking family, Ribero-González, which renamed it RGNY.
Then, Sal Diliberto, now 75, decided that it was time to sell his eponymous winery and vineyard, given that none of his children was interested in continuing the business, and it was purchased in February 2021 by a young couple from Riverhead, Jacqui and Greg Goodale. They have renamed it Terra Vite Winery & Vineyard. They hired Kelly Koch, formerly of Macari, as their winemaker, which means that they’ll be making very good wine in the future. The tasting room and winery have been renovated and opened again for business on Memorial Day. diliberto-long-island-wine-country
Another name change since publication is that of Chronicle Wine at Peconic Cellar Door. This needs some explanation. Originally, Alie Shaper and Robin Epperson-McCarthy were independent winemakers. A few years ago they decided to offer their labels from a tasting room on Peconic Lane that they called Peconic Cellar Door. That is now Chronicle Wines at Peconic Cellar Door, but their individual labels remain. In the book Alie’s main brand, BOE, has its own entry, though she has other labels of her own, including Shindig, As If, and Haywater Cove. So too does Robin have her own entry under Saltbird Cellars. Today they would be written of as a single entry, which by no means would diminish their individual accomplishments. In fact, it’s a real and very successful partnership.
In December of 2020 Juan E. Micieli-Martinez, the former winemaker of Martha Clara Vineyards, and his sommelier wife Bridget Quinn Micieli-Martinez, proudly unveil Montauk Daisy Wines in collaboration with Theresa Dilworth and her husband Mineo Shimura of Comtesse Therese Vineyard. Collectively, the group shares 80 years of experience within the Long Island Wine industry. Juan and Bridget, after multiple years of making wine and running operations for many noteworthy producers including Pellegrini Vineyards, Shinn Estate Vineyards, Martha Clara Vineyards, Palmer Vineyards, Clovis Point, and Premium Wine Group, decided it was time they produce wine for themselves. So now there is a new winery, formed taking the fruit of the Comtesse Therese vineyard and Juan making the wines at PWG. This deserves a blog post of its own, which should be forthcoming this summer.
Most remarkable may be the resurrection of the Peconic Bay Winery, now Peconic Bay Vineyard, purchased by Stefan Soloviev, with Stacey Lynne (formerly Mrs. Stefan Soloviev) listed as the owner, and Ken Cereola is the General Manager. Happily, winemaker Greg Gove has returned to his old haunt to resume his work and continue producing excellent and distinctive wines. Furthermore, Evan Ducz, who was at Sparkling Pointe, is the tasting room manager, which means that the room will be very well-managed and run. The winery had been closed for eight years and the vines had been tended by other wineries, so they’re in very good shape. There are now 125 acres planted to grapevines. The winery and its tasting room officially opened in May. As the winery had been closed when the book was published, it was not included, but it will have a new blog post dedicated to it pending an interview with Stacey, which we hope we can do this coming November.
In the meantime, a few wineries are currently for sale: Osprey’s Dominion and Bedell are now on the market and Castello di Borghese has sold a parcel of acres along with the family house, but not the tasting room. Meanwhile, they continue producing wine as they always have.
If you haven’t yet bought my book, please do so here, and download this page to insert it in the book when you receive it.
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)