The Tasting Room
Story and photo by Christopher J. Davies
Peconic, New York
Long Island wines have been bubbling over...even as the construction of new wineries has slowed. Credit Premium Wine Group (PWG) in Mattituck, which enables small boutique grape growers to make high quality wine without making a multi-million dollar investment in a winery.
Australian borne Winemaker Russell Hearn developed the concept for PWG over 5 years ago. "There is a difference between winemaking and agribusiness. I saw this as a great way for boutique growers to focus on growing high quality fruit and producing excellent wines, without the pressures of creating so-so wines for commercial necessities," remarked Hearn. PWG opened its doors three years ago after Hearn partnered with financial moguls Mark Lieb and Bernie Sussman. Lieb also co-owns Lieb Family Cellars with his wife Kathy. Hearn is no stranger to Long Island, having been Pellegrini Vineyards' chief winemaker for the past decade.
Today PWG is the only "custom crush" facility on the East coast, which helps small grape growers produce wine. Mr. Hearn stresses that "we don't actually make the wine, we are a wine processing facility. Proprietors and/or their winemaking consultants use our state-of the art equipment to make their wines".
The Long Island region has approximately 27 wineries and 60 vineyards. More vineyards are being planted on the North Fork and as far west as Stony Brook. Already a phenomenal success, PWG's future business growth seems even more secure.
Producing good quality, boutique wines may seem like a nostalgic idea born from distant memories of a family with home winemaking traditions. But, with today's industry-wide wine glut, high-quality wines have clogged the marketplace. The playing field has changed and even boutique producers must strive to stand out in a very crowded market. Several boutique grape growers (lcaking wineries) have released wines that they made at PWG. A newbie with great promise is Sherwood House Vineyards, owned by Dr. Charles Sherwood Smithen and his wife Barbara. The Smithens have released several award winning wines made from grapes grown on their Mattituck Estate. Current releases include 2000 Chardonnay and 2000 Merlot. Dr. Smithen is an admitted Francophile, with a goal to produce "great Long Island cult wines." Sherwood House wines have limited distribution at retailers and fine restaurants in the New York tri-state region. Although the wines may be ordered on the web or via telephone, until two weeks ago, Sherwood House did not have a tasting room. This has all changed...for the better!
NOW OPEN! THE TASTING ROOM
On May 21, 2003, The Tasting Room opened its doors in Peconic, the heart of the LI Wine Country. This brilliant concept, already in practice in Napa and Sonoma, blends a wine store with a tasting room showcasing small production wines. It seems appropriate that Long Island, "The Napa of the East," now has a place to taste boutique wines under one roof, near some of Long Island's most respected and established wineries. Consumers may also purchase mixed cases of these wines for home consumption...qualifying for a 10% case discount to boot!
The Tasting Room is located on Peconic Avenue, a north/south road that crosses between Sound Avenue and Main Road in Peconic. They are located steps away from Peconic's postage stamp-sized Post Office, as well as the Long Island Railroad crossing. Less than a mile away on Main Road are Osprey's Dominion Vineyards, Raphael, Lenz and Pindar.
Several of PWG's boutique wineries are now showcased at The Tasting Room, which offers tastings and sales of wines produced by Schneider Vineyards, Sherwood House Vineyards and newcomer Broadfields Vineyards, which released their wines with the opening of The Tasting Room.
Tasting Room owners Robin and Karen Meredith also operate Broadfields. Ms. Meredith is an attorney and co-author of the application for the Long Island Appellation. Her husband Robin is a management consultant who runs The Tasting Room. The Merediths own an 18-acre vineyard estate in Southold planted exclusively with red grapes, primarily Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Broadfields wines were made at PWG under the supervision of French-born winemaker Gilles Martin. Mr. Martin has earned a great reputation for his award-winning wines for Macari Vineyards and Sherwood House; he recently became winemaker for Martha Clara Vineyards.
The Tasting Room offers tasting flights consisting of up to six different wines; visitors may taste recommended flights or create their own flights for 75 cents per wine. Robin Meredith commented, "You can get wines here that you can not get anywhere else. In some cases we are the exclusive tasting room for these wines".
Schneider Vineyards Chardonnay 2000 $18
Sherwood House Vineyards Chardonnay 2000 $23
Schneider Vineyards "Small Lot Series" Chardonnay 2000 $28
Schneider Vineyards Potato Barn Red 1999 $14
Schneider Vineyards Merlot 1999 $15
Broadfields Cabernet Franc 2001 $18
Schneider Vineyards "Small Lot Series" Syrah 2000 $21
Broadfields Merlot 2001 $24
Schneider Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2000 $25
Sherwood House Vineyards Merlot 2000 $27
Mr. Meredith plans to continue looking at any new projects. My guess is that he'll have plenty of new wines to choose from in the coming years.
Another new producer, Ms. Theresa Dilworth of Le Clos Thrse Vineyards of Mattituck, plans to release her wines this summer. There are four different "Comtesse Thrse" wines due for release shortly; 3 different styles of estate grown Merlot and a ros will be featured at the Tasting Room. Le Clos Thrse's logo is already stenciled on The Tasting Rooms window along with the other producers' brands.
A trip to the North Fork warrants a stop at The Tasting Room. It's housed in an old restored retail store that has been retrofitted with wine racks and a tasting bar. Not a glitzy place, but highly functional and convenient. You will find some delicious new wines to tantalize your palate!
The Tasting Room
2885 Peconic Lane
Peconic, NY 11958
Tel. (631) 765-6404
Proprietors: Robin & Karen Meredith
Hours: 11 am to 6pm daily (except Tuesday)
Tasting Fee: $3, refundable with $50 purchase