Year in Review 2023

Year in Review: Long Island Wine Country celebrates 50 years

2023 was a big year for Long Island Wine Country, marking 50 years since the first wine-centric vines were planted — on a plot of fallow potato farmland.

Today, Long Island’s 3,000 acres of vineyards produce more than a half-million cases of wine a year, with a reach that has conquered more than 26 states and about a dozen countries, not to mention countless wine lists in some of the most selective restaurants in New York City and beyond.

“The Long Island wine industry is strong, vibrant and thriving. It’s growing, and that’s exciting,” said Kareem Massoud, president of the industry association Long Island Wine Country and a second-generation winemaker for Paumanok Vine- yards, started by his parents, Charles and Ursula Massoud, in 1983.

The names Louisa and Alex Hargrave are certainly familiar to those with knowledge of Long Island’s wine history. If the industry here has grandparents, they’re it — perhaps along with farmer John Wickham, who worked in the early 1960s with Cornell University’s Geneva-based research lab to find vinifera grapes that could grow in the local climate.

“There’s sort of this old narrative going around that Alex and Louisa were a couple of hippies who didn’t know what they were doing, flopped down and figured it out one way or another. The fact of the matter is we came with a sensory goal — we actually came with an idea of a flavor and aroma and committing to a sensory experience that we wanted to achieve,” said Louisa Hargrave, whose son, Zander, is now the winemaker at Pellegrini Vineyards, not far from where his parents established Hargrave, now Castello di Borghese.

With the patient work of the pioneers, a wine region took shape. People like ex-pilot and dairy farmer David Mudd and his son, Steven — who came out to Southold from Missouri in the 1950s — planted vines for wine grapes in 1974 and ultimately became the region’s game-changing viticulturists.

The industry’s success came thanks to the Mudds; to Cornell Cooperative Extension and dedi- cated grower-researchers like Alice Wise; to early risk-takers like the Hargraves: Lyle Greenfield of Bridge- hampton Winery, Ray Blum of Peconic Bay Vineyards, Bob Kohler of Osprey’s Dominion, Pindar’s Dr. Dan Damianos, Kip Bedell, Jerry Gristina, the Bidwell family, Bob Palmer, Ralph and Pat Pugliese and the Massouds. The later ’80s and early ’90s saw the burgeoning wine region expand to include Wölffer, Pellegrini, Lieb, Lenz, Jamesport Vineyards, Macari, Diliberto (now Terra Vite), Martha Clara (now RG|NY), Shinn Estate (now Rose Hill), Laurel Lake (now Ev & Em), Raphael, Channing Daughters and Sherwood House.

Small-label spinoffs from winemakers came up through the ranks of many of these storied spots or through the island’s genius customcrush facility, Premium Wine Group, founded by forward-thinking winemaker Russell Hearn.

“I can count the number of times over the last five years that I have run into someone who turns up their nose at Long Island wine. That has gone down exponentially,” says Shelby Hearn Ulrich Ulrich, now also general manager for her family label, Suhru Wines.