The Next Chapter for the Wineries on Long Island’s North Fork

The Bedell Cellars vineyard in Cutchogue, on Long Island’s East End, set a sales record among area wineries when it sold for $5 million in 2000. Now, with Bedell Cellars back on the market, history may repeat itself: Its asking price is $17.9 million.

When the owner, Michael Lynne, former chief executive of New Line Cinemas, passed away in March, he had already asked Gary DePersia, of the Corcoran Group in the Hamptons, to quietly gauge interest in his three vineyard sites — Bedell Cellars, Wells Road in Cutchogue and Corey Creek in Southold — which are now offered as a package.

Several Long Island vineyards have sold in recent years, including Martha Clara and Palmer Vineyards in Riverhead last year, and Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck in 2017. The recent flurry of activity may represent a new chapter for the North Fork’s wine industry, which is relatively young, dating back only to the 1970s. Part of that is a shift from mainly family-run businesses to ones owned by local and even international investors, like the grape-growing Rivero-Gonzalez family of Mexico, who paid $15 million last year for Martha Clara, which was founded in 1995 by bakery mogul Robert Entenmann.

Just as home prices on the North Fork have risen over time, so has the price of a vineyard. In 1973, when Louisa and Alex Hargrave bought a 66-acre property in Cutchogue that was to become the Hargrave Vineyard, they paid $231,000. The Hargraves are now recognized for helping launch Long Island’s flourishing wine industry.

So who might want a vineyard on Long Island today? Mr. DePersia said it could range from a wine connoisseur to an investor group, or an individual in the hospitality industry, or someone who wants to work in agriculture. It could be anyone with a dream of doing something unusual.

Ms. Hargrave, of Jamesport, was just 25 when she and her then-27-year-old husband, Alex, followed their dreams and became winemaking pioneers, planting grapes on what had been a potato farm and cultivating a new regional industry. Of course, they couldn’t know that at the time. Nor did they know anything about farming.

Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, where Susan and Kip Bedell planted their first grapevines in 1980, is on the market for $17.9 million.CreditDead On Design

“It started out as a romantic idea, to have a life working together, raising a family,” said Ms. Hargrave, now 71 and working as a real estate broker. “We didn’t have a clue what we were doing.”

Luckily, a neighboring potato farmer named Mike Kaloski, who was known for experimenting with crops, offered to help. “He taught us to farm. He taught us to get out of bed early in the morning. He said, ‘You can’t be a farmer and be in bed!’” she recalled.

Viticulture — growing grapes — is “a hard business to be in. You’re farming, making a product,” said Pindar Damianos, 42, the youngest of five siblings who grew up working at their family’s Pindar Vineyards in Peconic. “It’s very labor intensive, so you have to have a passion for it.”

It’s also a year-round endeavor, requiring constant trimming and pruning, tying down vines, fixing trellises, and other endless tasks. Along with his siblings and their mother, Barbara, Mr. Damianos now runs the vineyard that his late father, Dan, founded in 1980, seven years after the Hargraves claimed their stake. (One of his siblings, Jason, has also passed away.)

The inexperienced young Hargraves eventually did make wine, and ultimately expanded Hargrave Vineyards to 84 acres. But in 1999, with a pending divorce, they sold to an Italian prince named Marco Borghese and his American wife, Ann Marie, for almost $4 million. The vineyard was renamed Castillo di Borghese. Both Borgheses died tragically in 2014, Ann Marie from cancer, Marco several days later in a car crash. One of their children, Giovanni, has taken over the business.


Louisa Hargrave, 71, is a Long Island wine-making pioneer. In 1973, she and her then-husband Alex founded Long Island’s very first vineyard on a potato farm in Cutchogue.CreditTara Striano for The New York Times

But as with any family business, children don’t always carry on their parents’ legacy. That’s the case with Bedell Cellars, which is why Mr. Lynne’s estate has put the vineyard on the market.

Similarly, after Robert Palmer, the founder of Palmer Vineyards in Riverhead, passed away in 2009, one of his three daughters, Kathy Le Morzellec, put the vineyard’s two properties up for sale, although they came on and off the market over the course of several years. It wasn’t until 2018 that their 60 acres under vine in Cutchogue, originally listed at $3.9 million, went to an undisclosed buyer for $1.245 million. The Palmer tasting room, inventory and vineyard in Aquebogue, originally listed at $6.9 million, sold to the Massoud family, owners of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, for $4.2 million.

That sale was a victim of the economy at the time. “In 2009 all real estate took a crash,” said Carol Szynaka, the East End sales manager at Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, who handled the sale with her partner Mariah Mills. “When things are robust, as in the past couple of years, you get more interest.”

Prices have since rebounded, but selling this type of real estate remains challenging because a vineyard is a business. “The balance sheet dictates the value of the sale, not necessarily the parcel of land,” Ms. Szynaka said.

There are some 2,000 acres devoted to growing grapes on Long Island — most of them on the North Fork, with more than 55 vineyards and wineries currently in operation. Collectively they produce an average of 500,000 cases of wine each year, according to Steve Bate, the acting executive director of the Long Island Wine Council, which supports the industry through marketing, advocacy and education.

That translates to about 1.2 million gallons of wine annually, said Kristen Jarnagin, chief executive of Discover Long Island, a tourism bureau. With nine million visitors a year — 1.3 million of them heading to wineries — “the winemaking industry contributes $250 million to the $5.9 billion tourism industry on Long Island,” Ms. Jarnagin said in an email.


The tasting room deck at Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue overlooks the vineyards. The tasting room sits over the barrel cellar.CreditTara Striano for The New York Times

“The North Fork is transitioning. We are no longer considered the other, less desirable fork,” Ms. Szynaka said. “Due to media coverage and the sale of some iconic properties, the North Fork is developing as a stand-alone destination location.”

But the wineries aren’t just drawing vacationers and day-trippers; they also seem to be attracting new settlers. “There’s a new appreciation for what’s out here,” said Ms. Hargrave, who works as an agent with Daniel Gale in Cutchogue.

“When we arrived on the North Fork, it was hardly a no-man’s land,” she said, but the sleepy agricultural region hadn’t experienced much change during the previous decades.

“There were some restaurants such as Claudio’s in Greenport and the Elbow Room in Jamesport,” Ms. Hargrave said. Cutchogue and Greenport had variety stores supplying farmers with necessities, and Mattituck had a Bohack’s grocery store, later replaced by A&P. “The hotel situation was dire,” she said. “The large tourist hotels that existed before the Depression had been shuttered or burned down.”

Now, among the farm stands, bait-and-tackle shops and hardware stores, a new level of sophistication has arrived. “There’s a whole culture here now that didn’t really exist when I came out here in 2003,” said Trent Preszler, chief executive of Bedell Cellars.

He pointed to new high-end hotels and restaurants run by New York City chefs. “I own a house in Mattituck, a few blocks away from Tom Colicchio,” Mr. Preszler said, adding that a few prominent artists, chefs and art gallery owners had also bought homes in the area.

Ms. Hargrave said that while there weren’t many vacant lots left for new home buyers, some families are buying existing cottages and ranches and adding second stories. They want the laid-back, rural lifestyle and sense of small-town community, along with a quick drive down the road for a glass of locally grown merlot or chardonnay.

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Published at Fri, 17 May 2019 21:43:42 +0000