The History of Winemaking on the Hamptons
The beginning of winemaking in the Hamptons was filled with promise, ardor, and failure. Winemaking on the Hamptons started early in the history of winemaking on Long Island. It seemed a natural place to begin to grow grapes and make them into wine. The area already had an agricultural tradition and it seemed to have a built in market with the annual pilgrimage of the rich and famous to their country, summer, and seaside homes along the Atlantic beaches. The first winery on the South Fork of Long Island was the third winery on the Island, founded only a few years after the Hargraves bottled their first wines in Cutchogue on the North Fork. The initial efforts seemed to hold great promise with fine products, important awards, and critical recognition.
The first winery on the South Fork was the Bridgehampton Winery. The winery was founded by Lyle Greenfield who owned a company in Manhattan that wrote jingles for television and radio commercials. Although hardly a wine professional he went ahead in 1979 and founded the Bridgehampton Winery. Being the third winery on the East End of Long Island winemaking was hardly an assured thing. Bridgehampton Winery represented both an agricultural and financial risk in the investment in land, vines, and facilities on an untried region. To frame the situation: at that time, in Cutchogue,
the Hargraves – the first winemakers on Long Island - had been making wine only for a few years and Dr. Herodotus Damianos had just started what would become the largest winemaker on the Island, that is Pindar Vineyards in Peconic on the North Fork. There was little experience or direct viticultural knowledge in the region. These winemakers were pioneers and often amateurs, figuring out the business by reading books, asking Cornell for guidance, and trial and error.
Greenfield hired a young Richard Olsen-Harbich in 1983. Olsen-Harbich cut his teeth in the wine business at the now venerable Mudd Vineyards on the North Fork, learning the art of growing high quality grapes in the vineyard. As a newly minted Cornell University graduate Greenfield appointed him vineyard manager at Bridgehampton. Olsen-Harbich would go on to become one the region’s most accomplished winemakers, and Bridgehampton would allow him to begin this processes. He lived on the estate with his young family and poured heart and soul into the land and the vines.
For many years Bridgehampton Winery seemed to defy the odds and appeared to be a success. They garnered more than 150 medals from wine competitions. They were named
in 1990 to the Wine Spectator’s prestigious Top 100 for their 1988 Chardonnay Long Island Grand Vineyard Selection The wine received a 91 rating and was ranked 77 for wines released that year. For the 1990 list the top wine was Beringer’s Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve 1986. being named to Wine Spectator’s top
wines of the year was an impressive accomplishment for a winery of less than ten years and from a region still a teenager at seventeen.
Mr. Greenfield, like many pioneers in Long Island winemaking, was very much a novice. He had much to learn and was willing to learn by experiment. One of the largest problems that Bridgehampton Winery experienced was that land choices for the vineyards were not good. The vineyards suffered from poor drainage and the selection of low lying land was prone to frost. Eventually, poor land, weather, and lack of experience caught up with Bridgehampton. In attempt to save first the business and then the brand they took on a series of financial deals that did not succeed. The Lenz Winery from the North Fork made an attempt to continue to produce Bridgehampton wines by vinifying in their own facilities but it was too late to save the estate. There remains a vestige of the winery in the form of an ancient Bridgehampton Winery sign in the storeroom at Channing Daughters.
Le Reve Winery
The Le Reve Winery was situated in Water Mill right on the Montauk Highway. A better location couldn’t have been selected for business reasons. Right on the main drag, just outside of Southhampton and on the way out to the point, it seemed to guarantee a steady traffic of weekenders and vacationers on their way to their beach homes.
Alan Barr was a construction company owner with dreams and a passion to make wine. Through his business activities he became successful enough to create the Le Reve Winery. The term “Le Reve” is French for “the dream” and this was truly a dream for Mr. Barr. He saw a great potential for the East End of Long Island to become like Napa with both large scale producers as well as small artisanal wineries. The Le Reve winery was created and designed to be a quality producer of wines at larger quantities. To express the ambition for the winery and the region Barr created a large brick and stone Norman style tasting room and winery. Surrounded by a large
estate of vineyards main building sported a stunning copper roof that expressed
his visions for the winery and the region.
Le Reve, like its cousin Bridgehampton Winery, was capable of producing quite good wines. They won the Governor’s Cup in 1989 for its 1987 Merlot. Unfortunately, Barr was unable to achieve his dreams and, like his neighbor down the road, Le Reve succumbed to inexperience and the risk of being a pioneer in a nascent wine growing region. The winery became overextended and ended up in bankruptcy. The estate was taken over by the primary creditor, Barclays Bank. The bank attempted to operate the estate
while searching for a buyer with dubious success. They changed the name to Southampton Winery but despite the new moniker they proved less capable than Barr to run and maintain a winery.
Then Next Generation of Hamptons Winemakers
The pioneering wineries on Hamptons are no longer extant. Despite the early enthusiasm and drive the problem of inexperience was too much to overcome. As such a new generation
came to the hamptons with better resources and informed by their predecessor’s lessons
learned. Two of the three now existing wineries are owned by people that made fortunes in other pursuits. Channing Daughters and Wolffer Estates were founded by Walter Channing and Christian Wolffer, respectively. Channing is a venture capitalist and artist that purchased his Bridgehampton estate in the 1980’s. Wolffer was a chemical industry executive, real estate tycoon, and venture capitalist who purchased a Hamptons potato farm as a weekend getaway.
The third winery, Duckwalk, which began its life as Le Reve, is the southern extension of Pindar Vineyards, the largest winemaker on Long Island. Le Reve was purchased out of bankruptcy, by the Damianos family and rehabilitated from the neglect that the farm had experienced while under operation in bankruptcy. Although Duckwalk has extensive land under vine most of the grapes for its wines now come from the North Fork.