On the North Fork, family and heritage grow on the vine at Pindar Vineyards.
Perhaps the premier name in Long Island Wine Country, Pindar Vineyards has been a family affair for 40 years, lifting the spirit of North Fork residents and visitors alike. The Damianos Family started Pindar Vineyards with an idea and has turned it into an institution — one that was awarded this month with the coveted Governor’s Cup in the New York Wine Classic.
Leading Suffolk County’s thriving wine country is no small feat. It is little-known that Suffolk routinely leads the state in agricultural production, with wine being one of the region’s top exports.
Pindar Damianos, the vineyard’s namesake, is the general manager of the family-owned-and-operated winery. Under his leadership, the vineyard has been able to expand to national notoriety for its 23 varietals and proprietary blends. Each year, the vineyard produces approximately 70,000 cases of wine, and shipped to be sold and enjoyed from the shores of the East End to across 40 states.
The visionary behind Pindar Vineyard was Dr. Herodotus “Dan” Damianos, Pindar’s father, whose inspiration laid the foundation for the winery today. Dr. Damianos planted the first vines, with a goal of running a family-first operation. His care and compassion for the craft continues to be the lifeblood of the workmanship that is making wine — especially for Pindar.
“My dad was a pioneer of the Long Island Wine industry,” said Pindar, noted that the family remains the core inspiration at Pindar Vineyard. “He had visions in the late ’70s that LI could be an award-winning wine region and he took that leap of faith planting the first vines where the vineyard is now. We lost our father in 2014, and the Damiano’s Family continues to keep the wine industry going — and our success continues to be a tribute to his vision. The Governor’s Cup is an amazing way to come full circle with the wines made in his honor getting the top honors.”
The coronavirus pandemic and New York State restrictions impacted the Pindar operation. Like every business across the country, there were new hurdles to be overcome, new obstacles and challenges to be addressed in keeping people safe.
What we all know, though, is that many on Long Island’s East End were able to survive and thrive in the pandemic, given that our beautiful Forks and quaint villages became a more full-time home for city dwellers who sought the space and freedom past the Long Island Expressway’s end.
“Even though we were shuttered from March to June, a lot of the business went online,” Pindar said. “Then, we saw growth in our distribution. People were buying more local, supporting local. There was a local movement, and we saw a lot of growth in that aspect.
When they reopened the doors and the tasting room, they were able to spread out tables across the property.
“Our goal was to make people feel comfortable with social distancing,” he said. “In July, people were wanting to come out and enjoy life again — safely — and we did that at the winery. Our vineyard and our product made people feel comfortable and feel safe, at the same time. Long Islanders were looking for places to travel, and the East End was the place to go.”
But, the craft and the trade stayed the same, and with the Governor’s Cup recognition for excellent wine, it seems like the fruits of Pindar’s labor might just be better than ever.
“All of the credit needs to go to the team — it is a complete team effort,” Pindar added. “It starts in the vineyard with the vineyard manager, to our winemaking staff, our head winemaker Erik Bilka, to our tasting room staff, and our sales force that sells the wine in the market. This was the first time we ever made a stand-alone Gewurztraminer. 2019 was an exceptional grape harvest and our head winemaker wanted the opportunity to come out with this wine, and put it out beneath the Dr. Dan label.
“We thought it would be a beautiful wine that would honor my dad — to end up winning the Platinum and the Governor’s Cup, with a wine that was made for the first time this year… We knew that it was the perfect culmination,” Pindar continued.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the 2019 Dr. Dan’s Signature Collection the State’s best white wine and Pindar Vineyards the “showcase” wine destination in the State of New York.
The North Fork’s “Napa Valley” and its capital at Pindar Vineyards can only go so far as the support they get from residents and restaurants on the East End. To the Damianos Family, the vineyard is nothing without the community who put them on the map. Pindar is available in hundreds of restaurants across Long Island and the country.
“This is a combination of everyone — our customers are everything,” Pindar said. “When you come to Pindar Vineyards, you are treated like family and that is why Pindar is so iconic in New York State and you see it in respect and loyalty to our brand. When you think of the wine industry on Long Island. This is why you think of Pindar.”
“There is another generation after this that loves the wine industry – they share the love that my father instilled in us,” he added. “When my father was starting the winery, he was a trailblazer. Today, it’s different — me, in my 40s — it’s an established field, but we are still nurturing and innovating the movement and legacy of my father. I think that he would be proud of that, be innovative, and keep to the traditions, but add the next generation’s influence into our wine and East End Wine Country.”
“The Damianos family has recently seen loss — we lost our dad and lost my brother Jason,” he continued. “Jason was a trailblazer too, who brought different winemaking techniques to Long Island as well. This operation is a great way to honor our two family members — but this humbles us, keeps us grounded, and our work honors my father and my brother.”
There’s an old expression in winemaking that wine is “sunshine held together by water.” I can think of no more fitting expression for an East End product, especially because our community is just as much sunshine, held together by water, and the “salt of the Earth” people that call our oasis, home, and frequent the North Fork.
Congratulations to Pindar Vineyards, the 2021 Governor’s Cup Award Winner for White Wine, and Pindar Damianos, the keeper of the cork.