For most people, the North Fork wine region is an experience. You drive out for the day, jumping from winery to winery sipping and munching on what they have to offer and taking in the glorious views of their vines.
But a select group of labels based on the North Fork can’t be found in a tasting room. Some don’t even have a storefront open to the public. Instead, their focus is solely on the wine, distributed through local restaurants and liquor stores.
When husband and wife team Juan and Bridget Micieli-Martinez started their label, Montauk Daisy, in December 2020, they had no intention of having a traditional tasting room. Because the label is so young, for now, they only sell online, but hope to expand into restaurants and local liquor stores soon.
Numerous North Fork wineries have moved to reservation-only tastings, and Roanoke Vineyards in Riverhead limits visits only to members. But the Micieli-Martinezes would go even further: Their dream for Montauk Daisy is to have a private space not for tastings, but instead for special educational wine events.
“I always liked the idea of knowing who was coming along,” said Juan Micieli-Martinez, who worked for 10 years as the winemaker and general manager at Martha Clara Vineyard before it was sold to RGNY in 2018. “So, long term, we’d love to add something where we’re by appointment only, but not necessarily a tasting room that’s just open to the public.”
Having such a small-scale production helps preserve the integrity of the experience and keep it educational, added Bridget Micieli-Martinez, who previously worked at Martha Clara and Pellegrini Vineyards and is a certified sommelier. The pair “are wine enthusiasts,” she said. “We travel for wine, we drink wine, we discuss wine, we study wine. It’s really exciting for us, and we want to pass that on.”
Erik Bilka, who works full time for Pindar Vineyards as the winemaker, launched his own Influence Wines label more than a decade ago.
Like many winemakers who fall into this category, he works for another winery but wanted the freedom to be able to produce something that he has complete control over. In his case, that meant experimenting with a favorite grape. “I like malbec and think it’s more interesting than just a big wine from South America,” he said. “It can be a really floral delicate wine, and that’s the way I produce it. So I’ve always had a lot of faithful followers of that.”
For John Leo, a winemaker at Premium Wine Group who founded his own label, Leo Family Wines, “the idea was to keep it small and focused just on one wine.” The label produces a single red blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, petite verdot, malbec and syrah.
“My purpose was to make a wine that I felt really good about drinking and sharing with friends,” said Leo, who also has a hand in the wine of Clovis Point as well as Onabay Vineyards, another tasting-room-free winery run by Brad and Francesca Anderson out of their bayfront farm. “It’s really about trying to impress people and surprise people with how good the wines can be out here.”
Some years that happens, but when it doesn’t, when Leo feels like the wine doesn’t expand the reach of the region, he doesn’t bottle it for Leo Family Wines, but instead sells it off in bulk to other wineries. In the 20 years of his side venture, he has only bottled six of his vintages, 2019 being the most recent.
“I have to objectively taste it and ask how good it is,” Leo said. “Is it good enough to put a label on? It allows me to be more honest about what I’m doing and when it doesn’t work out the way I was hoping. And if I have a year that it’s not that great, I do take a loss.”
Owners of these small labels say the upsides of their pared-down business model are more than worth the trade-offs. “When you have a tasting room, it’s definitely a lot of preparation for the unknown,” said Juan Micieli-Martinez. “You’re reacting to what happens. Whereas, if you don’t have the physical space, you can focus on the wine. It is all about the wine, not so much about the facility. And [customers] will seek you to seek your wine.”
WHERE TO FIND THE WINES
Leo Family Wines: Vintage Mattituck, One Kourt Studio in Greenport
Montauk Daisy: Online at montaukdaisy.com
Onabay Vineyards: Vintage Mattituck, Showcase Wine and Liquor in Southold
Rockwell Wines: Vintage Mattituck
Surrey Lane Vineyard: From their farm stand at 46975 Main Road in Southold