The Chilean investors, who include Cesar Baeza, winemaker and part-owner of Brotherhood Winery in New York's Hudson Valley wine region, bought Laurel Lake Vineyards, a two-year-old winery that made 5,500 cases in the 1998 vintage. The winery, which owns 13 planted acres and holds other vineyard contracts, produces Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling and a rosi.
The primary investor is Francisco Gillmore, a prominent industrialist and owner of the boutique Gillmore wine brand; his winery has worked with Kendall-Jackson on its Chilean wines. Other partners include consulting enologist Alejandro Parot, who works with Spanish vintner Miguel Torres in Chile; Ricardo Poblete, president of the Carpe Diem brand in Chile's newly developed Itata region; and Juan Sepulveda, whose firm, Vinedos del Maule, sells and markets wines worldwide and will now represent Laurel Lake.
"They believe Long Island is what Napa Valley was in the 70s," said Baeza. He cited the region's proximity to the large New York City market, its Bordeaux-like climate, and its success with Merlot and Chardonnay, varietals that are widely planted in Chile, as the reasons for the group's interest. "They are looking heavily at the export market," Baeza added. "They want to set up a niche for something different. In Europe, they see too much of California, but they haven't seen much of Long Island."
The new owners are planning a Bordeaux-style blend as their signature wine. Baeza will handle the daily operations, but all the partners intend to contribute to the winemaking. They aim to produce 10,000 cases in the 1999 vintage and eventually expand to a maximum of 20,000 cases. "I'm very excited about working with this group," said Baeza. "They are bringing to New York an international flavor. It is going to be an important step in putting New York wines on the international market."
Others in the New York wine industry were pleased at the news. "I think [the purchase] shows how far Long Island has come in a short time," said James Trezise, executive director of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. "It also reflects the globalization of the wine industry, where American producers are investing in Chile and Chileans are investing in the U.S., which I think is good. I think this is just the beginning, not only for Long Island, but for other regions of New York state as well. It's a real welcome development."
Long Island winery owners who want to sell currently don't seem to have a problem finding buyers. Michael Lynne, the president and COO of New Line Cinema and an East Hampton homeowner, recently bought Corey Creek Vineyards for about $2 million, plus neighboring land not yet planted to grapes. Corey Creek consists of 30 acres of vineyards, without a winery, making the land worth roughly $65,000 per acre -- a new standard for Long Island.
Corey Creek, founded by Joel and Peggy Lauber, is planted primarily to Chardonnay, along with small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Gewurtraminer. The winery currently produces a Chardonnay, reserve Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a rosi. The Laubers still own their existing inventory, which consists of the 1997 and 1998 vintages. "We are going to be at the tasting room, selling the wine we made until they're gone, for the next two years," commented Joel Lauber.
Lynne will begin making wine under the Corey Creek name in the 1999 vintage. According to Lauber, Lenz Vineyard will manage the vineyards and its winemaker, Eric Frye, will most likely oversee the wines.
Other recent transactions include the sale of Peconic Bay Vineyards in Cutchogue in January. Among those reported to have bought vineyard land on the North Fork are Leslie Alexander, owner of the Houston Rockets basketball team, and Robert Entenmann, whose family founded the famous bakery. In addition, Hargrave Vineyards, which was put on the market last year, has attracted several interested parties, and owners Alex and Louisa Hargrave have reportedly been raising the price.
"I think it's exciting," Ursula Massoud, owner of Paumanok Vineyards on the North Fork, commented on the recent sale activity. "[The Chileans] are not the only foreigners interested in the region. I had heard that people from Australia had been looking around, and some Germans were looking at Hargrave." She added, "My understanding is that these people are not just buying trophies; they're committed to making quality wines. I heard that Michael Lynne also bought the potato fields next door to the winery, for example. They want to be major players."
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