Petrocelli has poured about $6 million into the winery and vineyards so far. The Raphael team includes two veterans of the Long Island wine industry: vineyard manager Stephen Mudd and winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich, who has worked for Long Island's Bridgehampton, Hargrave and Jamesport wineries. In addition, Bordeaux winemaker Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux, who has been a consultant for Raphael since 1997, has been involved in the winery design and vineyard planning.
"Concentrating on one variety has allowed us to develop a structure and winemaking operation specifically for that variety," said Olsen-Harbich, adding that after 25 years of growing European grape varieties on Long Island, Merlot has proven to be the most successful. He explained that he and Pontallier want to adapt Bordeaux practices--including hand-picking the entire crop and keeping yields in line with first-growth Bordeaux guidelines--to create a fruit-driven wine.
The 15,000-square-foot winery is modeled after a Bordeaux chateau, with a temperature-controlled underground cellar. The facility is designed to use many gravity-flow production techniques, old-fashioned methods that are believed to be gentler and result in smoother wines than are produced by machine-handling.
All the grapes for Raphael wine will be grown on the estate. Petrocelli owns 70 acres of vineyard land in Peconic, which he began developing in spring 1997; 40 acres are now planted to Bordeaux varieties, predominantly Merlot. The winery plans to harvest its first crop from the estate this year. The production area should be completed by that time, said Olsen-Harbich, though the winery won't be open to the public for at least another year.
Olsen-Harbich and Pontallier have already produced two Raphael Merlots, made from grapes grown by Mudd on his vineyard in Southold and vinified at neighboring Pellegrini Vineyards. The 1997, of which 350 cases were made, will be released late this year or early 2000. Up to 1,000 cases of the 1998 are expected to be produced.
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