The New Vineyard Owners of the North Fork Wine Trail

north fork wine
RGNY CEO Maria Rivero González at RGNY. (Estefany Molina)

In addition to owning about 100 acres of vineyards in Mexico, the Rivero-González family recently expanded their holdings to Long Island’s North Fork. The family, which owns RGMX in Parras, Mexico, bought Martha Clara Vineyards for $15 million in 2018 and rebranded it as RGNY.

They now own about 205 acres on the North Fork, including about 90 with vineyards that they use to produce about 70,000 bottles of wine annually in addition to wine in cans, providing an even more portable, potable option.

RGMX and RGNY CEO Maria Rivero González studied at Columbia University for a little under two years but her connection to New York soon went beyond the Big Apple to, well, grapevines.

Her family wanted to expand the business: When they heard Martha Clara was for sale, they found what they believed was a good deal and a good business.

“I came and I saw. I immediately fell in love with the North Fork. The grapes are amazing, the location is perfect,” Rivero González said. “The market is really close and the quality of the grapes [is very good].”

In recent years, many people have been moving East full time as the phrase “Go West” meets an equally persuasive and pervasive “Go East” variation. From Mexico to Manhattan, wealthy families are buying vineyards.

“There’s new ownership, new talent in the form of new winemakers and vineyard managers,” said Kareem Massoud, head of Long Island Wine Country, an association of local vineyards and winemakers. “All these new players are committed to quality, like the people who went before them.”

ABC News legal analyst and NewsNation host Dan Abrams, who has a home in the Hamptons, decided to mix business with pleasure when he acquired Laurel Lake Vineyards and rebranded it as Ev&Em, named for his children Everett and Emilia. He partnered with Vanessa Price, who writes for New York magazine and other publications.

“I hope that maybe when my kids are grown they’ll be a little more incentivized to take care of, and pride in, the wines that bear their names,” Abrams said earlier in a written statement.

Randy Frankel, a former Goldman Sachs managing director, bought Shinn Estate Vineyards, in Mattituck, which recently rebranded as Rose Hill Vineyards, and is a partner at Croteaux Vineyards. His daughter Chelsea Frankel runs Rose Hill and his daughter Amanda Frankel runs Croteaux, in Southold.

“Rose Hill is where we first planted our roots in New York,” co-owners Randy and Barbara Frankel said in a press release, “And where we ultimately fell in love with the East End.”

Meanwhile, Stefan Soloviev, owner of agribusiness Crossroads Agriculture, and his ex-wife Stacey Soloviev acquired Peconic Bay, which she now runs. 

“He owns a lot of farms, not just on the North Fork, but the Hamptons,” Massoud said of holdings that stretch far beyond New York.

Why this interest in wines? The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 3, 2022 online ran an article titled “Millionaires’ hottest new status symbol? A vineyard on Long Island.” Status symbol or not, vineyards are attracting new owners.

“I think the North Fork is trending. Owning a winery sounds more glamorous than the work you need to put into it. Everyone loves wine,” Rivero González said. “Wine brings people together. After the pandemic, people value being with the people they love and being outside.”

Vineyards have changed hands and names before. Hargrave Vineyards became Castello di Borghese, while many vineyards changed owners but retained their names, such as Palmer Vineyards, Lenz Winery, and Bedell Cellars. Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard was sold in 2020, but didn’t change its name.

“We’re talking about new ownership with deep pockets. That means they have the ability to revamp their physical plant, buildings,” Massoud said of many new owners. “That’s ultimately not just good for them, but our whole region.”

The Massoud family acquired its second vineyard, Palmer, in 2018, as a local vineyard owner acquired another property. “You could say we’re part of the new wave of owners in one sense. It was an acquisition from within,” Massoud said. “That demonstrated our confidence in the region. We doubled down.”

He said they’re not changing the Palmer name, although they are investing in the vineyard. “We tried to keep things steady,” Massoud continued. “Palmer has its own following. It was already producing quality wines. We’re trying to raise that quality even higher.”

Long Island is preparing to celebrate 50 years of winemaking, since Alex and Louisa Hargrave started it all in 1973 with Hargrave, later sold to the Borghese family. It’s heading into the second half-century with some new owners who navigated through the onset of the pandemic.

“We were a new brand. We launched one month before, so no one knew our brands,” Rivero González said of launching as the pandemic hit. “Restaurants were closed.”

RGNY rebranded, remodeled the tasting room and bought new equipment and materials, including French oak barrels, bringing in its own winemaker and then appointing a new one.

RGNY, which has wines available in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, California and Mexico, won a gold medal in Europe in the 2021 Decanter World Wine Awards competition for a 2019 sauvignon blanc-semillon blend. 

“This year we’re opening the winemaker experience,” Rivero González said. “You try wines out of the barrel and you get more explanation with the winemaker.”

In addition to growing grapes, Rivero González said her family hopes to develop portions of the property in other ways.

“We do have development rights. We are working on a development, high-end residential,” she said. “We’re going very slowly.”

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