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Kareem Massoud, President of Long Island Wine Country, Talks Region’s Vineyard Business

long island wine country
Kareem Massoud, winemaker at Paumanok and Palmer Vineyards (Courtesy Paumanok and Palmer Vineyards)

Kareem Massoud, winemaker at Paumanok and Palmer Vineyards, and president of Long Island Wine Country, formerly known as the Long Island Wine Council, talked with the Long Island Press about what’s new in Long Island wines and vineyards.

What is Long Island Wine Country – not the group, but the region? Long Island Wine Country includes the Long Island wine region, as defined by the American Viticultural Areas also known as AVAs. This is the American equivalent of the European wine appellation laws. 

What does that mean for the region? This is a federally recognized wine-producing region and you can use that appellation on your label. All the wines from Paumanok and Palmer bear the appellation North Fork of Long Island. What’s meaningful about that to a consumer who knows about it is that the grapes used to make that wine have to be 75 percent within that appellation. You know the fruit is coming from that region, as opposed to Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley.

What makes Long Island suited to making wine? We’re an island, surrounded by water. We have the Long Island Sound, the Peconic Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean, which yield a maritime climate. That moderates the temperature in the winter and the summer. The soil is the other key part, the climate and the human element, in having wine happen. Humans make wine. What’s special about Long Island soil is its very well-draining nature, due to the fact that Long Island was created during the last ice age. When the glaciers receded, they left primarily sand. A lot of our topsoils are sandy loam and sandy, gravelly subsoils. You can’t beat that for drainage. Grapevines need to be well drained.

Does Long Island wine have a reputation? And who wants Long Island wine? Long Island has a reputation as a world-class producer of fine wine. There’s a reason you find Long Island wine at the best restaurants of Long Island and New York City. They want the best wines on their list that complement their cuisine.

Are there specific contests or examples of Long Island wines showing they’re world class? There are all kinds of examples. I think the best is New York City, in our backyard. They have some of the best restaurants in the world. They don’t need to pour our wines because we’re nearby. They pour them because they’re excellent wines that go well with their food.

How did the pandemic impact the industry and events? Counterintuitively, I never would have guessed it would be good for business. Ultimately, the pandemic has been mostly good for most Long Island wineries. Most of us have seen traffic increase. A lot of that has to do with the fact that a lot of New Yorkers moved east to the East End. They aren’t here just in the summer. They’re here year-round, plus you have the ones here in the summer.

As the pandemic receded, how did that impact the region? When we reopened after the pandemic, people weren’t really traveling, but they were driving here. We were extremely busy. That momentum hasn’t abated. It’s an exciting time once you get past the tragedy of the pandemic.

What are the main things going on in June in terms of wine and vineyards? June is an important month in vineyards, where the vines are grown. By June the vines are in full bloom, where there are flowers that ultimately become grapes. And it’s a nice month to be out here. It’s the longest days of the year. You have spectacular vistas. Wineries on our website liwines.com are one resource to find out what’s going on.

What’s happening with events at vineyards? That’s back in full swing, weddings and private events. I think there’s pent-up demand. People are booking them left and right. I’ve heard most wineries are busy with regular tasting room and event business.

Is it easier for vineyards to ship wine than prepandemic? In today’s world, most wineries can ship around the country. Many wineries can ship to at least a few states without a problem and other states require more work. It’s like dealing with 50 countries when it comes to alcohol.

How important are wine clubs to your business? Wine clubs are very important to most small wineries. It’s a more intimate connection with the winery for customers who want that. It’s a great way to build your brand and strengthen your customer base. And from a business point of view, if you produce a certain amount of wine every year, it’s like an annuity.

What’s new in terms of delivery? Trellus is a new option. We have it on our website for people. It provides the option for same-day delivery. Trellus offers a fulfillment platform with a network of drivers who pick up your order from the winery and deliver it to the customer with same-day delivery.

What’s new in terms of technology? There are new things, whether it’s machines or processes being developed. On the near horizon, we ordered a couple of electric tractors at Paumanok. They’re going to be fully autonomous. There’s a machine that bathes the grapevine in ultraviolet light to kill mildew. People are testing it out. That could reduce or eliminate the need for certain pesticides. That would be revolutionary.

Are you approaching a big anniversary for the region? Next year is the 50th anniversary of Long Island Wine Country. In 1973, Alex and Louisa Hargrave planted their first grapevines. We’re planning a series of events to celebrate that anniversary.

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