Oh My Dear Paumanok
Winery and Vineyard Experience and Analysis
Benjamin Mendoza III
New York City College of Technology
Wine and Beverage Management
Professor Karen Goodlad, CSW
Oh My Dear Paumanok
Picking the vineyard and winery to visit was not that difficult as my first source is known to always have an opinion of the must see places regarding any genre. The New York Times article “Wineries’ Golden Haul” starts with Paumanok Vineyards and that was the main reason I picked them. After speaking with one of the sons of the owner, at the time unbeknownst to me, the deal was booked for a proprietor tour for Friday, May 3rd, 2013. Kareem kindly offered us a guided tour with winetasting by my heart was set on meeting the owner and helping out a local vineyard. The day for the tour came and onward I went with Jennifer Cortez, Ginnette Castillo, and my girlfriend. We all met up at Flushing, NY on Main Street and precede seventy plus miles on the Long Island Expressway followed by Old Country Road to Main Road and our final destination. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to investigate the vineyard and its staff on wine and knowledge there of such things related to wine. Is Paumanok Vineyards chance of validity as a world-renowned vineyard a reality or is it just smoke signals sent from an old Native American named business?
Paumanok Vineyards is a family-owned operation. Ursula Massoud was our proprietor tour guide and was very helpful with her information. She is the granddaughter of a vintner hailing from the Pfalz region in southern Germany along the French border from her mother’s side of the family. Ursula touts approximately 450 years of winemaking experienced blood running through her veins with a degree from Chestnut Hill College to boot (April Wine Dinner). You can find her on LinkedIn and the Paumanok Vineyards Facebook page.
Her husband, Charles Massoud, grew up in Lebanon and studied in Paris until he came to Philadelphia where he graduated with his MBA from the Wharton School. After some time in the Middle East, he returned to the U.S. and with importing in his blood, IBM, marketing, and Ursula by his side his adventure into the now North Fork AVA began approximately thirty years ago (April Wine Dinner). He does speeches and is also on LinkedIn, as well as, Facebook and Forbes.com.
They had three sons who all work at the vineyard. Salim Massoud works on the vineyard helping out and dealing with the day to day issues and seems to be the most private of the brothers or so his Facebook shows. Nabeel Massoud has been working on the vineyard since 2002 and is the Manager of the establishment. He studied at Sterling College in Vermont and is on Facebook. Kareem Massoud comes across as the spokesmen and winemaker of the vineyard and has his named mention with everything dealing with the vineyard. He personally took my call and booked our tour. You can also find interviews of his on YouTube and numerous articles talking about viniculture and innovative sciences that are helping vineyards like solar panels. The three sons are all over social media and anything that has to do with the vineyard which makes their parents very happy and proud.
The vineyard was a potato farm until 1983 when Charles and Ursula bought the farm and began converting it. The name was taken from a Walt Whitman poem which was part of Ursula’s studies of Native Americans in a college course (Starting From Paumanok). It is comprised of several small barn-like buildings that contain the winery, green grass event space, a patio with tables seats, tasting area with a bar set-up, and a beautiful gravel driveway with signage promoting Paumanok all over the place. It is very intimate and home-like, the way a family-owned business should be.
During the tour much was said about the soil. In the North Fork Region due to glaciers the soil is much like that of Oregon which is sandy and absorbent. Ursula says, “What makes the soil so special is that it is a well-draining soil and this prevents flood pockets.” The climate was also valued as Ursula mentions, “The micro-climate is suitable for growing grapes of a European variety, which helps the soil retain heat in the winter. She talks about the change of seasons and implies that, “During the growing and harvesting seasons the cool grape growing maritime helps especially with their red wines that have many similarities to Bordeaux’s.” She finishes with, “The grapes are happy here.” We were able to witness an early bud break which Kareem explains, “Is not a bad thing generally unless there is a frost. He continues by saying, “Not all is lost if this occurs because a new batch will grow but the quality will suffer.” Ursula quotes her husband by saying, “Charles always says that the most important and unpredictable partner is Mother Nature.” She adds, “That in the beginning they didn’t know what they were doing” and again quoted her husband by saying, “We made a lot of bad wine back then.” In particular she recalls a 1989 fermented Chardonnay and an article about it in the Wall Street Journal.
I must admit that the location of the vineyard seems like prime real estate. Located on 1074 Main Road in Aquebogue, NY or as us Brooklynites like to call it “the middle of nowhere”, even Ursula herself was taken-back by how far from the city the vineyard was back in 1983 and remembers when she said, “These people must be crazy, to want to grow grapes out here” back around 1978 when it was first suggest. Nonetheless thirty years after purchasing the land and expanding on the property Paumanok Vineyards is on the rise as well as the North Fork AVA.
In 2009, solar panels came on to the property (Paumanok Vineyards: Going Solar, 2009). The barn has been renovated many times and expanded upon but the newest technological innovations are the weather station and solar panels on winery. These items help the vineyard tremendously. In a video, Hakeem gives mention to the future possibility of the vineyard becoming a self-sustaining business in part to the funding provided for the solar panels.
The grapes are grown within view of first stepping into the property. The vitis vinifera species is grown on the vineyard and through their viniculture produces some of the most aromatic Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, the only producer of Chenin Blanc in the region, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot that I have ever had the pleasure of smelling.
Kareem’s approach to agriculture comes with some hand picking, as well as, harvesting machines that are used to safely remove the grapes. During harvest nets are used to protect the grapes from being poached by birds. Noble rot is not preferred but if a substantial amount is available to be controlled then a late harvest will be done making the grapes extra sweet. Ursula mentions that, “Sometime after the bud break stage some vines are cut off to control the amount of grapes and help produce a superior batch.”
In their vinification practices they mostly stainless steel tanks are used, but sometimes oaked barrels are used as well in particular for the oaked Chardonnay and red blend. At first the grapes where sent to another location to become wine and brought back bottled, but after a couple of expansions the wine is made right on the property. No product is ever bottled out of oak which helps with Paumanok’s unique clean and crisp taste. Ursula pointed that out as we made our way to the winery and pasted the huge stainless steel presser and oaked barrels which cost about $800 each. She says, “No wine is bottled without a hose, to keep out as much unwanted contamination as possible. After the wines are bottled they have to be labeled and with the recent support of New York restaurants, Paumanok reportedly makes anywhere from one to five million dollars. They even go the extra mile for clients by placing personalized labels for establishments that wish to have that extra bit of flair. The bottles are shipped to over five hundred different distributors in the Tri-State area, five places in Chicago, and one in Aruba (Paumanok.com). The bottles are also known for their screw caps which Ursula says, “They prevent corking and keep the wine fresh for longer.”
The knowledge of tasting room personnel was exceptional. It was mostly slow and then around three o’clock people came out of nowhere. With their short staff things got very busy, but their hospitality techniques and knowledge of their product was flawless. We had the distinct pleasure of having Ursula pour us the wine. Her pouring technique had us amazed as she never dripped the wine until seventh bottle was poured. We tasted nine wines in total as a group; I was able to taste the Vin Rose because I was buying it. At first, I just wanted the bottle from the description the cashier/wine server gave, but before I could get my credit card out, an ounce was already poured and it tasted like a sweeter version of the Dry Rose. There is also a ton of material related to the wine indoor were we sat, but the patio was also a very charming place to drink wine.
The friendly, easy going, very scenic, easy to navigate, hard to miss environment is a great change from the city and suits those who look to get away from city life very well. The only weakness I see is that with Generation X aging and the Millennial’s picking up on the trends of their predecessors, the vineyard may have a problem with what I believe will be an explosion of wine drinkers from New York, if just one local celebrity picks up one of Paumanok’s great wines. I can easily see Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter supporting this winery and with his influence and maturity, tsunami-like wave of people would swing by the vineyard. As these two generations age, the vineyard is going to seriously have to think about expanding its visiting grounds and having access control measures in place something I would enjoy being a part of maybe someday in the future.
After all was said and done, our trip to the winery answered many questions and left us wondering about the future of the vineyard as bigger predicted demands of wine occur. One thing for sure is that the Massoud family, one of the original twelve grape farmers of the North Fork AVA and one of the last three remaining original owners, seems in great and capable hands as the business is passing down a generation and hopefully many more to come. Paumanok Vineyards has made a long journey from the 1983 purchase, to their first wine in 1989 and official debut in 1993, but are they world-renowned? Well according to a book one of the bottles is a must drink before dying and reads, “…the greatest wines of Long Island are consistently the Paumanok Grand Vintage Cabernet Sauvignons (1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die).” Quite frankly, I do not see a ceiling for the vineyard as of yet and I do not think there ever will be one. They continue win acclaim and competitions like the New York Food and Wine Classic (Wineries’ Golden Haul). My experience was amazing and if this is the level of service and quality wine to be maintained; they should have no problem becoming world renowned and recognized in both the old and new world of wines. Pictures of my experience can be found on YouTube at http://youtu.be/fbWURh-9Rzk.
April Wine Dinner. (2012). Retrieved May 7, 2013, from M.I.T. Alumni Association: http://longisland.alumclub.mit.edu/s/1314/clubs-classes-interior.aspx?sid=1314&gid=192&pgid=7578&cid=14436&ecid=14436&ciid=29490&crid=0
Beckett, N. (2008). 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die. (N. Beckett, & J. Gaudet, Eds.) New York, New York, United States of America: Universe Publishing. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from http://www.amazon.com/1001-Wines-Must-Taste-Before/dp/0789316838
Goldberg, H. G. (2012, August 26). Wineries’ Golden Haul. New York Times, L19. Retrieved May 7, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/nyregion/long-island-wines-win-prizes-at-ny-wine-and-food-classic.html?_r=1&
Massoud, K. (2009, October 22). Paumanok Vineyards: Going Solar. (E. Schultz, Interviewer) YouTube. STimesNews, New York. Retrieved May 7, 2013, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW8T5TzQ5g8
Paumanok.com, 2013. (n.d.). Retrieved May 5, 2013, from Paumanok: www.paumanok.com
Whitman, W. (2007). Starting From Paumanok. In W. Whitman, Leaves of Grass (First Edition ed.). Radford, Virginia, United States of America: Wilder Publications. Retrieved May 7, 2013