Everything about Paumanok Vineyards is impressive. Paumanok, owned by the Massoud family, is a winery that owns all of their vineyards, and estate bottles all of their wines. This is an important element of the process, because it enables them to control the grape growing from beginning to harvest, and then oversee all cellar practices. They are impressive, not in the flashy manner that many wineries grab attention with, but with an understated, consistent, and thoughtful manner they pursue their passion. Somehow, wines seem to follow the personalities of the people who make them. The resulting wines stand with the best Long Island has to offer, and amongst the finest in the US.
Kareem Massoud, who is the winemaker and oversees the sales and marketing, speaks of how his parents chose the spot that would become their winery in 1983.
"My parents, Charles and Ursula Massoud, after having completed a search in the tri-state area around New York City where we lived, concluded the North Fork of Long Island's maritime climate, incredibly well draining soils and long growing season offered the best potential terroir for winegrowing in the region. They started by planting varieties they liked to drink, and that they thought would do well here; Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Eventually, Chenin Blanc and Petit Verdot would be added."
What was the Long Island wine scene like at that time?
"In 1983, I was 10 years old. There were only a dozen other vineyards at the time, and everyone knew one another. There was a common feeling that we were all in this together and that in order for this to work, it made more sense to function as an extended family and share ideas to promote the growth and recognition of the region as a whole rather than one rival seeking to out do the other. That spirit persists to this day."
Have your parents passed along their vision to you and your brothers, and has their vision for the winery changed? Or, has yours?
"From day one, my parents recognized that Long Island would never be a wine district that could compete on price in the global marketplace. They knew that in order to develop a successful winery; they had to compete on quality. And so they set out to plant a vineyard and build a winery always opting in favor of quality whenever the numerous quality versus quantity trade offs in viticulture and vinification presented themselves. This philosophy continues to guide our winegrowing operation today.
What are the roles your parents, you, and your brothers perform at the winery currently?
"My parents remain full time, hands on, owner-operators. My father oversees every aspect of the business; viticulture, winemaking, sales and marketing, and accounting. My mother is involved in viticulture and winemaking in addition to running our tasting room and hospitality at Paumanok. My brother Nabeel works in the vineyard, working with our vineyard crew and operating and maintaining all of our vineyard equipment. My brother Salim works in the tasting room, accounting, deliveries, lab work and cellar work. I work as our winemaker in the cellar as well as carrying out my sales and marketing responsibilities for the tasting room and for our wholesale business."
Please address some of the negative stereotypes of Long Island wines; first that they are one dimensional, and secondly they are not good value.
"Long Island is not unlike any other wine district around the world. Every region can be viewed as a pyramid of quality. There are a handful of top producers making outstanding wines. There is a second tier of producers doing terrific work. The rest varies in quality. The difference with Long Island is that our wine district is located within the New York metro market. This is a double edged sword. On one hand it gives us great exposure, access and visibility to one of the world's most sophisticated wine markets. On the other, the entire spectrum of wines in the quality pyramid are shown to that audience. Wine lovers who seek out Long Island wines will find red, white, and rose wines, sparkling and dessert wines; that offer moderate alcohol, balance, and authenticity. These are delicious wines that should be enjoyed with the local gastronomy as they are in wine regions the world over.
In blind tasting after blind tasting, Long Island wines continue to dispel the myth that they do not offer good value. There has been an image problem with Long Island wines attributable to the quality pyramid and our unique proximity to NYC as I previously described. Over time, this perception is dissolving as consumers are discovering that not only are Long Island wines capable of being excellent values, they may be the best choice for a given meal or celebration regardless of the wine's origin. This reality is not lost on wine critics either. Two of the industry's most important publications; Wine Advocate (Robert Parker) and Wine Spectator have both identified wines from Long Island as excellent values."
Chenin Blanc is not a grape normally associated with Long Island, yet you make a beautiful one. What conditions did you find that made you feel you would be successful with this grape?
"Paumanok's Chenin plantation was pure serendipity. My parents had no intention of planting Chenin when we first bought the farm. The Chenin vines came with a property they purchased across the street. My father had begun to rip out the vines. As the growing season moved in on him, he ran out of time. A German vineyard caretaker at the time encouraged my father to leave the vines and give them a chance as they appeared 'happy and healthy here'. And so he did. Chenin does in fact grow well here...Year in and year out , it consistently produces a wine that is fresh, crisp, and redolent of citrus fruits, especially grapefruit."
Cabernet Franc is a grape varietal many feel will be the North Fork's signature. Your Merlots, Cabernet Sauvginons, and even Petit Verdots are also terrific. How are you treating these grapes to be so successful with them?
"My father originally decided to plant Cabernet Franc strictly as a blending variety. Over the years, it became clear that Cabernet Franc could stand on its own as a varietal wine. This coincided with the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) phenomena when more and more Americans were becoming more adventurous about wine and wanted to try something other than the familiar Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. All of our red grapes are treated the same way. The goal is to grow the healthiest , ripest fruit obtainable. There is no substitute for making great wine. People -- novices, professionals, the wine 'establishment' -- get too caught up in which variety is best for a region. Ultimately, the wine speaks for itself."