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Story - Food

Sep 28, 2016 12:53 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Kontokosta Shares Love Of Wine

Kontokosta Winery HANNAH SELINGER
Oct 3, 2016 11:05 AM

On the first day of fall, I drove over to Greenport to visit Kontokosta Winery to talk with owner-cum-vineyard manager Michael Kontokosta, and to taste. Mr. Kontokosta’s winery began—truly began, I should say—15 years ago. In 2001, he left his position as a corporate attorney in New York City and moved east, where he started the long process of opening a winery. “I wanted to make wine and share it with people,” Mr. Kontokosta said of his humble aspirations. And make wine he does.

Kontokosta is a stunning project. The winery itself boasts 62 acres, nearly 24 of which are under vine. A quarter mile of the property abuts the Long Island Sound, and the tasting room, with a full glass wall of windowpanes and doors, reveals a verdant field and endless blue water. Construction on the tasting room—Mr. Kontokosta calls it one of the “greenest” buildings on Long Island, with its reclaimed, 100-year-old wood exterior, wind turbine power, and wine barrel bar—began in 2011 and the winery itself opened in June 2013. “As much as we can use again, we use again,” Mr. Kontokosta said. The grounds are a testament to this set of values, as are some of his wines.

The late Ray Blum, the owner of the now-closed Peconic Bay Winery, planted the land to vine in 2002 and acted as the property’s first consulting winemaker. His duties have since been passed on to Gilles Martin, though Mr. Kontokosta takes a hands-on role when it comes to vineyard work. Veterans have, in essence, informed this winery’s ethos from the onset.

Today, Kontokosta grows Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot onsite and sources Chardonnay from neighbors. Grapes are harvested by hand, in two passes, allowing certain blocks some extra time in the sun. Harvest is conducted by block as opposed to by varietal and there is often up to five days’ difference in the harvests, depending on ripening patterns.

What this means is an extreme level of quality control. Mr. Kontokosta prefers his wines to be “approachable,” as he said, but he also embraces a noninterventionist style of winemaking. When it comes to extreme oak treatment or manipulation, he simply said that he thinks it “masks the fruit,” which is not at all the point of the Kontokosta brand.

The brand presents a broad spectrum of wines, ranging from entry-level—the 2015 Riesling, with its balance of residual sugar and acid, is a friendly overture for those looking to begin a tour of the North Fork—to complex. The current release 2013 Cabernet Franc was awarded Best Cabernet Franc in New York State at the New York Food & Wine Classic, and teems with bell pepper, soft red fruit, and underlying spice. I was fortunate enough to be able to taste the 2014 vintage in tank, which rivals the 2013 in sophistication and will be bottled soon, as well as the fruit-driven and still-maturing 2015, which is still in barrel. These wines will surely raise expectations for New York Cabernet Franc in years to come.

In some ways, Cabernet Franc is the winery’s star. The grape is emblematic of the North Fork, and for good reason. “It’s hardy,” Mr. Kontokosta said. “It can be picked late.” This early budding grape benefits from an additional seven to 10 days of hang time due to its rigor, making it more mature at harvest than its genetic cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon.

A few vintages back, Mr. Kontokosta found himself with extra Riesling, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a single available tank. In the tradition of European field blends, the Kontokosta Field Blend was born, a Frankenstein of sorts, though with gleeful finesse. The first vintage of this wine was a test case scenario. These days, Mr. Kontokosta and his crew vinify all three varietals separately, blending them after vinification. But the genesis was organic, a dedicated decision to use materials that they had at their disposal.

Current releases include the 2015 oak-less Chardonnay; the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc; the restrained 2015 Viognier; the 2015 Field Blend; the 2015 Riesling, made in a semi-sweet style; the 2013 Anemometer White, named for the wind speed-determining instrument inside the turbine and displaying a complex blend of Chardonnay and Viognier, aged in French oak; the 2015 Rosé, a refreshing style made from skin contact with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc; the plush, just-released 2014 Merlot; the bright, fruited 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon; the aforementioned 2013 Cabernet Franc; and the 2012 Anemometer Red, a Claret-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah.

As 95 percent of the winery’s wine is sold on-premises, one’s best bet for tasting—and buying—the current releases is to show up. The tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closes later on Fridays and Saturdays.

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