The vineyard was planted starting in 2001, the year that Comtesse Thérèse began commercial winemaking operations at Premium Wine Group. The estate vineyard is located on Union Avenue in Aquebogue, just east of Riverhead, on the North Fork.
Based on advice from a Ph.D. viticultural consultant from the University of Bordeaux in France, only the easternmost section of what was originally a 40 acre parcel were planted with vitis vinifera (wine) grapes. The land undesirable for grapes was sold to the neighboring vegetable farmer, resulting in a 15 acre parcel. The main varieties are cabernet sauvignon (5 acres), merlot (3 acres), chardonnay (1 acre) and sauvignon blanc (1 acre).
Theresa’s husband Sammy Shimura, a former steel executive turned farmer who is also a certified sommelier, takes care of all vineyard operations.
Cabernet sauvignon is the main varietal, about 70% of the total red production. While relatively little cabernet sauvignon is grown on Long Island (about 5% of total red grape production), due to it being later-ripening, cabernet sauvignon can fully ripen at the site.
The main vineyard also grows a few acres of merlot, Long Island’s most widely grown red varietal, and some chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. At Las Cotes, which was planted later, there is merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, malbec and syrah
At 2,500 vines per acre, the vineyard is the most closely spaced commercial vineyard in New York state, and one of the closest in the United States, with densities approaching that of the Grand and Premier Cru sites of Burgundy and Bordeaux. All the grapes are hand harvested. Except for the driest portion of the cabernet sauvignon planting, the vineyard is “dry-farmed,” or non-irrigated. Little fruit thinning or shoot thinning is done, yet the vineyard naturally has low yields of 2 tons per acre, or up to 3 for the merlot. Leaf pulling is done by hand, and hedging is only done on the tops of the canopy, and by hand.
LONG ISLAND’s TERROIR
The island of Long Island is a “glacial moraine,” 100 miles long and 10 to 15 miles wide — a pile of sand and ground up rocks, mainly quartz, left behind by the melting glaciers as they receded north at the end of the last Ice Age. Long Island soils vary from location to location, from heavier and more loamy, to lighter and sandier. At the estate vineyard, the soil is light, sandy-gravelly, of low fertility, with excellent drainage.
Bodies of water surround the area on three sides (similar to the Médoc peninsula, in the Bordeaux region of France), moderating the winter climate. Eastern Long Island enjoys a large amount of annual sunshine hours, making it an important agricultural and vacation region, famous for golfing, fishing, sailing, and boating as well as farmstands, vineyards and nurseries.
Like much of the rest of the Long Island wine industry, Comtesse Thérèse is very conscious of the impact that modern farming has on the environment, and is committed to sustainable agriculture. For several years, the vineyard has participated in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s soil conservation program, which requires adherence to certain guidelines designed to preserve the soil and surrounding wildlife.
Bistro and vineyard owner Tree Dilworth’s live interview on Fox Business Network. Dec. 3, 2010 “Room for Wine During Recession”