A new year welcomes a new business model for two North Fork wineries.
Waters Crest Winery’s Cutchogue tasting room has permanently closed and will now cater solely to wine club members.
“At this point, it’s a nice time to downsize,” said owner and winemaker Jim Waters, who opened his former Main Road location two years ago after operating for more than a decade on the North Road. “Our wine club is doing very well. That’s the focus. It’s more personal.”
In addition, Waters has taken over as head winemaker at Jason’s Vineyard in Jamesport, where he will continue to produce his namesake 90-point wines in small batches.
The change comes a year after the Jamesport vineyard’s founder, Jason Damianos, was tragically killed in a car crash. Waters’ relationship with the Damianos family — which operates Jason’s, Pindar and Duck Walk vineyards — stretches the better part of two decades.
“They have always been like family, so this is a nice fit,” he said.
This is the first time since the Jamesport vineyard was established in 1996 that wine is being produced onsite. The wine poured at Jason’s Vineyard, which didn’t open until 2009, was previously made at the family’s Pindar facility.
“Jason had great foresight and he did a lot of great things with the way the facility is laid out, it was a shame that it was underutilized,” Waters said. “This was the direction he wanted to take the production. It’s a boutique, hands-on operation.”
Alethea Damianos Conroy agreed that Waters is helping to carry out Jason’s vision.
“It was a perfect fit with Jim looking to relocate,” she said. “It’s very exciting to have the wine produced here now. I wish my brother was here to see it.”
Waters Crest is the second North Fork winery to go the members only route in the interest of a more refined operation. In 2016, Roanoke Vineyards closed its Sound Avenue tasting room to the public, citing its desire to “enhance the wine experience for the wine club” amidst the “tsunami in tourism on Long Island’s North Fork.”
Since its inception in 2004, the Waters Crest wine club has steadily grown to about 400 members.
“Since we started telling people we were moving in this direction, we started gaining a lot more club customers,” Waters said. To keep the club intimate, there will be a 500-member cap.