Winery Profiles: Roanoke Vineyards

Sound Avenue, Riverhead

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Roanoke Vineyards owner Richard Pisacano with his wife, Soraya, behind the bar of the vineyard’s main tasting room.

Richard Pisacano started working at Mudd Vineyards, a vineyard development and consulting firm in Southold, in the late 1970’s when he was a high school student.

He learned how to graft grapevines and started his own vineyard on Herricks Lane in Jamesport a few years later. Planting Chardonnay and Merlot grapes, he called the land Richard’s Vineyard.

For nearly two decades, the grower supplied grapes to local vineyards, staying out of the wine production process completely.

But the game changed a bit when, in 2000, “one of the grandest farms on Long Island became available,” Mr. Pisacano said.

That would be Young’s Orchard, an agricultural destination in Riverhead well-known and highly regarded for generations.

He sold Richard’s Vineyard in pursuit of a piece of the Sound Avenue farm and ended up securing 10 acres of it.

“It got sold off little by little,” Mr. Piscano said. “I just had to have it.”

Sound Avenue, Riverhead

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Soraya Pisacano (left), general manager of Roanaoke Vineyards and owner Richard Pisacano’s wife, serves a 2007 Gabby’s Cabernet Franc to Eddie Omara of Manhattan as Audrey Faldich of Westbury and Michael Wasserman of Freeport treat themselves to a tasting.

After decades of growing grapes, he became enamored with red grapes and opened Roanoke Vineyards on the former Young’s Orchard, dedicating it to exclusively growing reds.

He likes the longer evolution of the red fruits compared with white ones, which turn into wine meant to be drank within five years before it begins to oxidize. Red wines, fermented with the skins, seeds and extract tannins of the grapes are “building blocks for longevity,” Mr. Pisacano explained.

He also likes the medicinal value of red wine and its tendency to be more alcoholic.

And so, Roanoke Vineyards grows only Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes, which are all made into wine by winemaker Roman Roth at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, where Mr. Pisacano is vineyard manager.

Roanoke also bottles Chardonnay and Rose wines made from grapes grown on Mudd’s Vineyard and planted by Mr. Pisacano himself in the early 1980s.

All of Roanoke’s wines can be tasted, along with complimentary plates of Asiago cheese, at the vineyard’s main tasting room on Sound Avenue.

Mr. Pisacano and his wife, Soraya, opened the tasting room, a restored barn that served as a retail outlet for Young’s Orchard, in 2004.

A tasting room used for private events just west of the main building formerly served as living quarters for Young’s Orchard staffers, and an old potato barn on the property is now a wine warehouse.

A “wine library” adjacent to the main tasting room was converted from a 7,000-square-foot refrigerator that stored Young’s Farm apples. Mr. Pisacano unveiled the “wine library” last Spring as a space to enjoy archived wines dating back to 1994.

After more than 20 years of vineyard management and growing experience, Mr. Pisacano said he chose to plant a vineyard on the old farm not only for its historical nature but also for its location.

He wanted a vineyard dedicated to red wines to be located in a bit of a warmer climate, in which red grapes best thrive.

As the land widens west of the North Fork’s eastern-most end, he said less influence is felt from the two bodies of water north and south of the fork, and temperatures tend to be warmer.

Conditions are “slightly more conducive to red wine production as you move west” on the North Fork, he said.

Roanoke Vineyards’ inaugural bottle was a 2000 Merlot, which was made with grapes from the former Richard’s Vineyard in Jamesport.

“It instantly put us on the map,” Mr. Pisacano said. “It was really highly regarded and sought after.”

The first wine made from Roanoke Vineyard grapes, a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, was given 88 points by Wine Spectator magazine.

“Our suspicions were confirmed,” he said, referring to his feeling that a location in the west of Long Island Wine Country would make for quality red wine. “It was a good sign of things to come.”

Roanoke has won a number of awards since, including its Red Wine Vinifera, a blend, earning the title of Best Vinifera Red Blend in the state at the New York Wine and Food Classic in 2006.

Roanoke Vineyards produces about 2,500 cases per year from grapes grown on its 7-acre plot.  The Pisacanos live in a house on Wolffer Estate Vineyard and use another restored farmhouse on Roanoke Vineyards land as their weekend home.

“It’s almost a privilege to be the steward of this farmstead,” Mr. Pisacano said. “It’s one of the great thrills of owning this place.”

sbrix@timesreview.com