Gilles Martin doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t making fruit juice.
The winemaker at Sparkling Pointe Vineyard in Southold remembers picking, coring and slices apples for cider as a child with his grandfather about 10 miles outside the Champagne region of France, where he was born.
When he grew older, he knew he wanted to work in technology and near the environment to be close to nature.
He joined his uncle, a winemaker, in the Langedoc province in the south of France when he was 22 years old. He earned undergraduate degrees in biology and food science and a masters degree in oenology from the University of Montpelier. There he completed a masters thesis on the technology of wine ultra-filtration, which received international acclaim and was awarded by former French president Jacques Chirac.
He then set out on a career in wine industries around the world, gaining much success and notoriety.
He made wine in Germany, Australia, Virginia and California, where he worked at the prestigious Roederer Estate. There he produced what critics have called the best sparkling wines ever made outside Champagne, France.
Mr. Martin returned to his homeland for a short time before coming to the United States, where he met his wife, a professor at Rutgers University, and found his way to Long Island.
“What brought me to the wine business is passion,” he said. “What brought me to Long Island is love.”
He first made sparkling wine at Macari Vineyards.
“I was amazed at the consistency of the wine, vintage after vintage,” he said. “That’s very important when you want to establish style and originality of wine.”
He then served as winemaker at Martha Clara Vineyards, Sherwood House Vineyards and the now-shuttered Broadfield Cellars.
Mr. Martin can currently be found in his laboratory or in the production facility at Sparkling Pointe Vineyard in Southold. He also works as a consulting winemaker at Sherwood House, Bouke Wines and McCall Wines.
Many liken Long Island terroir to that of France’s, but Mr. Martin maintains that each have distinguishing features.
“What’s happening on long Island is different than what’s happening in the Champagne region, but Long Island has its own merit and characterization,” he said. Long Island boasts “a better fruit profile and ripening of grapes,” he said.
In Champagne, for example, wine has a characteristic known in wine jargon as chalkiness that won’t be found in Long Island.
When winemaking, he says, his philosophy is to maintain the integrity of the grapes and not mimic another type of wine.
“Take advantage of what the variety gives and enhance those characteristics to make the best wine you can make,” he said.
One of his most rewarding moments was when the 2000 Brut Seduction he made at Sparkling Pointe won Best of Class and Sparkling Sweepstakes awards, honors he compares to Grammy awards.
“It was assurance that your wine philosophy is what customers are looking for,” he said.
He said his colleagues in France were highly impressed with wines that emerged from the North Fork.
Mr. Martin’s love of winemaking is clear to anyone who catches him checking the status of sparkling wines in his laboratory. His eyes gleam when he talks about crushing grapes and he basks in the intense aroma released from fermenting tanks when he unscrews the caps.
“There is a lot of passion in this profession,” he said. “If I didn’t have that passion, I would not be making wine.”