Jensen Picardal’s first taste of working in the Long Island wine industry came about four years ago, when he would rise before the sun at his Massapequa home and make the hour-long trip to an Aquebogue vineyard.
There, under the guidance of Theresa Dillworth of Comtesse Therese Vineyard and her husband Sammy Shimura, he learned the ins and outs of working the vines and helped with the grape harvest.
But Picardal, 53, a mechanical engineer by trade, wasn’t logging the long hours to supplement his income.
In fact, it was he who was paying Dillworth to rent the vineyard. He was compensated in only grapes.
“There were very, very long days that I thoroughly enjoyed,” he said. “I was out there from dawn until 5 at night.”
Picardal, with the help of his long-time girlfriend Iris Velazquez, is pursuing his dream of being a winemaker and hopes to soon offer locally-produced vintages under his brand, Porcelina Wines.
Today, Picardal is focusing on learning the production aspect, rather than grape growing. He purchases grapes from local vineyards and makes his wine at Waters Crest Winery in Cutchogue with the help of winemaker Jim Waters.
But those with ambitions like Picardal’s, Waters warns, must have patience, resolve, and mostly importantly, money.
“It’s very difficult,” Waters said. “It requires a lot of financial commitment up front. If you make a red wine today, it’s three years before you produce the wine and sell it. It’s not a hobby-type project. Its a big long-term commitment.”
Picardal, noting that he has invested the bulk of his retirement savings into the venture, acknowledged that getting into the wine game is an uphill battle.
“Ninety percent of the people have given me support,” he said. “Ten percent of my friends say that I’m off my rocker.”
Picardal, who has a federal license but is still seeking state approval, hopes to one day relocate to the North Fork and purchase his own estate vineyard. He has so far produced two vintages of cabernet sauvignon, two merlots, one sauvignon blanc and two chardonnays.
“All my wines are named after songs,” he said. “Porcelina, I got that from a Smashing Pumpkins song. It’s about an almost unattainable dream.”