Jerol Bailey grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that, when he turned 21, his parents gifted him with a tour of Napa Valley’s famous wineries.
But the now 34-year-old Riverhead resident was genuinely surprised when he moved to the North Fork in 2009 and discovered he had left one region of vineyards for another.
“When I first moved here, I didn’t realize I was moving to Wine Country,” he said.
Eager to taste Long Island grapes, Bailey began exploring local vineyards. He became particularly taken with Lenz Winery in Peconic and asked to help out there on a gratis basis in 2010.
“I wanted to volunteer somewhere I could come in, meet with the winemaker and learn more about the process,” he said. “And that’s when they offered to pay me on Saturdays. No one was really managing the tasting room, so I quickly moved up.”
Now the tasting room manager at Lenz for the past four years, Bailey talked sparkling wine, not judging a varietal by its proverbial cover and looking out for guests’ safety on a recent afternoon at the vineyard.
Q: How do you keep customers happy when there’s a bar full of people waiting to be served?
A: Smile! We acknowledge everyone that comes in the door. We never have that “lost” customer who doesn’t know who’s going to help them.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: The different people who come in the door. Obviously, I have to talk a lot. So it’s nice to meet people and find out everyone’s story, what brought them to Lenz and what their passion for wine is.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of being a tasting room manager?
A: The balance between enjoying the customers and considering their safety. A lot of times, people want to walk through our vineyard at harvest, but it’s not always conducive.
Q: What is your favorite wine at Lenz, and why?
A: One of my favorites is a new release called the 2010 Cuvée. I’m fascinated by it because I don’t consider myself a sparkling wine connoisseur. It’s made in the traditional method [methode champenoise] and is very dry. It’s remarkable that I enjoy drinking it.
Q: If you could tell prospective winery visitors one thing, what would it be?
A: Take your time, enjoy the wine and try something out of the ordinary because you may shock yourself and actually like a varietal you’ve written off in the past.