Lieb Cellars and its brand makeover: Uncork the Forks

The team at Lieb Cellars: (back row from left) controller Dayna Corlito, tasting room associate Julia King, tasting room manager Alicia Ekeler-Valle, CFO Dave Sanatore and marketing and wine club manager Dana Kowalsick. Brand ambassador Madison Fender (front row from left), general manager Ami Opisso and operations manager Melissa Cannady. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

The team at Lieb Cellars: (back row from left) controller Dayna Corlito, tasting room associate Julia King, tasting room manager Alicia Ekeler-Valle, CFO Dave Sanatore and marketing and wine club manager Dana Kowalsick. Brand ambassador Madison Fender (front row from left), general manager Ami Opisso and operations manager Melissa Cannady. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Creating and building a successful brand is difficult in any industry. Building and nurturing a successful wine brand in a region without an established regional identity or reputation is even harder.

When Ami Opisso, general manager at Lieb Cellars in Mattituck, and the new ownership team took over what was then known as Lieb Family Cellars in 2013, they had an even more challenging situation. They had to revitalize a somewhat established brand and decide where they would take it, and the company, in the future. 

They’ve pulled it off — perhaps better than any rebrand I can remember on the North Fork. I wanted to better understand the thought process behind all the work they’ve done, so I talked with Opisso about it.

“We had to decide what stays and what goes,” she said. “We talked about what Lieb stood for in the past and what we wanted it to stand for moving forward.”

The evaluation process resulted in four “keepers.” First was the Lieb name, though “Family” was dropped from the winery’s moniker to reflect the new ownership. The Bridge Lane name — the name of the winery’s second label — was also kept. As was the focus on dry, clean, fruit-forward wines. And the Lieb team wanted to maintain the producer’s reputation for offering “tremendous value in the New York wine category.”

Just about everything else was scrapped and redone. New logos for both labels. New websites. New wines added to the lineup and some dropped. New packaging was designed — more on that in a minute — and the winery expanded its distribution. Both tasting rooms were renovated, too.

“We had a new story to tell and wanted everything we owned and did to reflect it,” Opisso told me.

One important and challenging thing the Lieb team has done is to clearly differentiate the Lieb Cellars wines from the Bridge Lane wines.

“We realized that Bridge Lane was struggling with a bit of an identity crisis,” Opisso said. “It didn’t know if it wanted to be part of Lieb, kind of part of Lieb or do its own thing. What is the point of having a second label if it competes with our primary one? So we emancipated it. Bridge Lane is like Lieb’s rebellious younger sibling.”

The idea is for Bridge Lane — which has its own dedicated tasting room now, too — to target a more casual audience. One that is perhaps more adventurous and progressive.

“Bridge Lane wines are for those who appreciate value, convenience and casual consuming. Snobs need not apply,” said Opisso.

Bridge Lane also affords Opisso and winemaker Russell Hearn the opportunity to experiment with wines and other things, including Long Island’s first and only bag-in-box wines, known simply as “box wines.” Opisso loves having good box wine that she can spring on people. “I can’t tell you how fun it is to pour our box wine for someone who’s expecting sweet, tasteless crap and is caught by total surprise when they taste our wine, and again when we then tell them the price.”

The boxes are $40 for the equivalent of four bottles’ worth of wine. We went through several of the white blend and the rosé in my house over the summer.

You’ll also find Long Island’s first disposable-keg wines in the Bridge Lane catalog. Other wineries have been putting their wine in reusable kegs for a few years, Lieb included. Opisso and Hearn wanted to offer something different.

“We thought, ‘Hey, no one out here’s selling them direct to consumer for parties and weddings,’ so, yep, we’re doing it,” Opisso said.

The entire Lieb portfolio, the bottled wines anyway, feature screw-cap closures now, too —  a decision that Opisso said was among the easiest they’ve made.

“Both the Lieb and Bridge Lane bottled wines are now all under screw cap for quality control and because we’re kind of no romance, no frills, just straight-up good wine.”

“Straight-up good wine” sums up the wines themselves well, I think. I’ve long been a fan of the winery’s blanc de blanc. It’s what my wife and I toasted one another with at our wedding, in fact. The whites are clean, fruit-forward and easy to drink. The reds are made in a modern, polished style that appeals to a great many people. These aren’t always great, terroir-driven wines, but they are always good wines that I’m happy to drink. And they are generally good values to boot.

Rebranding completely, I asked Opisso what was next for Lieb.

She told me: “Good question. I think we’re still figuring that out. We’d like to keep doing what we’re doing now, but better. And maybe bigger. You’ll have to stay tuned.”

Lenn Thompson