Choosing the exact coordinates for Kontokosta Winery’s tasting room was no arbitrary decision.
To find them, brothers and business owners Michael and Constantine Kontokosta set out on the Greenport property one day with a yardstick, some duct tape and a ladder in search of the perfect sightline to the bluff at the edge of their 62-acre property.
“We’d put the ladder down. Step up a few rungs and say, ‘Nope. It’s got to come over a few feet,’ ” said Michael Kontokosta, who also has the added surveying advantage of being 6-foot-4.
It took about an hour and quite a bit of bickering, but the brothers finally pinpointed what would be the center of the stately yet modern structure.
“We said, OK, everything starts from this point,” he said.
When asked if he thinks he made the correct decision, he doesn’t even pause: “I know we got it right.”
It’s hard to argue with that. Kontokosta is Long Island’s only public tasting room set against the stunning backdrop of Long Island Sound. Perched atop a bluff amid 24 acres of vines, the building mixes rustic vintage with sleek contemporary.
The architecture, which incorporates siding made from reclaimed barn wood and recycled steel, makes a visit here a Long Island standout.
But it’s the views, helped in part by that perfect sightline and a wall of windows, that elevate it to the spectacular.
“We wanted it to feel open so you can feel part of the vineyard and part of the water,” Kontokosta said.
We could go on describing the tasting room’s interior, with its poured concrete bar top, copper tables and a private loft for wine club members (and did we mention that the 9,000-square-foot building is powered by a wind turbine?). But that is only half the equation.
The other half, of course, is the wine. Kontokosta Winery produces up to 4,000 cases per year and its portfolio features 11 bottles of whites, reds and rosés — almost all of it grown on site.
The vineyard was planted in 2001 by the late Long Island vineyard manager Ray Blum. Back then Kontokosta, who is the operation’s vineyard manager, was a corporate lawyer in Manhattan. He took over its management after Blum died in 2007.
“My original motivation was to be in the vineyard,” Kontokosta said, adding that his family had a 10-year plan to open a tasting room. “I needed to be immersed in it. It was very cathartic to be out there.”
Kontokosta and his wife, Dina, moved to the East End in 2001. The Kontokosta family also opened the Harborfront Inn, a boutique hotel overlooking the harbor in Greenport Village, in 2004.
The vineyard produced its first saleable crop in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the tasting room opened.
The program is as “hands-off” as possible, Kontokosta said, with a white wine portfolio that’s fermented almost entirely in stainless steel (one blend, Anemometer White, does see some oak).
“I always felt that oak can mask a lot of flavors,” Kontokosta said.
Made by noted Long Island winemaker Gilles Martin, Kontokosta Winery’s offerings incorporate minimal added ingredients. Kontokosta said he champions a transparent approach.
“What you’re tasting is a reflection of that,” he said.
His customers are increasingly seeking Long island cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc, which many say are Long Island’s best wines. Another favorite is Kontokosta’s viognier, a lightly acidic, aromatic white for which grapes are planted on two acres.
“It’s a difficult grape to grow, but it’s a fun, beautiful wine,” he said.
The tasting room can get quite crowded on weekends, which sometimes makes it difficult to provide an intimate or educational experience. Still, it’s something the winery — which doesn’t allow buses or limos and does not host live music events — strives for.
Wine club member and part-time East Marion resident Steven Wong said that personal attention is what attracted him to Kontokosta. Well, that and the views, and the wine.
“We walked in not knowing much about the winery and they passionately described the wines — that’s the best way to explain it,” said Wong, an IT network integrator. “A lot of other wineries don’t engage you as much … That’s amazing considering how crowded this place gets.”
As romantic as it all sounds, Kontokosta cautions that this business is a tough one, with thin profit margins and high overhead.
“Loving wine is one thing,” he said. “But to do this, you have to love the entrepreneurial side. There’s agriculture. As you bring it into the cellar, there is science and art. As you bring it upstairs, there is marketing and customer service.”
He continued: “It’s a real challenge. But you have to want to take on that challenge.”
He mused that his father, Emmanuel, who passed away a few months before the tasting room opened, would be impressed to see what his sons have built.
“He was surprised that this venture could be more than a hobby,” Kontokosta said. “To take this thing that you grow from nothing and sharing this property and the wine with people, it’s great. It’s rewarding.”