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Winemaker Erik Bilka stands in the tank room at Pindar Vineyards. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)

The region’s largest wine producer has a new winemaker with longstanding North Fork ties.

Erik Bilka, a veteran winemaker at Premium Wine Group, is now overseeing production at Pindar Vineyards and its sister winery, Duck Walk.

Originally from Buffalo, his first job in the area was as a vineyard research assistant at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead. He moved on to Premium Wine Group in 2001 and has produced wines for Harbes Vineyard and Castello di Borghese. In 2009, Bilka also launched his own label, Influence Wines.

He will continue working with those other producers in addition to becoming the new winemaker at Pindar and Duck Walk.

Monday was Bilka’s first day at the Pindar winemaking facility and he said his top priority is getting to know the product.

“My goal is to taste everything in order to get more acquainted with the wines and the tanks,” said Bilka, who is looking forward to taking a more hands-on approach to all aspects of the wine, from vine to harvest. “My goal is to match a wine with the fruit. I treat each lot of grapes individually. I don’t have a recipe. I bring out the best in the grape.”

Pindar and Duck Walk are the region’s leading producer, bottling 100,000 cases per year. Its 350 acres of vines is uniquely comprised of less common North Fork varietals such as cayuga and gamay — grapes Bilka is hoping to experiment with after the next harvest.

In addition to producing original blends for 2019, Bilka will continue making Pindar’s mainstay four seasons wines: Autumn Gold, Winter White, Spring Splendor and Summer Blush as well as its award-winning red blend, Pythagoras, and other staples.

“Erik comes with a lot of experience and qualifications, we’re happy to have him at Pindar,” said Pindar Damianos, a partner and director of vineyard management. “Our wines are going to get even better.”

Jason’s Vineyard, also owned by the Damianos family, recently announced another veteran winemaker, Jim Waters of Waters Crest Winery, would be taking over production at that facility.