A lot was happening at Lieb Cellars in 2013.
The Cutchogue winery, which was founded 21 years earlier as Lieb Family Cellars, had just been sold to an investment firm, making it Long Island’s first publicly traded winery. Less than a decade earlier, the company had also launched a sister label, Bridge Lane Wine, which was still in need of its own identity.
So when it came to recruiting a leader who could maintain the integrity of the already-established Lieb label, while also growing Bridge Lane in Mattituck, the company’s new ownership group needed to find a branding expert above all else.
It turned out, they wouldn’t have to look very far.
In the five years since, as both tasting rooms have grown in popularity and the labels have attracted attention for both quality and creativity, general manager Ami Opisso has proven to be the right person for the job.
A Mattituck native, Opisso had spent nearly a decade working in advertising and marketing for several wine and spirits brands in New York City and Chicago before returning home to take the helm of the two brands.
The work started, she said, with placing a renewed focus on defining Bridge Lane.
“If we were going to have this second label, we needed to give it an identity that was totally separate from Lieb, otherwise what would be the point in having one?” Opisso said. “We wanted to have some fun and break from tradition with Bridge Lane and that is when the idea of alternative formats came up. It made so much sense to explore packaging that fit within the North Fork lifestyle.”
Through packaging and other branding efforts, the secondary label was reinvented to target a more casual demographic, with easily drinkable, fruit-forward wines. Both the Lieb and Bridge Lane names stayed intact, but just about everything else was overhauled to fit within the reimagined concept. Each received new logos and labels and Bridge Lane received a pastel-palette makeover, with different springlike hues that correspond to each of its five varieties: white merlot, unoaked chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, dry rosé and red blend.
The quality of the wine still remained at the heart of both brands, but the way you could drink Bridge Lane changed dramatically.
Flash forward five years and Bridge Lane finds itself attracting as much attention as just about any other local winery thanks to the many unique ways it is available.
Take, for example, what happened last May, when dozens of media outlets suddenly became hip to the fact that the company sells rosé in kegs, holding 26 bottles at a time. The stories went so viral, the company’s website crashed.
“It was a pretty proud moment for us,” Opisso recalled. “Although we didn’t have time to get too excited, because we were all busy packing up keg orders to ship out!”
And it’s not just the kegs that are making Bridge Lane stand out as one of the more recognizable brands on the North Fork. Each of its varieties is sold in a four-pack of colorful pastel cans, something no other local winery is doing.
Boxes of wine are also available, as are the usual bottles — though now they feature screw caps instead of corks.
Opisso, a graduate of Mattituck High School and Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, has been at the forefront of the alternative-format revolution at Bridge Lane.
Proof of its success is shown in the numbers. In 2014, when the Bridge Lane label became the first Long Island winery to offer boxed wines, it sold 900 boxes. It expects to produce 24,000 boxes in 2019. Now in their second full year producing canned wines, Bridge Lane expects to sell about 11,000 cases this year.
For Opisso, the success of Lieb and Bridge Lane is more than bottom lines and viral notoriety; it’s part of a larger goal to bolster the North Fork wine region and the local economy to provide more opportunities for the next generation of North Forkers.
“How my girls grow up will be a lot different than how I grew up,” she said. “In the 1980s there was nothing here. I wouldn’t be back here if it wasn’t for the wine industry. This place is even more special now than when I left.”
Opisso lives with her husband, Matt, and their two daughters, Renny, 4, and Gabi, 2, not far from where she grew up. That’s right, she hasn’t just been running two wineries these past few years, she’s also been raising a family.
The 38-year-old mom and manager lives “a very North Fork lifestyle,” teaching her children about farming by visiting local farms and treating them to beach days and trips to the Greenport carousel when not juggling the winery’s production schedule, social media accounts, special events and a host of other tasks that fall under the general manager umbrella.
“I can say that I feel balanced,” Opisso said. “There are times I feel like I had an entire day before I got to the office because it was just crazy getting the girls ready and out of the house. But when I walk into work, I am really, really happy to be there every day. It is not as hard when you love what you do.”
The Bridge Lane Tasting Room is located at 35 Cox Neck Road in Mattituck
Lieb Cellars is located at 13050 Oregon Road in Cutchogue