When husband and wife Brad and Francesca Anderson were deciding on a name for their vineyard, they went through a few different options. When their first idea was owned by Texaco and their second was already a wine group, they decided to take a step back and look at their vineyard.
“They were thinking, ‘Well, you know, it’s a vineyard right on a bay — Onabay,” recalled winemaker John Leo.
“Being on Peconic Bay and being a well-known landmark out there, it’s associated close to nature and salt water, it sort of had that type of feel to it,” Brad Anderson said.
And so the business was born. This was 2006. Other than its clever name, Onabay also has a few other defining features that make it a little different than other wineries on the North Fork.
Namely, there is no tasting room.
In fact, there’s no physical space at all, open to the public or not. Onabay has just 20 planted acres of vines located on the Andersons’ property on Peconic Bay.
“The quality of the wine would be the primary focus,” Anderson said. “The goal here, for me, was to see how high we could take quality in the region, without constraints or barriers, relative to the cost.”
Even without a way to connect to the public directly, Onabay has still found success with its wine. Earlier this year, they were put on a New York Times list of 20 wines under $20, which included bottles from all over the world. Their wine on that list? A cabernet franc blend called Cot-Fermented.
“It was a big hit right from the beginning,” Leo said during an interview at Premium Wine Group, where Onabay is produced.
“The 2011 was a success. 2012 was a success. And every year we keep on making a little bit more,” he continued. “We made a lot for us, around 700 cases, and that sold really well and the 2017, even better.”
The name for the wine has a double meaning. Cot, pronounced like co, is another word for malbec in French, which makes up around 5% of the wine blend. And the malbec is co-fermented with the cabernet franc grapes.
“It’s a little unusual. We harvest [the Malbec grapes] either within the same day or within a day or two of the cabernet franc and add a little bit of that into the tank so they ferment together,” Leo said.
Another thing that was important to them was making the wine accessible.
“The idea is to over deliver. If you’re going to charge $20 a bottle, make it taste like it’s worth $30 a bottle,” Leo said. “It’s got to be good. And people, we think, are responding to that.”
“We’ve been working since the beginning on our reputation, which we knew would be driven by the quality of the product,” he said. “I think the wines relative to the quality and price points are exceptional.”
The Onabay staff is small. Outside of the Anderson family, there’s a team of consultants, including vitner Bruce Schneider, viticulturist Bill Ackermann and Leo. The poetry on the back of the bottles is written by Anderson’s daughter, Mia, and the marketing is done by his other daughter, Chaira. The labels on the bottles are drawn by Francesca Anderson.
“She’s a pretty well-known natural botanist and an illustrator of horticultural things,” Leo said. “And there are a lot of herons right on the bay where they live. So, these were her illustrations they decided to put on the label.”
You can find Onabay Vineyards wine on the North Fork in various restaurants or at Showcase Wine and Liquor in Southold or Vintage Wine and Liquor in Mattituck.