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Shelby Hearn at her family winery in Cutchogue. (Credit: David Benthal)

While other children were running around in playgrounds or in their backyard growing up, Shelby Hearn and her sister, Kylie, were in the vineyards.

Hearn’s father, Russell Hearn, brought his winemaking expertise from his native Australia to the North Fork, working as a winemaker on the East End since 1990. In 2000, along with two partners, he opened Premium Wine Group, the first custom production winery on the East End. In 2002 Russell along with his wife and another couple Jed and Lori Beitler planted T’Jara Vineyard in Mattituck. Shelby Hearn said she and her sister had an inside look at the process of building those businesses from the ground up, and she watched and learned as her parents started the Suhru wine label in 2008. (The name is an homage to the names of her parents, Susan and Russell, with the ‘h’ in the middle standing in for the Hearn name).

Despite growing up in the vineyard and witnessing the day-to-day operations and growth of the family business, Hearn didn’t immediately pursue a career in wine, despite always being drawn to it, she said. A desire to be a winemaker or vineyard manager fizzled out when she realized she didn’t have the scientific aptitude that both jobs require. Careers in marketing followed, with stints in the book publishing industry and then a job as head of marketing for Brooklyn Winery, which she said finally felt like a good fit for her skills. By 2018, Hearn was ready to leave the city, a decision that coincided with her parents deciding to open a Suhru Vineyards tasting room on Main Road in Cutchogue. For Hearn, it seemed like she had finally found a way to combine her lifelong love of the family vineyard and winemaking business with her strengths. She is now the director of sales and marketing for Suhru, and manages both the tasting room and wine club, in addition to serving as the marketing and wholesale manager.

Russell and Susan Hearn at a past Harvest East End event. (File photo)

Hearn shared her thoughts about what makes generational winemaking and vineyard operation so special.

“For me, the thing that’s really great about a family business in any industry is that going to work feels like home,” she said. “And that’s the feeling we’re trying to pass on to all our customers. When you walk into the tasting room, you’ll always see me and my mother, and it should be the same experience as walking into your home. It’s welcoming and inviting, and we get to know our customers really well.”

The level of commitment I have to this brand and the level of responsibility I feel is far beyond any job I’ve ever had.

Shelby Hearn

Hearn added that she’s excited her sister, Kylie, is poised to take on a larger role within the family business as well, on the winemaking side, currently doing a harvest internship in southern Australia.

Hearn said that her level of investment in the Suhru brand is deep, precisely because it is a family business, and she’s carrying on a legacy that her parents started.

“The level of commitment I have to this brand and the level of responsibility I feel is far beyond any job I’ve ever had,” she said. “The job essentially never ends. If I go out to dinner with my family, or over holidays, at any moment, the conversation can turn to business, and flow seamlessly from business to personal and back. It’s become a very fluid experience.

“In a family business, you definitely work more,” she added, with a laugh. “But it doesn’t feel like work.”

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