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Kareem Massoud with his brothers, Nabeel, left, and Salim at Palmer Vineyards last year. (Credit: David Benthal)

Kareem Massoud was just 10 years old when he watched his father, Charles, make wine from scratch. It was a hobby born of necessity — IBM, his father’s employer, had sent him and his family to live in Kuwait for several years in the 1970s, where it is illegal to buy and sell wine.

By the time the family moved to Connecticut years later, winemaking had become a passion for the elder Mr. Massoud, one he was not eager to give up. An article in the New York Times about the Hargrave family and the vineyard they operated that launched the North Fork as a wine making region inspired Charles Massoud and his wife, Ursula — who came from a family of German winemakers — to buy their own piece of land on the North Fork. By 1990, they were owners and operators of Paumanok Vineyards, and in 2018, they expanded, purchasing Palmer Vineyards. Kareem, his wife, Karen, and his brothers — Nabeel and Salim — are now carrying on the family tradition started all those decades ago by their father.

Kareem Massoud graduated from the Wharton School of business at UPenn and embarked on a career in finance in New York, but his enthusiasm for what his parents were doing out on the North Fork only grew, and in 1993, when his parents were just finishing their fourth vintage year, he told them he wanted to join them in the family business. They pushed back at first, worried it would not be a stable enough career. But after two years of working as a private equity analyst, Massoud found himself at Paumanok, and he hasn’t looked back for 22 years.

When you’re farming the same land not just year after year but generation after generation, there’s all kinds wisdom that’s accumulated within the family over time and passed down from generation to generation

Kareem Massoud

Massoud is proud of his family’s roots in the wine industry, and believes there is great value to generational winemaking.

“It’s really no different from any other multi-generational farm,” he said, pointing out that it’s important to realize that vintners are farmers, first and foremost. “When you’re farming the same land not just year after year but generation after generation, there’s all kinds wisdom that’s accumulated within the family over time and passed down from generation to generation; specifics about the property, knowing that this corner will pond, or when the frost comes that this part will be more or less susceptible.”

Charles Massoud plants the first row of vines at Paumanok Vineyards in the 1980s. (Credit: Massoud family)

Massoud also spoke about the all-important element of “terrior” that is crucial to understanding the winemaking business, and how generational winemaking plays a part in that.

“In wine, the terrior, or place, is everything,” he explained. “One of the commonly accepted definitions of terroir is the soil and climate, but the third element we often define as the human component; knowing the technique and tradition, and that also translates down to the property itself. The human component is the family, in a family wine estate. When you’re doing it for generations, you have an accumulated wisdom that can be distilled down to a house style, so to speak. It’s part of the character of what the wine is.”

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Massoud says part of what makes wine special is the story behind it, and that story is more compelling when generation after generation of the same family are telling it and adding to it.

“It’s about the story of the people behind the wine,” he said. “When I’m bottling, I’m hoping my grandchildren one day will open this bottle and say, ‘my grandfather made this wine and this was one of the best vintages that he got to work on.’ Having a bottle like that and having a generation or two later being able to open that, there’s something about that that’s priceless.”

“It’s why our extensive library of older vintages is so important,” he added. “Over time, you want to be able to go in there and say, these aren’t just bottles of wine, but they’re family heirlooms.”