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Kelly and Rob Koch with Haley, 3, and Zoey, 9 months. (Photo Credit: Kaitlyn Ferris)

The Front Porch interviews invite you to the homes and neighborhoods of notable North Forkers. This week we met up in Peconic with Rob Koch, an engineer who grew up on the North Fork, and his wife Kelly Koch, who was recently named to Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 list for her work as winemaker at Macari Vineyards in Mattituck. We talked about demystifying wine, juggling parenting and work, and why they’ve been happy to see so many new faces this year. 

Rob: I grew up on the North Fork. I went to Mattituck high school and graduated in 1998. I moved away for college, but then after college I came back here. Now I’m a mechanical engineer: My company works on robotics for aerospace projects, medical equipment, general industrial automation. A lot of the rocket stuff is U.S. based, but we have customers globally—with the internet, you can work anywhere, as everyone is now starting to see. 

Kelly: People think my job is cool, but I think Rob’s job is way cooler! We met playing volleyball—when I moved here in 2006, it was a big thing for the younger, post-college people, and so a lot of the first people I met were through volleyball. I grew up in Napa Valley. My grandpa had a little vineyard on his property and growing up, we used to take care of the grapes with my dad and my grandpa, but it was just for fun. I didn’t really realize that wine was something you could do for a living until I went to college and ended up studying it.

After college I was working in the wine industry but I was kind of looking to move somewhere different — I thought maybe it’d be cool to move to Oregon or just somewhere else in California, even. And then an opportunity came up out here. Where I grew up, you didn’t hear a lot about New York wines at that time. But I ended up moving cross country just for an adventure in my life. 

I thought, I’ll try it out for a couple of years and see what it was like to make wine in a different climate and live in a different area. I knew nothing about Long Island. Growing up, I was always weirdly obsessed with Billy Joel’s music, and I didn’t even know he was from Long Island until I moved here! But when I came here to see the area before I was deciding whether or not to move, it was just so beautiful. And I’m still here, what, 14 years later? 

Rob: People are out here for a reason—it’s a beautiful place with a lot going on. We bought this place in 2013, before our wedding. We wanted a place with some land. And I liked Peconic: It’s a little bit difficult as a Mattituck person, moving into the Southold school district, because we were such rivals growing up. We’re probably half a mile away from the line, and I joke that this is as far as I could go into Southold. But it’s great to be centrally located, we can get to Riverhead but also some of the hiking trails and Orient State Park to the east. 

Kelly: It’s an awesome place to live and to raise kids. Every weekend we’re trying to expose our daughters to everything you can do out here. We love the water so much — paddleboarding, walking on the beach, kayaking. Rob is a huge surfcast fisherman, so he’s trying to get our older daughter into it.

Rob: Especially now in the fall, when the beach has become alive with all the migration, that’s fun for a little kid. You can go down and you can catch five fish in 20 minutes. I got started on fishing early in my life, at like two or three years old. My grandparents had a house on the water on Peconic Bay and I used to love going over there in the summertime. I could sit on the dock and just fish for hours. Now, as a parent, there’s maybe less uninterrupted hours of fishing time.

Kelly: It’s crazy. It makes you wonder what you did with all the free time you had. We kept busy, but I don’t even remember with what.

With kids, my job has gotten a little more complicated too, and the Macari family has been so supportive of me. I feel so proud of the recent award from Wine Enthusiast and the hard work that went into it, but it is also a great recognition for the whole team at Macari, our region in general and the mentors I’ve had along the way. It’s a small industry out here, but everyone supports each other because you kind of have to do that. If everyone helps each other then we rise together. 

People are so intimidated by wine and it shouldn’t really be that intimidating. It’s supposed to be fun. Wineries are farms, and you know, it’s just another agricultural product. Pick a couple of wineries, make appointments, and try to talk with one of the educators. See what tastes good to you. Even before COVID, there was starting to be more of a focus at tasting rooms on educational experiences, rather than just crowding in and elbowing up to the bar. And then with what’s going on, it’s become a really good excuse to totally move in that direction. It’s fewer customers coming in, but a more relaxed experience, focused on the customer and the wine.

“We always felt like there’s enough space out here for everyone. And it’s exciting to see new people out here and more young families.”

Rob: Early on in Covid-19, there were times where it was super stressful for her—for everyone, because people had no idea what’s going on. But you could go out here and you could just escape and go to the beach and see no one.

Kelly: I understand why so many people came out here. There are some people who are like, ‘Oh, what are all these people doing, coming out here?’ For us, we thought, ‘If that was you, you would do the same thing.’  When we would go for walks on the beach, we never felt like there were too many people. We always felt like there’s enough space out here for everyone. And it’s exciting to see new people out here and more young families. 

Rob:  For me, having grown up here, I’ve watched the population of the school go down. I’d love for my kids to go to school here, and I hope they do, but it’s sad to see that numbers in the class drop. I already graduated with a hundred kids in my class, so to see it down below a hundred is getting really small. 

Kelly: So in the long run, it’s good for everyone. And I hope a lot of those people stay. We definitely felt lucky though, to be out here this year. I mean, it’s paradise. 

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