Long Island Wine Country’s North Fork is a magical, six-mile viticultural area. Unlike several famed wine regions throughout the world, the aquatic surroundings of the North Fork moderate climate control for grape growth. The Long Island Wine Council credits a loamy topsoil, well-drained sub-soil, sole-sourced aquifer access, and a cretaceous bedrock sub-water table.
Raphael winery, located in Peconic, continues a centuries-old tradition of winemaking in the Petrocelli family. Raphael’s winemaker, Anthony Nappa, proudly, and passionately, cares for the grapes that then turn into the flavorful varietals indicative of what makes this winery so distinct.
The vineyard is unique due to the 60 acres of vines planted on one contiguous land, making it more convenient to manage and allowing for additional observation of the grapes. Its proximity to the bay with a prevailing easterly wind aids in ripening the grapes, hang time, and retaining the acidity as the flavors develop. The sandy soil is well drained, but still contains the most loam and clay anywhere on Long Island, Nappa told The Independent.
“This combination of unique micro-climate and growing conditions makes this place one of the most premier cool-climate places to make wine in the world,” Nappa explained. Since the winery is on a single level, he strives to create wine with minimal manipulation and no additives.
The process begins by harvesting the grapes, then fermenting them, turning the sugar into alcohol. From there, the white varieties are sterile filtered, meaning “heat and cold stabilized before bottling,” he noted. A bottle can be ready the next spring after harvest season or barrel aged. Red wines are aged in a barrel or tank for approximately 18 to 20 months, with reserve reds aging an additional year or two, while being bottled unfiltered.
Artistic creativity is essential to Nappa’s job, similar to a chef in a kitchen. “Making wine, there is a seasonal flow to the job and maybe the most important aspect of the job is farming. The work in the winery is very much a factory job, processing fruit into wine,” said Nappa.
Originally from Massachusetts, Nappa studied botany at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst before obtaining a degree in Fruit and Vegetable Agriculture from the university’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture. From there, he traveled across the globe to New Zealand, where he trained in winemaking at Lincoln University in Christchurch, receiving dual degrees in Viticulture (the cultivation of grapevines) and Oenology (the study of winemaking).
“After leaving New Zealand, I moved to Italy and eventually back to Massachusetts, before moving to California. I came to the North Fork in 2007 when I saw an ad for a wine making position,” Nappa detailed. “I was interested in living on the east coast. After checking out east coast wines over time, I could see the most interesting place on the east coast to make wine is the North Fork.”
His wine style has evolved over the years through experience learned through trial and error. “Coming out of school, I had a much greater dependence on chemistry and technology, which is often what the university system teaches. Now, I let the grapes dictate the direction the wine will go and play a more shepherding role, bringing the wine through the process.”
The winemaker’s choice for spring season is Raphael’s rosé, which is a Pinot Noir. As summer approaches, Nappa recommends a Sauvignon Blanc, featuring “one of the most unique grapes grown on the North Fork,” he noted.
Raphael is located at 39390 Main Road in Peconic. To learn more, visit www.raphaelwine.com.