Dean Babier is the head winemaker at Jamesport Vineyards, a family run establishment that began in 1986, priding itself as one of region’s oldest vineyards. Driving up to a 165-year old barn which holds the tasting room and winery is the quintessential greeting that you have, indeed, arrived to North Fork Wine Country.
After receiving a degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Maryland, Babier set his trails to the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma valleys. From there, he was a globe trotter to estates in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. He then arrived in Bordeaux, France to focus on Merlot and Cabernet Franc nodes before moving to his ancestral roots in Piedmonte, Italy, where he developed a taste for old winemaking traditions.
It was during his time in Italy, surrounded by family, that Babier absorbed techniques that would differentiate him in our region. In 2014, he landed in Jamesport, New York.
A life mantra to “do everything with honesty and be nice to people” ties into the essential goal of Babier’s winemaking process, as little interference as possible. “At the moment, a majority of the wine is fermented with indigenous yeasts. I stay away from additives during fermentation and cellaring and keep the sulfur low. You need to be on top of everything early on to make wine like this well,” Babier said.
In an intimately sized vineyard, the details are the difference. Babier is reinventing a past pursuit by incorporating an “old process similar to what they use” to make an Amarone wine in Italy.
Naturally, this wine hits 16 percent alcohol by volume without chaptalization (adding sugar to increase alcohol content). It retains an old worldly node, a true gem to savor amid such a modest location.
Babier detailed, “It’s nothing innovative, but instead, it’s looking back for inspiration. People have been making wines like this for centuries, only now we have a better understanding of it.”
The 2016 Petillant Naturels, Albarino, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah, are a trio of sparkling flavors bound to sensationalize summer. The ancestral method has resurged under Babier’s old-fashioned, yet innovative thinking. The wines are bottled with a crown cap, like a beer, upside down, before the initial fermentation is finished, allowing the natural sugars and yeasts to take hold. Unlike champagne’s tendency to flatten relatively shortly after opening, these Pét-nats retain their bubbly carbonated flavor for, dare to say it, a day or two after.
The Goerler family is hands-on and out in the fields every day, caring for their vines. “You need to really care about this stuff,” Babier said. “It’s a small team, so everything is hands on. We get a good look at it all every step of the way.”
Babier recommends pairing a Jamesport Pét-nat with a fried calamari salad. Jamesport Vineyards located at 1216 Main Road, Route 25 in Jamesport. Call 631-722-5256 or visit www.jamesportwines.com for more details.