There are a fair number of Long Island wines, but few actually have France and Long Island combined in the same bottle. My wines are made from high-quality French grape varietals that are actually grown right here in New York. The grapes may be French in origin, but the blends are experimental and American. Another blend in my wines, I am from Long Island, my consultant winemaker, Gilles Martin, from France.
Gilles has a thick French accent, French handwriting, uses notebooks with grids rather than lines, and has family ties to the French food and wine business. He grew up in Meaux. His grandmother had orchards – apple, pears, plums, cherries. His uncle was an oenologist (I just love that word, which means he was an expert in the science and study of all aspects of wine and winemaking) and he worked for a wine research station in the south of France. Gilles has that strict French way about him – with a sense of tradition and a honed perspective of what well-made wines should look, smell and taste like. Besides having a distinct French sensibility, Gilles has a particular way of furrowing his brow, inhaling wine into his mouth and chewing it when he concentrates.
Fact: The French see food and wine differently than we super-sizing Americans. Food is wildly important to them and not in a drive-through way. Many French families sit down at noon for a multi-course meal, like the whole family on regular occasions, not just for big holidays. A big difference between the French and Americans: They drink wine as a traditional gesture, kind of like doing the wave at sporting events for us. We grew up around all sorts of beverages – with the exception of say Coke or Pepsi, none were part of our tradition as a people.
When I knew my life calling was to open a winery, I chanced upon Gilles through the recommendation of two friends very skilled in wine. We met at the Chequit Inn on Shelter Island on a hot summer afternoon three years ago. He came highly recommended and I came prepared in the very Wall Street way I knew how to come prepared for a meeting. I showed up with my laptop and powerpoint presentation. Most people show up with newly purchased land, I showed up with a business plan.
I told him that I wanted a wine whose aroma would turn people’s heads, that would elicit that gotta-have feeling that women get when they shop for perfume at Sephora. I wanted a unique house style that is aromatic, seductive fresh and crisp. The packaging would be chic and eye-catching, the brand name funky — all quite different from his orientation. Gilles is quite serious, modest, a gentleman and a good listener. He was not put off by this. Rather, he liked my courage and enthusiasm, was glad that I wanted to learn and be involved, and thought the project was unique and appealing. He loved the idea and embraced my concept. The tipping point was that he thought I had the drive to make it happen. He was willing to meet with me weekly, teach me everything, and take care of the care of the technical aspects. Sounded great to me!
Here’s what I love about Gilles. He responds to wine as an artist with a palette or even as a chef who has but one chance during the year to create his dish and has to get it just right. He is keenly aware of the complexities of fragrances. When he tastes wine, he looks for the continuity of fruit aromas, the persistence of taste. When I bring a group of wines to taste, he always sorts them in an orderly way, like a formal French garden.
So what do Long Island and France have in common beside Gilles and me? Bouké wine!