If you’re a judge for the spirits category at the New York Bar and Wine Show at the Javits Center on Manhattan’s far west, the last thing on your mind is wine. I’d been sequestered to a spare, quiet room to con- centrate on the task at hand—ranking the merit of 40 some-odd bot- tles of hooch—and when I was set free midway through for a short break, I took a walk around. I wandered aimlessly around the booths that were touting sometimes bizarre (did you know you could buy a stripper pole to install for recreational purposes in your establish- ment?), mostly bar-centric offerings, when a banner in the distance caught my eye like land-ho among rough seas: a drawing of a pretty lighthouse neatly tacked above one vendor’s table. It was rustic, peaceful; a beacon of safe harbor among the chaos of whipped cream–fla- vored vodkas and glow-stick cocktail stirrers. And then I looked beneath the banner at the guy standing there manning the table; it was none other than Osprey’s Dominion winemaker Adam Suprenant.
Turns out, Suprenant (above) has a new project and was there to get the word out: his own wine under the label Coffee Pot Cellars. Suprenant dreamed of busting out with his own venture for years now, but it wasn’t until the 2008 vintage that he took the leap. He got all the proper paperwork and licensing together; he sourced fruit from Sam McCullough, the longtime vineyard manager for the Lenz Winery who had his own side project going in Cutchogue (McCollough Vineyards, where winemakers like Roman Roth depend on McCollough’s grape-whisperer skills for their own side projects). With his i’s dotted and t’s crossed, fruit in hand, and a deal secured with his Osprey’s bosses, Bud Koehler and Bill Tyree, to use their winemaking equipment, Suprenant just needed a name.
“I was going to call it NoFo Wine Company, but several friends told me it wasn’t the most original idea—you see it on bumper stickers,” he laughs. “So, I was coming home from a fishing trip one evening, and there was one of those unbelievable sunsets. We were in Plum Gut, between Orient Point and Plum Island, and we went by the [Coffee Pot] lighthouse in Orient Point, and I thought, I need to integrate that into my whole wine identity.” It was, he says, the perfect symbol: a beacon to the world at large, calling us all home. To Suprenant, that’s what he wants great Long Island wine to do— call wine lovers who have taken their tastes to far-flung places and are a little bit lost at sea to return to what’s in their own backyard.
Which, if his 2008 Meritage—his first release, which hit shelves and tables this past May—has anything to do with it, is a siren song kicking off his efforts in the most alluring of ways. A blend of mostly (67 percent) merlot, with 19 percent cabernet sauvignon and an even split of the rest between petit verdot and cabernet franc, is a stunner; if the bottle was bagged and you were taking a guess, you might easily mistake it for a right-bank Bordeaux. There’s a lot going on here—the nose is a sexy mix of red juicy plums and strawberries, but with an earthy, alluring savory quality of mushrooms and meat that makes you want to run for the grill (or a slow-simmered osso buco in the cold months). In your mouth, it’s bright and alert—not heavy or overpowering like some Meritage wines can trip into, but balanced and fresh. The fruit from the nose continues gorgeously on your tongue, albeit a little more pleasantly tart, alongside an undercurrent of bacon and tobacco, with a dash of baking spice that extends and morphs into something more savory on the finish, akin to dried thyme.
Suprenant has long been a fan of merlot on the East End. “You can’t deny what grows best out here. In the great years it’s something special,” he says. It may well have been the thing that brought this Bronxville boy to Long Island after getting his master’s in wine at UC Davis, interning at Château Lafite, and living the high life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the early ’90s while learning all aspects of the wine business, from sales to stomping. But the one thing he learned in 14 vintages here is that it’s all about the fruit. The trust he has with McCullough is vital (“He is a dedicated grower and he doesn’t want to sell you fruit that’s not worthy of a great bottle”), but he also knows after all this time that a winemaker must be involved, too. “Great winemaking is all about execution in the vineyard; we really don’t get any breaks out here. If you’re not paying attention and being part of that process as a winemaker and not watching, you won’t be successful.”
Suprenant has kicked off Coffee Pot with four bottles and 750 cases—the Meritage, a straight-up merlot from 2008 fruit, a sauvignon blanc from the more difficult ’09 vintage, and a chardonnay from 2010. They’re pouring them at Vine Street Café in Shelter Island and the North Fork Table & Inn, and you can pluck bottles from shelves at shops like White’s in Montauk, Village Liquors in Southold, Front Street Wines in Greenport, as well as at the Saturday seasonal farmers market in the IGA parking lot in Greenport, and even Shawn’s Wines & Liquors in Park Slope, for the citybound who missed him on the weekend. Of course, Suprenant isn’t quitting his day job at Osprey, but Coffee Pot is an exciting new entry in the story of Long Island talent. “Hopefully the wines will be discovered and make their way into the conversation about Long Island wine. I think it’s cool to be part of that—I don’t mind a little bit of obscurity right now. Everybody starts that way.”