It’s the East End’s easternmost winery and may be one of the highest. Sitting on a bluff on the North Road in Greenport where you can see Connecticut on a clear day, the vineyards of the Kontokosta Winery have the advantage of a steady drying breeze—which also powers their windmill—and drainage, as grapevines do not like to get their feet wet.
Here, with vines planted in 2002, Michael Kontokosta and his brother, Constantine, are overseeing the first LEED gold-certified winery and tasting room in our region. The certification stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”; the Kontokostas earned it by building with 90 percent recycled-content steel and Forest Stewardship Council–certified reclaimed wood siding. The landscape is planted with drought-resistant, native plants creating a xeriscape, which uses minimal water. Inside, the water fixtures reduce water consumption in the building by more than 40 percent.
And then there’s that windmill, just south of the tasting room, which on a blustery day sounds like a small helicopter coming in for a landing; it powers the building. It’s a good thing to watch as it cranks away. On top is an anemometer—another Greek word from this Greek family—a device with cupped hemispheres on spokes that measures wind velocity. It’s also the name of the house red and white, blends that change from year to year.
This is a vineyard where no chardonnay is planted. A bold choice considering chardonnay sells very well, and a winery that makes only 3,000 cases a year would want to have a crowd-pleaser in its inventory.
It’s not contrarianism. Mike Kontokosta has decided, after managing his vineyard and a few others on the East End, that his best bet would be sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc: the mainstay grapes of the Loire Valley in France, most often as single varietals. This differs from much of the received wisdom surrounding the founding of Long Island Wine Country, when many compared our growing conditions—including climate and soil—to Bordeaux, where merlot and cabernet sauvignon reign supreme. But sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc are grown in Bordeaux, too; however, they are mostly used as part of a blend, cabernet franc with the previously mentioned kings and sauvignon blanc with sémillon, the other white grape that makes up Bordeaux’s busy but less heralded white wine industry.
“It’s not that the other grapes aren’t good,” says Kontokosta. “But it’s the way these two grow. Cab franc buds early, which gives it an extended time to ripen.” Besides, he adds, he doesn’t want to compete with other regions; he’s making Long Island wine.
Kontokosta learned this working beside Ray Blum, one of the North Fork’s vineyard pioneers, who founded and managed his own vineyard, Ackerly Pond, as well as many others before his death in 2007.
“I asked him every naïve question on the planet,” says Kontokosta, who previously worked as a corporate lawyer in New York. “‘Why do you do this, why do you do that?’ It’s a lot harder than a desk job. But it’s also as tough as I thought it would be. And, it’s much more rewarding.”
In the bottle and for sale now only at the winery are the Kontokosta 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and their 2007 Cabernet Franc. The white was made by Gilles Martin in the first vintage ever produced at the Kontokosta Winery. The red was made by Eric Fry at the Lenz Winery, who made all of the previous vintages, starting in 2006, when they bottled a syrah.
The sauvignon blanc ($25) is crisp and dry with the grape’s distinctive aromatic tang. 2012 was a good, hot year, which sometimes can sap white wines of their acidity. Not the case here. The wine has zesty acid and herbal and lime flavors. The cabernet franc ($29) also came from a good year with a long growing season, which provided the ripe fruit that balances the innate “greenness” of cab franc. At six years old, it is showing the signs of graceful aging, with the secondary flavors and aromas of dried fruit and leather. This is a good bottle to try if you’ve not tasted any reds from the ’07 vintage. Most other wineries have already sold out.
The one-room rectangular tasting room has sweeping views out of its north and south windows. Outside are tall tables without chairs. Kontokosta doesn’t see much in the way of large events in the future. “We want to make it about the wine,” he says.