Martha Clara Vineyards, on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, NY is a vineyard this gets your attention. Weather it be their singles night, or maybe their bingo nights or their open mic night. They get you and they really grab your attention. It seems that there is always something happening at Martha Clara Vineyards.
I have to admit, in the past, I usually skip over Martha Clara because of these things. Sometimes I am just looking for wine, just a glass of wine. I am not in the mood for bells and whistles. Just good solid wine. Well after my visit, a while ago, (I am to embarrass to say when it was) Things changed, my views changed because of this man, Juan Micieli-Martinez, aka the Juanmaker, just say wine maker with a little latin flair.
You may have seen his videos with his friend the penguin. You may have seen him all dressed up in his fedora, or you may have seen him, with his long sideburns and his larger than life presence. I am glad I got to see him on a rainy day at 9:00AM to taste with him and find out his essence and what Martha Clara should be known for, outstanding white wine and memorable red wines and a vineyard that is not afraid to push the envelope.
First a little history about Martha Clara; In 1995 Robert Entemann, yes of the Entemann cake family, decided to do what alot of other folks did on the east end, take the plunge into winemaking. He turnred 18 acres of farmland into a vineyard. Today, Martha Clara is still family owned, by the Entemann family. From a small lot of 18 acers, there is over 200 acres. The varietals that populate Martha Clara are Chardonnay, Vioginoer, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Syrah and a few others. The vineyard is named after Robert’s mother, Martha Clara Entemann
Now a little about Juan. Juan is a native of Long Island and has deep roots here. He is the head wine maker at Martha Clara, but how did he get there. A road well-traveled for sure. His first real job in the wine industry was working in the tasting room of Pellegrini Vineyards. He did this as a summer job between semesters at SUNY Binghamton where he studied biology and psychology. After time spent with Pellegrini Vineyards his biology knowledge would kick in by helping in the vineyards with lab analysis. This is where he really got the feel for winemaking and probably the itch to do it.
He later went on to work with the Southampton Publick House and became an assistant brew master. This would help him really get the feeling for fermenting wine and making wine. Shortly afterwards, he landed a job at Premium Wine Group. Premium, as it is known, is a custom crush facility where those that don’t have the ability to crush their own fruit can bring it there during harvest. They also have space for storage and fermentation of the wines.
Juan later got the travel itch and decided to trek around the world. He would spend time making wine in Australia. Working for vineyards and helping through various harvests, he gained alot of knowledge there, so much so, that he brought some techniques back home with him, hoping one day they would be put to use. And they have. Most noticeably in the Syrah he makes.
Juan eventually got homesick and returned to the North Fork. He would up back at Premium Wine Group, but as a production winemaker for Pellegrini Vineyards. Things started to come full circle. After that stint, he found himself at Shinn Estate Vineyards for the 2006 vintage as their head wine maker.
Shortly after that, he took the same position with Martha Clara in 2007.
Juan is passionate, energetic, enthusiastic, humble, mild mannered and current.
I loved our little conversations we had about wine, about Long Island and about the future. He wants to take it to the next level, always pushing the envelope. He knows what the people want and he brings it to them, but at the same time he does what he knows is right. And based on my tasting and conversations, Juan is getting it right.
Another aspect that Juan is getting right is social media. Juan is active not only at the vineyard, but also active on Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere. Something that ALL wineries, vineyards and winemakers should be participating in.
The people who love your wine want to find out about it, Juan knows that and he obliges. More and more vineyards are getting on board, and I am glad that Juan is active on social media. Tweeting, is how we set this meeting up.
On to the tasting of the current releases of Martha Clara. I decided to shorten them. Some will have a longer review, because they deserve it, but these are the wines that Juan and I tasted.
2008 Sauvignon Blanc: Granny Smith Apple, Melon, Straw and grass. Nice acidity with clean steel like minerality.
2008 Pinot Grigio: Pineapple, grass, floral, melon, apple and tropical elements. Some notes of wet rock and had a decent amount of acidity.
2008 Stainless Steel Chardonnay: Melon, Pear, and tropical. Minerality and some pineapple. At soft creamy mouths feel.
2008 Chardonnay: This spent 9 months in oak. 2/3 of it was fermented spontaionusley the other 1/3 was inoculated. Honey Like quality, dried pineapple with a hint of baking spice, apple and pear too. Good balance of acidity, with a hint of butteryness. Creamy finish.
2008 Riesling: I loved this, so check for a post later about this.
2008 Gewürztraminer: I tasted this before and loved it, tasted it again and fell in love all over again.
2008 5-0 White: no more than 50% of 5 white varietals. Floral, Peach, apricot, pineapple tropical mineral and steel. Juicy with great acidity
2008 Vioginier: Patience my friend.
2007 Pinot Noir: Cherry, spice, raspberry, smoke and clay with some cranberry. Earthy and peppery. It had good acidity and nice tannins.
2007 Syrah: You will find out why this may become my favorite varietal
2007 Cabernet Franc: Cherry spicy and dried herbs with an earthy minerality. It was rip and peppery with lots of tannins. Would love to see this in a few years.
2007 Merlot: Juicy and fruity, soft raspberry and strawberry. Cherry and chocolate with some very strong spice. Well balanced.
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: Blackberry, jammy and spicy. Mixed berry pie like with some earthy leathery notes. Big Tannins.
2007 Malbec…I saved the best for last. A post soon on a real winner.
So what did I get from my visit with Juan and my tasting at Martha Clara. Behind all the bells and whistles there is substance and quality. Underneath that fedora, there is someone who has it right. Juan is very proud of his white wines and he enjoys making them. I will say that the white’s that I tasted were some of the best on long island. They were all memorable.
I also think that Juan is not afraid to put himself out there and he embraces the gimmicks and costumes and the “Juanmaker” persona. It puts the Martha Clara fans in touch with him and the wines he produces. He is accessable just like his wine.
Look past those videos and his funny tweets and Facebook posts, it’s just Juan having fun. Some might say, “He does those video’s to sell wine” or “No one would buy those wines without the video’s” Juan puts alot of time and work into those videos and they are great and entertaining. Knock him if you wish for making videos with penguins, but they make me laugh. Seriously. Here is one of my favorite Juanmaker shots, and this one about Gewürztraminer.
I would buy Juan’s wines no matter what. Good people make good wine, and Juan is good people. All he is trying to do is tell you about his wine with a little twist. He puts himself out there because he has something to stand behind, good quality and affordable wine.
I am sure not to chuckle the next time I see the bingo sign at Martha Clara vineyards, I can’t because I may be calling out numbers one day. Make sure you stop in and visit Martha Clara. There is always something going on, but more importantly, there is alot going on in the bottles as well.