Peconic Bay Winery has moved its daily operations of its tasting room from Route 25 in Cutchogue to a newer facility at Empire State Cellars in the Tanger Mall complex in Riverhead, the vineyard announced on Monday.
The Cutchogue facility will remain open for large-scale special events, private functions and exclusive wine club get-togethers. The change-up happened Jan. 1, said general manager Jim Silver, who said he “agonized” over the decision to close the Cutchogue tasting room but said that the move will ultimately be more profitable for the company.
“There is a massive crush of people coming through the Riverhead store all of the time now, the hours are much longer, and there is a lot more parking — we’ll reach a lot more people this way,” he said. “And to be honest, the agritourism aspect we were dealing with in Cutchogue is not nearly as profitable as you would image it would be and was not beneficial to the branding of our wine.”
Office and administrative work, fermentation, bottling and storage of wine will also continue at the Cutchogue location, which opened in 1979 and has been owned by Ursula and Paul Lowerre since 1999. Empire State Cellars opened at the Tanger Outlet Mall in the fall of 2011, with a tasting room and a retail store featuring over 800 wine, beer, and spirits products made exclusively in New York State. ESC-X is the export arm of Empire State Cellars, currently shipping products from ten New York wineries, including Peconic Bay, to the New York State Wine Outlet in Shanghai, China.
In the coming months, Peconic Bay will release more than a dozen brand-new wines, including four new “White Label” blends, three new “Red Label” blends, a new viognier, a new sauvignon blanc, a first ever off-dry riesling and a new method champenoise sparkling wine.
“Ursula and I are excited to welcome everyone to taste our new wines at Empire State Cellars, especially our loyal wine club members,” Lowerre said. “We plan to open the grounds of the winery at least eight times this summer exclusively for our club members for private parties, tastings and events.”
Sliver added that he’d like to see one or two concerts this summer at the Cutchogue location, but nothing as elaborate as something like the NoFo Rock & Folk Fest shows that happened there in the past.
“The one-off shows we did like John Pizzarelli did very well in Cutchogue, and I could see a band like Blue Oyster Cult, who are playing acoustically now, being something we could book,” he said. “That type of thing would be much more profitable than being open seven days a week — pouring a lot of wine with people listening to music but not paying much attention to the quality of our wine. All we are doing here is repurposing our facilities."
Steve Bate, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council, said he thought Peconic Bay’s move was an “interesting choice” in a region where many different business models are at work — but agritourism is still an important part of the puzzle as far as the wine council is concerned.
“It’s important for the wine council to continue to generate tourism for the region,” he said. “We’re looking forward to Jazz on the Vine and are planning a few different events to celebrate our 40th anniversary.”
The move is a win-win, said Tanger Outlet Center general manager Janine Nebons. "Empire State Cellars has been a great retail partner as well as a very unique tourism engine," she said. "Since opening at Tanger Outlets in late 2011, ESC has focused on introducing Tanger Outlet shoppers in Riverhead to the East End's burgeoning wine and local product industries. The store team puts forth outstanding effort at educating the consumer and as a result, helps to encourage Outlet-bound traffic to travel further east, along both Forks, to visit the wineries and local purveyors that can be discovered throughout the East End's unique towns and villages."