Roanoke Vineyards: Benchmark Bottlings from a Long Island Wine Pioneer

By Bob Johnson

Part 3 of a 5-Part Series

You might say that Richard Pisacano gets around.

Now, before you go and get on the phone with Mrs. Pisacano (Soraya), let me explain: Pisacano gets around Long Island — specifically, the North Fork. And more specifically, the vineyards of the North Fork.

When folks started planting grapevines where potatoes and other crops traditionally had been grown, they could depend on Pisacano to be there to help. In those early years of the emerging wine region, if Richard Pisacano didn’t plant the grapevines, chances are he helped maintain them.

Long story short: There isn’t anyone with more grape-growing experience on Long Island. Wolffer Estates has benefited from his experience for the past decade.

In 2004, the Pisacanos decided the time had come to make wine under their own label. That was the beginning of Roanoke Vineyards, which shares winemaker Roman Roth with Wolffer Estates.

“Considering the background of our owner, you can see why Roanoke is all about allowing the vineyard to express itself through the wines,” says Scott Sandell, the Creative Director for Roanoke Vineyards. “We’re looking for wines that are true to the variety and also true to the vintage. As long as those two criteria are in place — and the wines are in good balance — we’re happy.”

That vision is put to the test in a wine called “The Wild!” It’s a 100% Chardonnay that Sandell says “is allowed to become whatever it wants to be” via a “wild fermentation” process.

“You know how some winemakers want to manipulate every step of the process?” Sandell poses. “This is one wine that the winemaker has very little to do with. It can be kind of stressful from day to day, because one day the fruit will be really expressive, and the next day it might be kind of muted. But in the end, I think we came up with a very nice wine.”

Of course, winemaking is a business, and “The Wild!” approach would not be advisable for all of the bottlings in a winery’s portfolio. It still takes people to make good wine and then sell it, and Roanoke has an exceptional staff.

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As the Creative Director, one of Sandell’s jobs is to create all of the winery’s labels, and his artistic talents definitely show through. In the picture, Sandell is joined by Robin Epperson-McCarthy (center), Roanoke’s Senior Sommelier and Director of Education, and Amanda Fortuna, the Wine Club Coordinator.

There also are people involved in some of the names of the wines produced at Roanoke. The red blend dubbed “Marco Tulio” is named after Don Marco Tulio, who is Richard Pisacano’s father-in-law. The 2010 vintage is scheduled to be released in late April, and is a four-varietal blend with Cabernet Franc comprising just over half.

Cab Franc also plays a starring role in another “named” Roanoke wine: Gabby’s. This 100% varietal bottling honors the patriarch of the Pisacano family, Gabby Pisacano — whose likeness, sunglasses and all, is artistically rendered on the label by Sandell.

But this is not a story of nepotism. Gabby actually oversees the farming of 12 rows of Cab Franc vines that are dedicated to this bottling. Whether outside doing the work himself or directing others, Gabby sees to it that each vine gets just the right amount of sunshine and (when necessary) drops just the right amount of fruit to guarantee the most expressive grapes and the most delicious wine possible.

Roanoke grows a lot more Cabernet Franc on its estate, but those 12 rows could very well be home to the best-cared-for grapevines on Earth.

We tasted the 2009 vintage, which was sold out, and found it to be very food-friendly. We also sampled the one-year-younger “regular” Cabernet Franc, which is more floral and more complex — which means that the not-yet-released 2010 Gabby’s could be a benchmark wine.

The 2009 Roanoke red blend called “Prime Number” certainly is a candidate for “benchmark” status. Tasted blind against any number of Napa Valley Meritage bottlings, it would “win” at least half the time.

Roanoke Vineyards is a testament to the oft-cited belief that all great wines begin in the vineyard. And on Long Island, few know the vines as intimately as Roanoke owner Richard Pisacano.

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Here are our reviews of the six Roanoke Vineyards wines tasted:

2011 Roanoke Vineyards ‘The Wild!’ North Fork of Long Island

2010 Roanoke Vineyards ‘Sonnet,’ North Fork of Long Island

2010 Roanoke Vineyards Cabernet Franc, North Fork of Long Island

2009 Roanoke Vineyards ‘Gabby’s’ Cabernet Franc, North Fork of Long Island

2009 Roanoke Vineyards ‘Prime Number,’ North Fork of Long Island

2010 Roanoke Vineyards ‘Marco Tulio,’ North Fork of Long Island

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One Response to Roanoke Vineyards: Benchmark Bottlings from a Long Island Wine Pioneer

  1. Robin says:

    It was a pleasure to meet you!

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