By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor
If you've visited Roanoke Vineyards over the past several years, you've probably met George Romero. He's hard to avoid. He's a fixture behind the tasting bar and outside on the patio, often seen pouring wines for and chatting up customers.
More often than not, I get to Roanoke when they first open on Saturday morning and — almost without fail — George is there cleaning the floors and preparing the tasting room for the throngs of red wine lovers to follow. Yes, he's a man of many talents.
He's also an interesting and gregarious guy — the type of person who brings texture and complexity to Long Island wine country. He's just type of person we like to talk to for our NYCR Q&A and ask him our set of questions:
What event/bottle/etc. made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
I think it’s more important for me to address why I’ve stayed in the wine industry. I’ve found that I’ve basically engulfed myself in the culture of the East End Long Island. Every year the wine gets better and better. For me, it’s been about what to taste next.
If I had to pick a bottle that made me fall in love with the Long Island wine, I would say Roanoke Vineyards 2005 Merlot. Simply amazing.
What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking?
The first bottle of wine I had was an epic fail. It was a red wine and I drank it like a beer. Enter the instant hangover.
After a five-year vacation from wine, I gave it another swirl when I started tending bar. At that point I became a vampire seeking more blood. I started seeking out wine. Like anything in mass, there was some serious trial and error narrowing down regions and wine that I enjoyed. What most people call wine tasting, I prefer to call research.
Which of your current wines is your favorite and why?
Although I take enormous pride in all of our wines, if I had to chose just one current wine from the Roanoke Vineyards lineup, it would have to be the 2007 Blend 2. With a dominant cabernet franc presence accompanied by merlot and cabernet sauvignon, it truly highlights the three grapes that Roanoke grows. Its deep earthy flavors are strong enough to pair with a heavy sauce, yet gentle enough to side with pork or seafood.
We are extremely blessed to have an amazing family in the Pisacanos who meticulously put care into every detail of the business, as well as having the very talented and very creative Roman Roth as our wine maker.
What has surprised you most about being a member of the New York wine community?
What’s surprised me the most is how friendly my colleagues have been. With so many vineyards and wineries out there and so many people working at them, it’s such an amazing atmosphere when we’re all together. You would think there would be competition and bragging rights among us, but there’s not.
Earlier in the year, I created a group on Facebook called “Pour People.” In a few short months it’s grown to over 100 members. It’s been an amazing way for us to stay abreast on all the happenings at each winery and to get to know each other more as friends.
Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
I’m a big fan of Macari’s Dos Aguas, Lenz 2005 Merlot/Malbec — when you can find it — and Jamesport
continually produces great sauvignon blanc.
With beer, I try to stay local and support the local breweries when I can. There are so many similarities with craft beer and wine making. There’s a certain sense of freedom to be able to make things you enjoy as opposed to making things to supply a demand.
As for liquor? Bourbon, ‘nuff said!
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy?
Not really. For the most part I try to be creative at home or when out and about when it comes
to pairing. I think the thing that keeps wine and food interesting, is coming up with new pairing
ideas. I’m not opposed to having chardonnay with a nice steak.
Wine enjoyment is about more than just the wine itself. Describe the combination of
wine, locations, food, company, etc. that would make (or has made) for the ultimate wine-
It’s great to see that Long Island is embracing the wine culture of the east end. This has become evident in the opening of many fine restaurants from Riverhead to Orient Point.
For me, the ultimate experience would include great company. I rather enjoy being around company that have varying wine backgrounds, whether it be novice or professional and everything in between. The knowledge and experience that can be acquired is something that I embrace. The venue would have to provide a cozy environment, the kind of place where anybody would feel welcome. I’m not a fan of the super high-brow establishments that judge you right away based on how you’re dressed. I enjoy the more family-style places where good conversation is as important as the meal and wine.
Also, listening to the winemaker discuss the challenges and hardships of making an excellent wine is great educational research, but the highlight for me is when I get to hear the chef discuss why he chose a particular meal for a particular wine. It’s an excellent window seat to the mind of culinary genius.