By Lenn Thompson, Long Island Editor and Editor-in-Chief
He got into the wine business, after graduating from Syracuse University, in the "selling end" of the business, working at retail shops and restaurants in Manhattan and at Louis M Martini winery in St Helena, California.
After two years in the Hudson Valley working for a winery that had to close up shop, he came to Long Island in 1994 to take a position with Sagpond Vineyards (now Wolffer Estate). After three years working in the vineyard, he moved to Pellegrini Vineyards where his main jobs were in sales and administration. Premium Wine Group opened in 2000, and it was then that John made the jump into winemaking and he's been there since.
He joined Clovis Point in 2004.
And now, our standard set of questions:
What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking?
My grandfather's basement-made red wine was on the table at every meal when we went to visit. I remember enthusiastically sipping the dark purple wine… first mixed with cream soda and — eventually in my young teens — on its own.
What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
After growing up with wine on the table, I spent a college semester in Spain and, though still a teenager, was treated like an adult at every cafe and bar. The idea that wine naturally should accompany food, and that every other family in Spain seemed to be making the stuff gave me the confidence to jump in.
Which of your current wines is your favorite and why?
Of the currently available Clovis Point releases the Vintner's Select Merlot is the most complete and satisfying, but my favorite right now is the main line Clovis Point Merlot.
At five years old it is drinking beautifully– easy but not simple– and I'm proud of taking young fruit from a new vineyard with no track record and coming up with a merlot (with plenty of cab franc) that is so pretty in the glass.
What has surprised you most about being a member of the Long Island wine community?
Many things have surprised me since I joined the Long Island wine scene in 1994. Most notably, the large number of dedicated and competent people in the community. From the vineyard managers who are constantly studying and improving their craft to winemakers doing the same to sales and marketing people determined to stand behind the local wines, there is a lot of talent for such a small industry. T
hen add in a committed group of owners, still struggling with the economics and relative lack of attention, and I'm constantly impressed with the East End's potential.
Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
Wine is my daily drink. My wife and I share a bottle of wine every night with her creative cooking. We enjoy variety, so from a wide selection of Long Island wines to New Zealand sauvignon blancs, Aussie reds, South American malbecs and carmenieres, to the EU classics to our West Coast cabs, zins and pinots we drink it all in. While I occasionally buy a case of one particular wine, it's the mixed case that keeps me happy.
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy?
I like all well-made wine — from Champagne to Retsina. But I can't enjoy overpriced wine. Knowing the cost of growing and producing wine in general, and the higher costs incurred in a small and expensive region like Long Island, I get really cranky about wines costing upwards of $100 because they are frequently pawns of supply and demand marketing games and rarely meet expectations for greatness.
If I pay that much money (and more importantly if I ask that much money for a wine I've made) for a bottle then I expect deep, balanced, exceptional wine. So often that is not what's in the bottle.
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-drinking experience.
I would love to think the ultimate wine-drinking experience could very possibly be a daily event — good conversation around a table of interestingly spiced dishes with family, with friends, with strangers and a wine good enough to provoke notice and compliments.
A casual meal bringing together these elements has been just as satisfying an experience for me as an organized and formal tasting of the famous few. And the idea that tomorrow could be just as enjoyable is something very appealing to look forward to.