Photo is the second Damianos generation, Pindar at left, Jason in the middle and Alethea Damianos - Conroy at right.
Q: Pindar is an old winery, as North Fork wineries go. How old were you when your family started it?
A: I was six when my dad started Pindar winery, back in 1978, 79. I think he named the winery after me because I was the youngest son. The Hargraves were first, and then my dad was right behind them.
My Dad, the Hargraves, the other forefathers—Pelligrini, Pugliese—they had a vision to build a wine industry, and they accomplished that. In the beginning I remember we were driving out, when I was eight or nine, Dad was so excited the North Fork had “wine trail” signs.
Q: Are your siblings in the wine industry too?
A: We’re a wine making family. My brother Jason has his winery in Jamesport, and the family also has Duck Walk in Southampton and Southold. We acquired it in 1994, named it Duck Walk. We built the satellite tasting room in Southold in 2007.
We call Pindar the mothership. Pindar’s success has created the other opportunities.
Q: You mentioned driving out with your Dad; I take it you didn’t grow up on the North Fork full time?
A: The whole family grew up in St. James, my dad was a doctor with a practice in Stony Brook. Dad studied in Italy, always loved wine. And he always loved the agriculture of Long Island.
When he saw the Hargraves planting, he thought Long Island could be a great wine place. So he purchased the 30 acres, and started planting. And it grew from there. Our climate, our soils, it was meant to be. The varietals we can grow on Long Island are amazing.
Q: How has Pindar evolved over time?
A: There was no wine industry on Long Island in the 70s—Long Islanders were beer and spirits drinkers. So when we first established we came out with easy drinking wines, like the Winter White and the rest of the Four Seasons, to get people interested in wine. Over the years people’s tastes have changed, gotten more sophisticated—and so have our wines.
Q: Does Pindar have any signature wines?
A: We make great reds--cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, two Bordeaux blends (Mythology and Pythagoras). We still make the Four Seasons—Spring Splendor, Summer Blush, Autumn Gold and Winter White. But I think our real signature is our breadth; now we make sparkling wines, dessert wines—over 23 in all.
Q: Do you have a favorite?
A: They’re all good, it’s like trying to pick your favorite child. It all depends on what time of year, what you’re eating. That said, lately cabernet franc and the Bordeaux varieties are my favorites. The last eight or nine years cab franc has made its name on Long Island. In 2005 our cab franc won best in New York State.
Q: What was it like, growing up with a vineyard in the family?
A: It was exciting. In the early days, when we were planting, we were all just out there planting. Growing up around it, it shaped me, showed me hard work, it gave me good values. Being in this community is great.
Q: You’re the second generation; will there be a third in the family wine business?
A: I have a six year old, my sister has teenagers, my brother has a son; there’s definitely another generation being raised in the field.
We’ve had employees for over 30 years, and my son reminds them of me. He was moving boxes on Sunday, putting wine on the shelf. Just like I did. A lot of people were smiling.
Q: Is there something particular you want people to know about the Pindar tasting room experience?
A: I always say that we make wines across the board, from low end to high end; our goal is to educate people about wine and Long Island. If you’re not a wine drinker yet, you can come to Pindar and try wines until you find one you like. If you like sweeter, drier, red, or white—you can experience wine and this industry.
Also we do special public events throughout the year. In November we offered champagne, caviar, and Chopin; starting in December we’ll have our annual hot mulled wine and cookies, for visitors. We make the mulled wine out of Sweet Scarlet, which is one of sweeter reds. It’s a great time to visit. Now’s the best time to be here, it’s not as packed, you get more of a one on one.
Q: You have a wind turbine; what’s the story with that?
A: We put it up in 2011 and it generates 100 kW. That’s enough to do the production facility. Basically we’re off the grid for our wine production.
Q: Off the grid? That’s cool. Do you have any new releases coming soon?
A: Our 2013 cabernet franc will be released this December, along with a premier cuvee champagne made purely from chardonnay.
2013 was an excellent year, 2014 and 2015 are also excellent vintages. Having back to back to back vintages that are so great I think is really going to move the industry to another level. The qualities of the reds in particular are just phenomenal.
Q: Your role at the vineyard is “vineyard manager”; what’s involved with that?
A: I manage the vineyard—over 300 acres of grapes. We’re in our 38th year now, are much larger than that original 30 acres. I’ve managed it since 2004.
My bread and butter has always been the vineyard; I like the outdoor part, the agriculture. I went to school in CA for viticulture.
It’s always a challenge, you’re dealing with mother nature, but the satisfaction is so high. It’s a lot of work, but when people tell you in the tasting room that they really enjoy the wine and you know all the work that went in to it, it’s such a great feeling.
Q: Will you take on other roles, or is vineyard manager your niche?
A: Since my dad died, I got involved in the tasting room, in distribution too. The whole family has stepped it up, and we have our long time employees.
The next generation is coming into its own. The younger generation, more interested in social networking, we can push this industry even farther up the ladder. We just want to take it to the next level, keep the North Fork green.
Dad always said that if New Yorkers could get behind their own product like CA does, Long Island couldn’t make enough wine.