(From left to right, the Baiz family: Chris, Ros, Rozzy, Ryan, Perry, Zak. Check out The Old Field here.) Q: How did you get to the North Fork?
A: I married Chris.
Chris’s great grandmother bought The Old Field in 1918. They came here during the great flu epidemic to get out in the fresh air. It had been known as Mrs. Kreutzer’s Park Hotel & tavern. The buildings are all 1850s and 40s--pre-civil war; there’s an old ice house on the property. The ice was cut from the pond and stored as ice blocks to be used by the hotel kitchen.
Q: So Chris was out here when you married him?
A: Nope, not full time, though Chris had spent essentially every summer of his life out here. Clara Lang, Chris’s grandmother died in 1993 at 101, so the place was going to be sold and developed. We were living in Westchester, and decided we couldn’t bear to have the place developed. In 1996 we bought it from the estate, put both feet together and jumped!
Q: What jobs were you leaving to start wine making?
A: Chris was in the metals and mining industry on Wall Street. He is by education and trade a mining engineer, geologist and oceanographer. I’ve had too many jobs to really talk about them all.
I think at that time I was working in the antique business. I’ve done everything from working for Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and film, to being a personal secretary, and I’ll say this--most of my jobs have eventually bored me, but this one hasn’t. It has a million twists and changes.
Q: Wow, so you really didn’t have any background in viniculture and you just decided to jump in?
A: I didn’t, but Chris did. Chris met Louisa and Alex Hargrave back in 1973 and helped them plant their vineyards. (Their vineyard is now Castillo de Borghese.) In 1974 he took cuttings which he planted on his mother’s property. He worked with those grapes for a number of years, and then purchased a property on Ackerly Pond Road and planted two acres of pinot noir.
Back then he was selling his grapes to a South Fork vineyard. He was part of the original, tight group that was involved in figuring out how to grow grapes out here.
Q: You said you came out here when you married Chris. When was that?
A: We got married at the end of 1984; I was living in Pittsburgh at the time and he moved me and my two children to Westchester.
He’d come out every weekend to tend to his crop; I felt his vines were his mistress and his crack—the north fork in particular—if he didn’t get here once a week or so he really went cuckoo.
Funny thing was when we moved out here Chris got on the Hampton Jitney to go to New York every day because clients did not want to lose him and I was out here looking at the tractor going oh boy, now what?
I think that first season we prepared the land and then the following spring we laser planted the fields, which was very interesting to watch. I knew nothing but there were many who dropped by to each lend their advice, which was helpful but generally conflicting so it was pretty confusing!
Q: Anything really surprise you about farming wine?
A: I can remember one day I was planting grapes in another of Chris’s vineyards and the woman across the street was in her 70s raking leaves, then mowing her lawn, then doing something else—and I was going woe is me, my knees are bleeding. It’s amazing to be in the farming business because you suddenly become a laborer and you need to figure out how to keep your body going six to ten hours a day.
One time when I was sick and falling way behind in my work, I asked one of the farmers what do you do when you get sick? And he said ‘farmers don’t get sick.’
They’re just extraordinary people out here; we owe a lot to them.
Q: You’re not such a rookie anymore; it’s been what—15 or 20 years now. Do you have the hang of it now?
A: I’m not sure you ever have the ‘hang of it” as ‘it’ is always changing.
It’s interesting; my vantage point has changed. I’ve gotten older, my daughter Perry is now the vineyard manager. I’m doing more wine making: working with Eric Fry of Lenz. He’s my mentor. He’s helped me every time I’ve had a panic attack—he’s been a wonderful, very patient teacher.
We’re really a family business, which is its own challenge and joy. Perry helps me in the winery, I help her in the vineyard. I have a son Ryan who comes home from L.A. and puts nails and screws in things and fixes things. Without him, I think this place would fall into rack and ruin.
Chris does all the acres of mowing and the tractor work. He’s a loner so he will work by himself, and so is Ryan. Perry and I enjoy working together and are very close. When one of us falls down the other picks her up.
Everything’s been learned on the fly, and now we are more educated and more confident but nature has its way of turning everything upside down!
Q: Tell me about your wines.
A: We make merlot, cabernet franc, pinot noir (when we can), chardonnay and a bubbly.
We make around 1000-1500 cases a year.
Cabernet franc is a favorite of many of our customers. It’s an estate wine. We have developed a chardonnay that’s a little different, it’s something we call “mostly steel”. It’s a steel fermented chardonnay blended with one barrel of barrel-fermented chardonnay. We also make a fully barrel fermented chardonnay.
One of our Merlots has a special label. It has to be a very good year with very healthy grapes to make it. Our first was made in 2002, and 2007 was the second time. That wine is called Commodore Perry in honor of my maternal relative Matthew Calbraith Perry who opened up Japan to trade in the 1850s. Speaking with a local here who is Japanese and grew up in Japan, Matthew Calbraith Perry is quite a celebrated figure there.
The label was designed by a Japanese gentleman along with his nephew who worked with us one summer in the tasting room. The wine was on ANA Airways in first class and is in Japan.
We make a bubbly too from 100% Pinot Noir grapes—it’s an Eric Fry bubbly—and it is absolutely delicious. It is not made every year--only when the Pinot grapes come in perfect. Pinot noir is an absolute heartbreak grape; you have it, it looks beautiful and then it’s gone. It’s all weather and pest related. No matter how we fuss over it, nature sometime moves it out of our hands.
Q: What do you love about the North Fork?
A: I think the first thing is that I’ve surprised myself by becoming very attached to land. This is still a farming community. Before I’d always been in cities or suburbs. I’d never had that connection—Land is very different when you’re working it, farming it. It creeps into your blood.
I wish this country had a better sense of what a farmer has to go through to get that pretty little apple into the store. I usually go in and buy the bruised apple and bruised tomato because I know that person worked hard.
I think the peace out here—even when it’s crazy—is extraordinary. I think the light is extraordinary. But ultimately I think it’s the solitude I like so much. We live in a beautiful place and when things get really hard I look ¬at the bays, the land, and suddenly everything’s ok.
Q: What do you love about being in the wine making business?
A: I think what’s so compelling about farming wine is that constant challenge of weather and pests that you try to get into alignment, and try to be sustainable and thoughtful about what you do out there, trying not to get discouraged, not to panic.
Making and growing wine and then drinking it is intriguing and delicious. Every season is different. When someone buys that wine and then lets you know how much they loved it, what could be more fulfilling?
There’s something really intriguing about a life with the earth. If there’s anything I hate about it it’s all the paperwork the government wants you to do.
I still consider myself an amateur. I don’t consider myself a real farmer yet. I don’t yet get up at five in the morning. Still it always amazes me how long I’ve been doing it. Farming is a world that changes every season. Like I said before, it’s really the one job I’ve never found boring.