Widgets Magazine

Winemaker and Innkeeper Barbara Shinn on Biodynamic Farming & Shinn Estates Vineyard

Q: Shinn Estates is a biodynamic vineyard. What does that mean? A: Biodynamics is a method of farming that concentrates on using natural ways to bring fertility to your soil, using natural habitat to control problematic insects, and allowing your surrounding ecosystem to be part or your farm.

For soil fertility we use fish and seaweed from the northeast coast, peanut shells and compost, and similar sorts of things. Because of that and the natural habitat we foster, most of our problematic insects are controlled by beneficial insects hunting them down.

In short, being biodynamic is about building a natural ecosystem on your farm. The rhythms of the soil build fertility and as farmers we intervene as little as possible.

Q: That sounds really cool. Can you give me an example of what that means in practice?

A: Sure. One aspect is allowing volunteer vegetation to grow (otherwise known as weeds), which allows for a beneficial insect population and natural pollinator habitat. You can see this if you visit; we allow a natural meadow of volunteer vegetation to prosper amongst the vines, even around the trunks of the vines.

grapes in ecosystem and yeast

Q: Is it more expensive to be biodynamic?

A: As far as the economics of the vineyard goes, we’ve seen only benefits from our sustainable practices. Here at Shinn Estate Vineyards it’s allowed us to produce better wines year after year.

Q: Have you been in the vineyard and wine business long? And what grapes do you grow?

A: Fifteen years; we first planted in 2000, our first harvest was in 2002. We manage 25 acres now, 20 on our home farm and 5 up the road. Before we purchased our land it was a conventional corn and rye farm; we converted it to the biodynamic vineyard we are now.

Over the years we’ve planted merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec for reds, and whites sauvignon blanc, semillon, pinot blanc, chardonnay, riesling. We’re fully planted now.

Q: What can visitors to your farm experience?

A: We have a small tasting room with an outside patio that’s really nice in the spring, summer and fall. Every weekday year round people can take self guided tours through the vineyards. On Saturdays and Sundays I do guided tours of the vines at 1:30, and at 2:30 my husband David Page does a guided tour of the barrel cellar and winery. In addition, we have special events throughout the year.

Shinn Estate Vineyards tasting room north fork long island winery

Q: Special events? Tell me about a few.

A: Well, every Friday in February Joan Bernhardt is here giving palm readings from 5:30-7:30; we’re open late on Fridays and Saturdays, until 8 pm. Another February special event is our 12th Annual Futures Wine Tasting and Dinner; it’s so popular we do two evenings. One was last Saturday night, the second is this coming Saturday night.

Q: Palm readings sound fun, and the futures dinner delicious. But I’m not sure what that really is. Can you explain please?

A: This is a special dinner because it is our yearly futures opportunity, where people can taste the wines that are not yet bottled and labelled, and they can purchase them at a significant discount. When the wine is bottled and labeled, they can come and pick them up.

People don’t have to come to the dinner to take advantage of the futures pricing opportunity; we’ll take orders between now and April 1st. However the dinners are the only opportunity to taste the futures before bottling.

Q: Sounds like a great opportunity. How can people keep up on all the Shinn Estates goings-on?

A: The best way is to visit our website and sign up for our weekly newsletter—the News from Oregon Road.

Q: How did you get into the wine business? Do you come from a long line of farmers?

A: No, though my husband’s grandparents were lifelong farmers. David is a chef and we owned two restaurants and a take out place in NYC. A well known one was Home Restaurant in Greenwich Village.

In our restaurants all our wines were from the east coast. We fell in love with east coast wines, particularly North Fork wines.

We quickly became friends with winemakers and vineyard managers out here on the North Fork and realized this was how we wanted to change our lives.

Our winery has evolved over the years and now David also distills beautiful brandies, an eau de vie and a grappa. As I mentioned previously David’s grandfather was a farmer but he was also a bootlegger. So I guess it is in his blood, but of course we are fully licensed to distill.

Q: What is it about North Fork wines that you love so much?

The cool climate really makes beautifully balanced wines, our soils are a gravelly loam. These two features work in tandem to produce remarkable wines.

Q: So did you discover the North Fork through wine? Or did you grow up nearby?

A: David is from Wisconsin and I am from Ohio, and we met in the San Francisco Bay area. We were living in the city when discovered the North Fork, back in the early 90’s. We started coming out on and off until we decided to put down roots here.

Q: Put down roots indeed; your biodynamic vineyard sounds so wonderful. Since none of you had a farming background, was becoming vineyard owners difficult? Did anything surprise you?

We’d always had a deep connection to the land. One thing that was surprising to us was that there wasn’t a lot of sustainable wine growing on the east coast. Now 16 years later there’s a program called the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing program,  which we helped form, and nearly half the vineyards out here are part of it. Each individual farm in the program is independently certified by a third party inspector.

Q: You and David aren’t just farmers and winemakers, right? You’re innkeepers too.

A: Right. We also have an inn in the historic farmhouse on the property; like our vineyard tasting room, we keep it open year round.

The inn is historic because our property used to be a Tuthill farm, they are one of the oldest families around here. The farmhouse was built in 1880.

The inn has four bedrooms, and guests receive a complimentary hot breakfast every morning, plus we include many benefits: A complimentary wine tasting and tour, discounts on our wines and guests can enjoy walking through our 20 acres of beautiful vines.

It’s a great way to escape to the North Fork.