Walk into Sparkling Pointe Vineyards’ tasting room and immediately you know you’re in for something different. The smell of champagne fills the pristine white space, where three large chandeliers hang from the ceiling and brightly colored art adds a cheery, but still sophisticated, touch. More than a dozen medal-adorned bottles sit on the fireplace, a toast to the success of vintner Gilles Martin. Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast have consistently scored his wines in the high-80s, low-90s, high praise for a man heading up the North Fork’s lone sparkling wine-only vineyard. Then again, it was perhaps only natural that Gilles, who was born at the gates of the Champagne region, would be the one tapped for such a tall task.
You are a native of the Champagne region and worked in famed European wine regions like Germany. How is the winemaking on the East Coast of the US different?
We’re working with the same varieties. The ripening is a little bit deeper therefore we have to adapt to work with these grapes. Sparkling [involves] harvesting with a little more flavors. The reds are more complicated, getting more into the tannins.
You’ve been on the East Coast for about two decades, first in Virginia and now on the North Fork. How are the consumer’s attitudes towards wines different here than in Europe?
At first, many years ago, people were not really aware of the different styles of wines especially on the East Coast. They were sweeter wine drinkers…[maybe] because of the fruit wine we made on the East Coast for years. They liked a lot of German Rieslings. The tastes of wines have changed. The styles have gotten a little drier, maybe because more and more wines are being made in California and the East Coast. People have changed their habits and pairing wine with food has become more popular as well.
Why did you decide to become a winemaker?
I started in the food industry because I didn’t want to work behind a desk but I wanted to have access to the scientific world. I really enjoyed biology, chemistry and physics. There was a lot of biotechnology in the food industry. That’s how I started and then I specialized in winemaking because France is one of the top regions for wines.
What makes your wine unique?
We’re the only winery here that is committed to producing sparkling wine and only sparkling wine. We’re the caterpillar that is going to become a butterfly in the second fermentation. We’re making this base wine that through the art of the blending is going to become the effervescent sparkling wine. It’s really interesting work. It’s really pleasant to create a wine that is so fresh and nice.
What are some of your favorite food pairings for sparkling wine?
The first one that comes to mind is oysters. We’re lucky to have oysters and other seafood like lobster here. I think this wine is very well-suited for [Long Island] but you can pair it with a white meat or even plants and fruits.
What’s a typical day here like during harvest?
<Laughs> Day and night. The first thing that comes to mind when we start wine is to pick the right date. There is a lot of work in the vineyard in terms of checking the ripeness of the grapes by collecting samples and tasting to understand the stage of maturity. At the winery it is a lot of work to pick the grapes. Everything is done by hand. It’s a job that starts early morning and often finished very late at night.
Anything you’re excited about for this harvest season?
I think this year we have a different balance than usual. We have a lot of flavors, not as much sugar as usual so that brings us closer to the wine from Champagne.
Other than making and drinking wine, what are some of your favorite things about the North Fork?
The scenery. We have the Sound, the bay. I do a lot of biking and kayaking.