Martha Clara winemaker and general manager Juan Micieli-Martinez had a front-row seat for the North Fork’s transformation. Growing up in the Center Moriches/Manorville area, he’d often travel to Southold and Mattituck to play baseball.
“You could tell homes were not as nice, things were a little more rundown,” Micieli-Martinez said. “It’s been wonderful watching so much transform out here.”
These days, he’s on the front lines at Martha Clara, the Entenmann’s-owned vineyard and winery that has become one of the region’s most popular spots.
Tell me a bit about your background and why you decided to become a winemaker.
I graduated from college [at Binghamton University] and wanted to take my last summer job learning about wine. I worked in a tasting room [at Pellegrini Vineyards] and was learning about wines. Someone who was doing the lab analysis had left. I was doing the lab analysis and said, ‘Hey, I wouldn’t mind helping out, learning some more about wine.’ The more time I spent there, the more it intrigued me. Working with nature, working with science because winemaking is a combination of working with art and science. I think that’s what intrigued me the most.
You were a brewer at Southampton Publick House for about a year and a half in the early 2000s. How does brewing beer compare to winemaking?
The big difference that I think I love about winemaking is that we have a direct connection with what we are turning into the fermented beverage. We are growing it. In brewing, it’s starting to change but mainly speaking most of the breweries are buying hops and malt.
What inspires your winemaking?
Each year. Each year is unique and different. The conditions are always changing because it’s nature. Adapting to those conditions is what inspires me.
What has made 2016 unique?
We’ve been seeing successively warmer years and sugar content. 2016 is continuing that in terms of warmth but the sugar accumulation has varied this year. It’s not as high as we thought it would be. Something happened regionally this year, it’s not an individual thing, it’s a collectively viticulture thing. We haven’t figured out what it is.
How is climate change impacting your job?
Climate change is a reality that exists. It will change the types of grapes we grow and styles of wine we produce. It’s something that we are certainly aware of and making decisions based upon. When I first got into the business I would have definitely considered Long Island a cool, maritime climate but I think we’re starting to enter into the realm of warm, maritime.
How would you describe your style of winemaking?
I’m big on evolution. Historically, I’ve really tried to express the best fruit aromatics. I’m still seeking to do that but I’m starting to delve more into the idea of more minimal intervention in wine. I’m allowing more indigenous yeast to ferment, to allow more things to happen and not try to control as many things and just work with what you’ve been given by nature with the vine.
What is something you’re really excited for this harvest season?
I’m playing with more spontaneous fermentations, some of the white wines, so I’m curious to see how those come along. Reds are still hanging. One thing I’m always excited about is Sauvignon Blanc. It’s beautiful in fermentation right now. I have a lot of expectations for that. We’ve produced orange wine two years in a row. It’s an ancient tradition style of winemaking where white wines are fermented on the skins, giving the wines a natural orange hue.
On a more somber note, owner Robert Entenmann passed away last month. What did he mean to the North Fork?
Mr. Entemann, when he did things, he wanted them done a certain way. He wanted to create a different niche and he really did with Martha Clara. There’s no other winery on the North Fork like us and that all stemmed from him.
What makes this place so special?
I really find Martha Clara to be a dynamic vineyard. You can see amazing music, a vineyard tour or walk, wine education. We just recently did a stomp party this past weekend. We’re always trying to do things to get people into the vineyard and learning about the art of winemaking but in a passive experience. We try to make it fun.
What are some of your favorite wine regions?
I worked in Western Australia. I’ve been able to travel to Argentina and Chile. I love Mendoza and Malbec from Chile. Each wine region is unique and so they all have their own specialties. Do I have a favorite one? I certainly love McLaren Vales, view wise it’s beautiful. And you can’t go wrong in Argentina with the snow-covered Andes.
Which wines on Martha Clara’s current menu do you love most and why should we try them?
I really enjoy the Northville Wines. Northville blends all fruits blended on our farms. I feel they really reflect the terroir we have on the North Fork and my blending style.