For some people, wine is a bi-weekly activity – maybe a glass in the bathtub or while binge-watching Hulu. For others, it’s a way of life, and if you’re one of the latter, I’ve got some incredible news: one Long Island man is bringing the art of winemaking to your own backyard.
Three years ago, Stephen Scarnato (a viticulturist and vineyard architect) created a company called Long Island Vine Care. The objective? To design, plant, and maintain residential vineyards. Not only does that mean you get to look out your window and see rows of quality grapes, but it also means you can harvest these grapes to design your very own bottles of wine.
Here’s how the process works: “You have space in your backyard and you want to know if it’s possible,” Scarnato says. “If you have sunlight, you can do it.” He’ll come to your property, check out the area, and take a soil sample so he can get it tested for nutrients. “And then while I’m there, I’ll ask, ‘How much space do you want to take up? What kind of wine do you like to drink?’”
Scarnato grows between fifteen to twenty different varieties, from table grapes to wine grapes – also called vitis vinifera. While he offers selections like cabernet, merlot, and chardonnay, he also plants Italian varieties that are only available on one other spot on the island.
After the varieties are chosen, Scarnato takes care of everything from the design of the vineyard to the care of the plants. Then, when harvest time comes around, he can pick and vinify the grapes for you, too. The yield is usually one whole bottle per plant – sometimes more in optimal conditions.
That being said, a more hands-on experience is also an option. If you’re interested in learning more about the process or you’re already an intermediate grower, Scarnato says he loves working alongside his customers. “The one year life of this plant is so intricate and detailed. I wanted people to see it up close and personal, and even interact with it a little bit. I have no problem with customers joining me in the vineyard. That’s the best part of the job.”
Scarnato found his passion for wine growing when he had an internship with Jim Thompson of Martha Clara Vineyards. “Some of these farmers are like the last true cowboys with soul… There’s just a sense about the world and how it works that’s just so unbiased and beautiful.” Since then, he’s become an expert, from the nitrogen levels in the soil to the history of viticulture: “In ancient times, when you had a tribe of people who moved into an area, the way that they solidified their presence was to plant a vineyard. I think it’s really important for people to reconnect with the land again in that way.”
Scarnato took us on a tour of a few vineyards that he planted and maintains. The properties spanned from moderately-sized backyards to Bed and Breakfasts with acres of land. Some were owned by knowledgeable gardeners, and some simply grew the wine so they could serve it to their guests. In every instance, Scarnato showcased his knowledge and passion for the grapes, and the personal vineyards added a sense of charm and natural appeal that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. “You could have grass,” Scarnato says, “Or you could multiply the surface area of organic matter, making a genuine impact on the environment and producing something wonderful that you can enjoy.”
Right now, Scarnato covers properties from Greenport to Nassau County, but he plans to expand the business to upstate New York and beyond. “Some of my customers design their own labels. Some have harvesting parties where they invite their whole families to pick and crush the grapes and drink the wine from the previous year. I’d love to see more of that family culture.”
For people who don’t have enough room for their own vineyards, Stephen also offers wine-making parties. He brings his equipment as well as grapes from his own personal farm. Then you, your friends, and your family spend the afternoon crushing grapes and making your own bottles. He also offers wine-making classes as well as tours at his own farm where he grows several acres of grapes.
“Because we’re dealing with smaller lots, and because of all the personalized work that goes into it, we can produce better grapes and better wines than are commercially available,” Scarnato says. “Wine is the oldest agricultural commodity we have. We’re doing this to interact with people, to help them get a real experience of the growing process, and to help cultivate an appreciation for how beautiful it is.”
If you’re interested in growing your own vineyard, hosting a wine-making party, or learning more about viticulture, you can contact Stephen Scarnato at longislandvinecare.com.