Friday, April 09, 2010

Catching Up With Peggy Lauber

Peggy Lauber is one of the most experienced wine people on Long Island. She founded one of the most well know wineries (Corey Creek), and now is a sales director at another (Wolffer Estate) in a wine career that has spanned 17 years.
Joel and Peggy Lauber bought a vineyard in 1993, intending to sell grapes to local wineries. Then they tasted their incipient Chardonnay and fell in love. Thus was born the Corey Creek label. New York Times wine expert Howard Goldberg christened Corey Creek "Rookie of the Year" and "Golden Touch Vineyard," for its chardonnays and merlots.

The original vineyard was 18 acres; there are now 30, with Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir grown. There was no winery, but there was a charmingly rustic tasting room nestled among the vines south of the Main Road.

Corey Creek's were produced by top winemakers at various East End wineries. That collaboration resulted in such accolades as the gold medal for their '97 Merlot and silver for their Reserve Chardonnay at the NY State competitions.

This is a picture of the Lauber family in 1996: Joel, daughters Kate and Ali, and Peggy, before the tastingroom was built. Kate was 13 and Ali 10. Today they are now 28 and 25!
The Laubers sold Corey Creek to Michael Lynne, a motion picture executive and new owner of Bedell Cellars. However, they oversaw the sale of wines already made or in progress thru Jan. 1, 2001. Lynne has gone on to invest lots of money into Corey Creek since then.

Peggy Lauber is now the National Sales Manager at Wolffer Estates, when I caught up with her at a recent event.

When did you found Corey Creek?
We purchased what was then called Southold Vineyards, a 30 acre property, in 1993. The vineyard had at one time supplied grapes for the now-defunct Bridgehampton Winery. We named it Corey Creek after the creek located to the Southeast of the property.

How long were you with it?
We sold Corey Creek to Michael Lynne in 1999. However, as per the terms of our agreement, my then-husband and I stayed on to run the business there until 2000. I worked briefly for the distributor, Winebow, until Michael hired me back to oversee the sales and marketing for both Corey Creek and Bedell Cellars, which he had purchased in the interim.

When did you sell it? Why?
We were getting a divorce. Michael came along with a very attractive offer, and we felt the business would have a bright future under his leadership.

Was there anyone or more people on the Island who were a great help?
Matt Gillies, our vineyard manager, was instrumental in getting us off the ground. Also Dan Kleck and Russel Hearn, the two winemakers with whom we contracted to make the wines (we did not have a winery on the premises). Dan was the charismatic and talented winemaker at Palmer Vineyads in those days, who left Long Island to work with Jess Jackson, right around the time we sold the property. Russel made Merlot and Cab Franc for us, as well as our first Rose (1997 vintage), just before he started Premium Wine Group, the custom-crush facility, with his investor/partners Bob Pellegrini and Mark Lieb.

What was the biggest challenge?
Continuing to work together while separated! I have to say that by 1994 when I began selling our first Chardonnay in the market, it was not nearly as difficult to sell wines from Long Island to a skeptical public as it must have been for folks like the Hargraves, Pellegrini's and the Damianos family (Pindar). Those were the pioneers.

Who was your winemaker?
First Dan, then Russel came on board as well. The wines were made at Palmer and Pellegrini.

Are you still in touch with the people who worked for you at Corey Creek?
Absolutely! We're a close-knit region and a small town, really. One of my dearest friends, Charlotte Deutsch, managed our tasting room and marketing and is now an importer of Spanish and South American wines in New York, Vinos Libres. Dorothy-Dean Thomas is now the marketing director at Lenz Winery.

Do you have any contact now with the company?
Yes, we promote our wines together regularly at Long Island Wine Council events, etc. I confess it's been way too long since I've visited the Corey Creek Tasting Room, since I work on the South Fork now. But I'll get back there one of these days.

Any children? Did they work at CC as well?
Two daughters who showed zero interest in the wine business or grape farming. Oh, well…..

Other thoughts and memories?
Early Long Island Wine Council meetings. It is gratifying today to see the Wine Council having grown to 46+ members (there were 12 or 13 when we first joined in '93)!

And then here's our East Coast Wineries regular questions.... all the winery photos are of Corey Creek

What is the biggest challenge facing wine in your state today?

Getting decent funding from our state government, to properly promote the quality of our wine region.

What is the difference between wine in your region from ten years ago to today?

Many more selections, and more consistency of quality from vintage to vintage. There are more white blends, more red blends, more Roses and sparkling wines. Many newcomers….

Where do you think wine in your region will be 10 years from now?

Hotter than hot….from a cool climate!

What’s the trend in wine in your region that has surprised you the most in the last 2-5 years?

The rise of Rose

Is there a new trend you expect to see in the next 2-3 years?

More "alternative" white varietals such as Riesling, Gewurz & Pinot Gris

Here's Peggy t the harp, which she plays quite well, in November of 2009.

Do you find liquor stores and wine shops have been a good partner for your state grown wines? What have been some challenges?
Wine retailers have been, for the most part, amazingly supportive of our Long Island wines. We have found that in addition to our neighboring shops right here on the East End, our best market is Manhattan and Brooklyn. Great customers and forward-thinking retailers who really appreciate our wines!

Region wineries sometimes find it hard to sell wines outside of their state. How easy or difficult is it for your wineries to export their wines to other states…countries?
I'm on my way to Stockholm in a few weeks to work in the market there, where we have a wonderful importer who is quite enthusiastic about Long Island wines. We are in several restaurants there, and in Denmark and Germany as well. In the U.S., we sell in other states but our focus is NY Metro, where we have great exposure and support.

How big a part do festivals and farm markets play in your state‘s wine distribution?
We love being invited to sell at the Union Square Market as well as Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn (through NY Ag & Markets). We also do the weekly Farmer's markets locally in the Hamptons, and they are a very positive experience. Customers love buying direct from the grower!

What are the challenges of getting your wines covered by local press and the wine media?
No complaints here. In just the past few months, we've had great reviews of our wines in the NY Times, Food & Wine, Alan Duran's Periodic Review of Wine and wine bloggers such as yourself. We receive excellent coverage from local press for our wines and events at the winery tasting room.

Are their any media streams that you have found that are more effective than not?
Hard to track this….it's all good!

Are there any fears you may have too many wineries in your state?
How could we have too many wineries? The more, the merrier!

"I love that the little pink crepe Myrtle bush we planted off the back terrace is now huge and often featured in photos depicting CC vineyards and the Long Island wine region (was the cover photo of the LI Wine Cooncil brochure for years)," said Peggy.

Do you have any wine trails in your state? If so, how effective have they become? If not, why? How do your wineries effectively market themselves in groups? Or not? If not, why not?

As I'm sure you know, we have at least 6 wine trails in New York....if we could just convince Gov. Paterson to restore our funding, our New York Wine & Grape Foundation could continue its excellent work to promote us all.

Are you finding there are enough grape growers to fill the demand created by wineries in your state?

Bring on the grape growers…..bring on the grape grower customers!