No party buses here. Croteaux Vineyards in Southold might be wine country’s greatest secret spot.
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As you pull up to the charming, shady entrance to Croteaux Vineyards, on the North Fork of Long Island, you’ll notice something missing: the buses and limos that descend on most of the larger vineyards in the area. They’re strictly verboten at Croteaux, and once you enter the quiet, shabby-chic tasting barn and garden, you’ll easily understand why they want to keep things as intimate as possible.
With its flowering gardens and wooden tables and café chairs right alongside the vineyards themselves, this is a quiet, romantic, and supremely picturesque boutique vineyard, not unlike something you might find in the Loire Valley or along the Danube. And you’ll notice something else missing here besides the drunken bachelorettes: red and white wines. Croteaux produces only rosés, and it is the lone vineyard in America to do so.
“No. We want to keep that as our identity,” says founder Michael Croteau, when asked if he’d ever consider making a red or a white. “We do make a sauvignon blanc, which is a white grape, but we blend it with cabernet franc to make it rosé-colored. That might be as close as we get to a white wine. We’ll let everyone else make the reds and whites.”
The story of Croteaux reads like the pastoral American dream for many city dwellers. Michael, a graphic designer, and his wife, Paula, were executives living in New York who liked to buy, fix up, and flip older properties. In 1992, they decided to try their hand at a country property and bought a farm in Southold. They spent the first year renovating what’s now a picture-perfect yellow farmhouse straight out of the pages of Country Living, and the following year they bought the neighboring farm to prevent neighbors from building too close to them. Winemaking was never part of the plan.
“We didn’t initially buy the farms here with the intention of planting a vineyard. We were more interested in restoring and preserving buildings and land,” says Michael. But at the same time, he had been busy working on labels and packaging for some of the nearby vineyards, like Osprey’s Dominion. “My involvement in the design aspect of wine allowed us to meet everyone necessary to eventually make it happen,” he says. The couple’s first merlot grape vines were planted in 2003, and they released their first rosé in 2006. Now Croteaux has a cult following among local purveyors and restaurants, and the wines are served in several Manhattan spots, including Spice Market and Café Luxembourg.
This summer will see the release of a few new wines that the family is excited about. “Our style is light-colored, crisp, dry rosé, more like Provence-style wines,” says Michael. “However, this year we did a ‘full-press’ juice of each of our wines and made small batches of full-bodied rosé. These wines are more like the style of wines produced in Bandol, France, and are beautiful rich ruby colors and drink like light reds. They represent a different style for us.”
Paula and the staff handle much of the day-to-day of the winery. She has also been teaching farmhouse cooking and baking out of her kitchen for the past several years and has released a cookbook based on her grandmother’s recipes.
“I still spend most of my professional time as a graphic designer,” Michael says. “But art and design are hugely influential in our product development. The package, color, wine style, and brand represent our lifestyle and aesthetic. It all comes together in what we do.”