Don’t blink when you’re driving down Route 48 in Cutchogue or you might miss Waters Crest Winery and that would be a damned shame. Tucked into a small storefront in a tiny industrial-looking facility is Jim Waters’ passion project. In 2,000 square feet he does just about everything the big guys do.
Waters was a home winemaker for many years but joined the professional ranks in 2001. “I made the leap from the corporate world after 9/11,” he says. “I was a volunteer fireman and spent time at Ground Zero and decided life was too precious….When I came home after that experience, I decided it was time to take the leap.” He opened the tasting room in 2003. Although he had traveled extensively with his wife and visited many vineyards, and worked a few harvest seasons, “I didn’t want to be a grower,” he says. “We were the first negotiants on the island,” purchasing grapes for his own wine from other growers. “No one was doing it when we started. Everyone thought we were crazy!”
Crazy good! Water’s Crest received the award for Dan’s Best of the Best in 2011 for their riesling and their cabernet has won multiple times. They have a large and active wine club geared to serious wine drinkers, with 90% of his stock sold through the tasting room and club. His wines are featured at Tom Schaudel’s restaurants—Jewel, Amano, Cool Fish, and Allure. “Their food is terrific,” says Waters, “and Tom has such an experienced wine palate—he probably tastes 3,000 wines a year….He has sold over 1,000 bottles of our wines in Nassau alone.”
But it is not just the wine that makes Jim Waters an interesting guy. He is a huge proponent of the Long Island wine industry itself and is deeply immersed in the politics of the region. He is an active member of the Long Island Wine Council, serving as treasurer and is involved with the planning for the 40th Anniversary celebration coming in the summer of 2013.
“It is the central voice for the region,” he says. “Right now we have a very good governor who realizes the importance of agriculture. There is great communication between the Farm Bureau upstate and the local community. They are trying to draw people to the state to spend money here and keep it here.” Waters points out that “agriculture is the second largest revenue generator for the state, next to Wall Street.”
But even a serious wine guy can have some fun. To mix things up a little, he recently presented a non-traditional pairing of local items. “Sips and Chips,” an unusual combination of local North Fork potato chips and some of Waters’ special vintages was a big success. “It was a positively addictive combination,” says taster Susan Sunshine, a New Jersey resident who was enjoying a day in wine country.
“Food and wine is very suggestive and everybody’s palate is a little different,” says Waters. “I ask my chefs to use local ingredients” when they offer pairings. “I spent three and a half months in France and this is the closest thing to it…you have all the freshest things. ‘Terroir’ is about everything in the micro-climate and system: what we grow and what we do. Everything on the North Fork is farm-to-table or caught fresh.”
And cooperation benefits everyone. This autumn, Waters Crest is featuring local craft beers including selections from Greenport Brewery. There will be a joint tasting on November 17 at Montauk Brewing Company’s new tasting room for beers and Waters Crest wines, and during December, four wineries (Waters Crest, Sannino Belavita, Sparkling Point, and Winemaker Studios) are getting together to sponsor weekend holiday tastings.
Waters is always looking outside his small storefront window at the big picture. “People are coming globally these days,” he says, “specifically because of articles they have read. There are a lot of new hotels and B&B’s opening up—good lodging, good restaurants! Our season now extends to about 10 months.” And he loves working with the other businesses. “There is the greatest group of people in this industry.”
Waters Crest Winery, 22355 County Road 48, Cutchogue. 631-734-5065 www.waterscrestwinery.com