Q&A with Winemaker Russell Hearn
On Sundays in April and May we are hosting interactive Instagram experiences from the @SuhruWines Instagram account. Tune in each Sunday at 3pm to see what we have happening! Below is a transcript of the Live Instagram Q&A we hosted Sunday, April 26th with Russell Hearn, winemaker at Suhru Wines! Checkout what he had to say in response to your wine questions!
Russell Hearn, Winemaker
Russell has made extensive contributions to the New York wine industry over the past three decades with his wines garnering extensive critical acclaim and industry wide respect. His innovative winemaking style has influenced the quality of many wineries in our region, none more so than Pellegrini Vineyards and more recently Lieb Cellars and Bridge Lane.
Australian born, he grew up around wine as his mother was in the business. Russell started his career in Western Australia and has taken his training with him throughout his journey with experience gained working in New Zealand, France, and regions across the USA. Russell founded Premium Wine Group a custom crush facility in 2000, encouraging small, fine quality wine producers like Suhru Wines to flourish.
As the winemaker of Suhru Wines, Russell brings his knowledge, experience, and relationships with quality New York State growers. He greatly enjoys the time spent working with Susan & their daughters developing Suhru Wines.
Q: How long have you been a winemaker on Long Island?
A: My first vintage on the North Fork was 1990, after starting in the wine industry in Western Australia (where I grew up) in 1979.
Q: What makes the North Fork of Long Island such a good wine region?
A: The maritime influence of our region moderates our climate year round, ensuring our winters aren't too cold, our summers aren't too hot AND the well drained soils on the North Fork provide good drainage, shedding the summer rainfall.
Q: What makes a Long Island Cabernet Franc special?
A: This varietal only grows well in a few regions of the world—it requires a cool but long growing season and very good vineyard management. Long Island Cabernet Franc is known for bright, aromatic fruit with delicate tannins.
Q: What is your favorite food & wine pairing?
A: I have to go with a classic Australian pairing here: Lamb & Shiraz!
Q: Which wines that you make are your favorite, and why?
A: All of them (otherwise I wouldn't make them). At Suhru we choose to only make the wines we love! That being said, Pinot Grigio and Shiraz are two of my favorites, you don't see either variety very often in New York wine.
Q: What led you to become a winemaker?
A: My mother worked in marketing for a winery in Western Australia, so I grew up around the industry. It appealed to me from the start as a great blend of science and art!
Q: How does making wine in Australia compare to doing it on the North Fork?
A: It's almost the opposite approach with red wines but similar with whites. White wines express the fruit and acidity in both cool (Long Island) and warm (Australia) climates, where as the goal for red wines on Long Island (in a cool climate) is to minimize astringency where in warmer climates like Australia, you want to emphasize it. The higher the astringency, the higher the tannins.
Q: How did you wind up making wine on the North Fork?
A: My wife was from Boston, so we wanted to explore working on the East Coast of the US. We spent 2 years in Virginia (where I worked for Dominion Wine Cellars) but it didn't feel right. Long Island has been a great move to be part of helping establish a new wine region.
Q: What's the difference between Suhru's Brut and Proseco?
A: Our Brut is made using the traditional approach—méthode champenoise—where we referment the wine in the bottle, keeping it on the yeast sediment (sur lees) for 18-30 months. Proseco uses the Charmat method—refermentation occurs in the tank then you bottle straight from tank which captures the carbonation but not the nuances of flavor, which come from spending time on the lees.
Q: What is your favorite thing about working with your family?
A: The constant aggravation! No seriously, the constant enjoyment of our family interaction and our joint love of the wine industry!
Q: How do you know when grapes are ready to be picked and made into wine?
A: During harvest I am walking through the vineyards daily—looking at the health of the canopy, testing the fruit, and keeping an eye on the upcoming weather. Leading up to harvesting the fruit we test for: Brix (sugar content) acidity, and pH. When the fruit flavors develop into what I am looking for in the wine, it is time to pick.
Q: What is the best part of the winemaking process?
A: Tasting of course! No, I really enjoy the seasonality of the process. Growing, harvesting, finishing, bottling. Each season of the year is different. You feel very connected to the cycles of the seasons and what needs to be done in each.
Q: What is the most important step in the winemaking process?
A: As a professional winemaker, my goal is to produce technically correct wines, showing off fruit/vineyard expression. Technical flaws are unacceptable. As both my family and my staff can attest, I always say winemaking is 70% sanitation, 20% perspiration, 9% inspiration, and 1% degustation (drinking) but only at the end of the day!