On a cloudy Sunday afternoon, I drove out to the East End of Long Island to meet Sue Hearn, owner of Suhru Wines, at her tasting room in Cutchogue, NY. While passing several vineyards and admiring the views along the way, I came to a small yet quaint tasting room that resides on Main Rd. A bright Open flag greets wine enthusiasts from near and far to come and taste the savory wines from Suhru. A friendly and warm smile from Sue and her daughter Shelby was received upon entering the building. While sitting down at a round table with country chairs, Sue told me her wine journey.
Sue and her husband Russell Hearn, the winemaker, have been making wine together for 10 years. The first year the pair worked on a blended red, a Riesling, and a Pinot Grigio. The vintage went well and was sold at farmer markets and within wholesale. In 2018, the family opened their own tasting room. Painted a light blue and filled with several photographs of family and the views of Long Island from local photographer Jeremy Garretson, one is able to sip wine and enjoy the cozy tasting room.
Sue was inspired by her husband Russell, when they first met in Christchurch, New Zealand during Christmas Eve at a youth hostel. Both were traveling and happen to meet by chance. After spending a week together, both realized that their time together was special and they wanted to maintain a relationship. Russell changed his work plans and was able to land a winery position in Massachusetts, where she lived, keeping their relationship strong. After marriage, Russell did his research and decided that Long Island was the location for a new and upcoming winemaking venture. He felt it was the best region and had great potential.
Throughout their years together, Russell introduced Sue to fine wine and explained wine in such a way that it ignited her own passion for wine. Vacations usually include exploring new wine regions, allowing Sue to continue to learn about wine and develop her palate. She prefers crisp white wines and fruit forward elegant red wines.
“Russell has been a true inspiration. He wears so many hats and has achieved so much. He came up with the idea of a custom crush and starting the Premium Wine Group in 2000. In addition to our own labels Suhru and TJara, he has made extensive contributions to the New York wine industry influencing many wineries, none more so than Pellegrini, Lieb Cellars, and Bridge Lane.”
Suhru sources all of their fruit from across New York State with their Riesling being harvested from the Finger Lakes and the rest of the varieties harvested from several Long Island vineyards. The varieties grown are Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Shiraz, and Malbec. Sue mentioned the importance of working with quality growers and have developed long term relationships. In fact, the day of the interview Sue and Russell had checked in on their Sauvignon Blanc and their Pinot Grigio to see how they were developing and keep up to date with the activity from the vineyard. Sue describes her work as fun and exciting.
“If we decide to add a new varietal to our brand, we do not have to plant and wait years for a harvest. We are able to source well grown vines that produce quality grapes. Additionally, we use Premium Wine Group, which is a custom crush facility in Mattituck. Russell is a founding partner within Premium Wine Group. We are able to use state of the art equipment and are able to use the wine lab as well. It is a cost effective way to produce wine since we only pay for what we use without paying for the equipment in full. We are able to price out wines competitively. Both buyers and sellers are able to benefit from the quality of the wine and price.”
Ami: How would you explain your wine making style?
Sue: “A fruit expressive wine making style. We want you to taste the fruit. We want crisp white wines that are stainless steel fermented. We like soft elegant reds. We use American and Hungarian oak and a combination of old and newer barrels to focus on the fruit forwardness. All of our wines are food friendly.”
Ami: What do you enjoy most about your current position in wine?
Sue: “Working with family has been the most celebrated aspect of the job as wine owner. Russell is the winemaker, I am the owner, Shelby my daughter is director of sales and marketing, and Kylie is the web designer. Additionally, I enjoy the non-cyclical nature of the wine industry. Every season is different. Every year is unique and different. The 2013 year was an awesome vintage, the weather was dry and the grapes grew well. On the opposite point, 2011 was a rainy season and it was a challenge for the red wines. The vines are like children, you can remember because farming is all about the weather.”
Ami: What is your favorite wine region?
Sue: “My favorite wine growing region for Sauvignon Blanc is Marlbourough, New Zealand in
particular the Sauvignon Blancs from Villa Maria and Giesen. I also like Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige, Italy. They’re a nice expression of a crisp white wine.”
Ami: What are you drinking right now?
Sue: “Our 2012 Suhru Shiraz. It’s a beautiful, soft, and elegant red.”
Ami: What advice do you give to aspiring winemakers and wine industry people?
Sue: “Often times, people start too many projects. It is best to start with a few things and do them well. Establish your brand and then branch out to other endeavors.”