John Medolla is new to the wine biz and on paper might seem like a most unlikely architect of a new and very good merlot. After 30 years in the aviation industry, he and his wife, Denise, took the plunge in 2002—problem was, they had no vines, no winemaking equipment, no facility in which to make the magic happen. But with the Brooklyn memory of his Neapolitan grandmother burning in his brain, he didn’t let the little things get in the way.
“I guess you could say that my wife and I wanted to continue [my] family’s tradition,” John says. “It was sort of a calling.”
So he found a way to make it happen, buying grapes from McCullough Vineyards in Aquebogue, Long Island and working in conjunction with Lenz Winery.
“We are one of the smallest wineries on the North Fork, [and] it is common for smaller wineries to utilize a larger winery’s facility,” he explains. Their maiden stock was a 2002 vintage, a 100 percent merlot produced at the Lenz Winery. “We are known as an ‘alternating proprietor,’ which in layman’s terms means we have an arrangement with Lenz to utilize their equipment. It gives us flexibility.”
Right now, Medolla is an all-merlot, all-the-time producer, a decision that has allowed John to simultaneously relearn what was taught to him by his own Italian-immigrant family, and work side by side with talented Lenz winemaker Eric Frye. “Frye is the greatest! He is a great teacher. He believes in what he does; we believe in him.”
John also believes in remaking history. When his grandmother immigrated to Red Hook in 1913, she became known in the pursuit of crafting vino.
“Upon my grandmother’s arrival in 1913, she settled in Brooklyn and opened a café. At that time, the docks were booming and many locals came from Southern Italy and took great pride in continuing the tradition of making wine. She provided the equipment, etc. Each family had their own method and at times that caused a lot of arguing!” John laughs. “As a child I can recall the old-timers squabbling over their individual methods, [but] the end result was everyone made wine. You could say [my grandmother] was sort of a neighborhood icon during the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.”
So now John and Denise have released their second vintage: 500 cases of the 2003 Medolla Merlot, which “was a cool year,” John says. “We could have had a little less rain as well. Hence we have more of a delicate, elegant wine. The evolution of this wine was amazing. it was constantly changing for the better.”
If his grandmother were alive to sip it herself, we imagine that she’d be pleased.