Paumanok Vineyards Visit

With Memorial Day behind us, and the warm summer weather slowly rolling in, what better way is there for New Yorkers to spend a weekend than going out to the North Fork, on the northern tip of Long Island? The beaches, the restaurants, the farms…. and of course - the wineries - make North Fork  a worthwhile destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike. And when it comes to historic NoFo wineries making world class wines, PAUMANOK is at the top of my list. 

The Massoud family, who own and run the winery, are the epitome of hospitality; never resting on their considerable laurels, the two generations of this family seek to constantly improve both the wines and the tasting experience for their guests. From the local cheeses on their pairing menu, to the new Minimalist wines - PAUMANOK forges ahead of the pack. Oh, and then there are fresh oysters on the weekends… Imagine sipping their cool Chenin, looking over the vineyard from the deck of a century-old barn that serves as their tasting room and winery. A perfect way to spend the afternoon.

I arrived at the winery just as they were opening the doors, and was immediately greeted by Kareem, the winemaker. He asked if I wanted to watch the Barrel Fermented Chardonnay being bottled. PAUMANOK produces wine from multiple grape varieties, and they are all estate grown. They make Riesling, Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

PAUMANOK wines have received multiple awards and impressed the critics. Mark Squires of The Wine Advocate has praised their wines, as has Anna Iijima of the Wine Enthusiast. The wines have been served at the White House, and can be found on many restaurant wine lists, both in NYC and on the Island. 

Some of the award winning wines, spanning several decades, displayed in the tasting room

Our tasting began with two vintages of the Rosé. Unlike most wines of that moniker, PAUMANOK Rosé has the power and the fruit to stand up to most foods. An excellent summer wine, easily paired with a picnic on the beach, or a late afternoon dinner, whether chicken or fish is on the menu.  Predominant notes were strawberry, bright citrus and herbs. We then moved on to the Chenins and Sauvignons. The regular bottlings of both are lovely choices for seafood or a cheese plate. Speaking of cheese, we snacked on the local Catapano cheeses, available at the tasting room, while tasting the white wines. The Minimalist wines are new at PAUMANOK, Kareem is allowing the varietals and the terroir to speak for themselves, by using a hands-off approach. The wines, both Chenin and Sauvignon, were thought provoking, showing complexity and depth. I enjoyed both immensely. We also tasted the PAUMANOK Chardonnay BdB sparkling wine from 2012. Made in the traditional method, the wine spends several years on its lees, developing complexity. The resulting sparkling wine is simply a delight - dry, full of green apples and earthy tones. Oysters anyone? 

Charles Massoud, the consumate host and owner of PAUMANOK Vineyards.

A glass of PAUMANOK BdB Sparkling wine, shimmering in the summer sun.

Kareem Massoud, passionate and innovative winemaker of PAUMANOK.

We then moved on to the red wines. PAUMANOK concentrates on the red varietals from the Bordeaux region of France. We tasted the Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wines, as well as the Petit Verdot and Assemblage (Bordeaux Blend). Cabernet Franc is known for its bright red fruit and the bell pepper/herbaceous note. The regular bottling of PAUMANOK Cab Franc is just that - excellent, refreshing red wine with a hint of herbs over red fruit notes. The Grand Vintage, on the other hand, showed power and agebility, along with deeper notes of black fruit and a tannic grip. Their Merlot is my personal favorite, cool, light on its feet, old world wine. Especially the GV bottling. Put that one in the cellar - and watch it blossom in three to five years. 

The PAUMANOK Blanc de Blancs is a bright, fresh sparkling wine, full of green apples and citrus notes.

The 2013 Assemblage showed Old World class and the cool, red fruited complexity of Bordeaux blends.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a different beast all-together, blueberry and blackberry notes dominate, surrounded by whiffs of lilac and violets. The Assemblage is always a treat, an ageworthy, complex old world blend. I have been drinking from my stash of 2005 Assemblage, and it is aging excellently, showing the possibilities of Long Island winemaking. The Limited Edition Petit Verdot is a wine that stands on its own. I still have the bottle of 2005 - the first year Charles and Kareem decided to bottle the variety separately. Who would do such a thing? But having tasted that particular 2005 PV in the barrel, I too, was one of the people asking Charles - why not? It sure tasted like it could handle it. The current vintage we tried, 2013, is stunning. Plum Power in all its sweet, sappy glory, with lushness and polish over an excellent backbone of acidity. It should easily age for a decade.  The wines matched well with the “pate” and “terrine” offered at the tasting room. 

The Minimalist wines have impressed me with their power and ageworthiness.

PAUMANOK Chenin is nearly a “cult wine” on Long Island - Sunshine in a Bottle

PAUMANOK Rosé - a perfect summer wine for lunch or dinner.

A bottle of Grand Vintage Merlot is always in my cellar. Classic, Old World wine.

We concluded our tasting with the sweet wines. Both wines, the Riesling and the Sauvignon are from 2012 - the year Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island. These were made in the Ice-Wine style, out of frozen grapes, but they are worlds apart in flavor. The Riesling shows classical notes of dry apricot and tropical fruit. It makes me think of a German Beerenauslese, especially the nutty notes and the citrus rind on the finish. The Sauvignon is a completely different wine, think caramel popcorn with hints of butterscotch and luscious, sweet finish. A brief sun-shower passed us by, as we sat on the covered balcony. It refreshed the vineyards and the flowers around the winery. It was another wonderful afternoon on the North Fork. You can find PAUMANOK vineyards on the web, as well as Facebook (@paumanokvineyards). For more detailed notes from the tasting, take a look at CellarTracker

Charles Massoud, sharing a few glasses of wine on the deck of the PAUMANOK tasting room.


The Journey to Amerika: An Immigrant Story

The Journey to Amerika: An Immigrant Story

Originally Published by The NYU Jordan Center for Advanced Study of Russia

No, we did not come from a war-torn country. No, we did not escape bomb threats and militants. But we are refugees. We came seeking shelter and opportunity – to the land that was the epitome of both. I should not need to exonerate my status by debating the conditions of pre-and-post-perestroika Ukraine. We knew well enough who we were. It said so on our passports, on our birth certificates and, let’s be honest, on our faces. When in the third grade I was accosted by a bully seven years my senior who came up to me, as I was “on duty” in the halls of our school – I was not surprised. Not by the attack, not by the “Save Russia, kill the Jews!” that he yelled as he punched me right in the stomach…No, that was expected. It had happened before, whether physical or mental – discrimination was ubiquitous. Whether it was in schools, or at work, in colleges or in the army. It was not our religion we were despised for; it was not even our blood. It was simply our “otherness” that was so easily scapegoated. We were the “enemy within” – a target for those who could not understand why their own life was terrible.

There is an old Soviet joke – a truckload of bread was promised to be delivered to a local store. By 6 AM there was a line of people patiently waiting for bread. At noon the director of the market came out and announced that the truck will be late, and the shipment smaller than originally promised. No Jews will be allowed to buy bread. At 6 PM, there was still no bread, and the director once again came out to make his announcement. The truck will be later still, and the shipment even smaller. Only veterans of WWII will be allowed to buy the bread. At midnight, the director finally announced that there will be no bread today. The grumbling crowd dispersed, and one person could be heard telling another “Did you see? Again the Jews lucked out! They didn’t have to wait!”

And so, we came here… not so fast. Let’s take a step back. Came here how? Refugee vetting is no simple matter – “extreme” or not! First, one must gather all the documents, in several copies, with English translations. Oh – that is the easy part, right? Do you think the clerk didn’t know why you wanted the copies? Do you think they didn’t hate you for “getting out”? Surely, they did…And you needed them to like you, to be your friend. Thus you begin to sell things, books first, then heirlooms, then whatever is left. To the last penny. And you lie. A lot. At school, at work, at home…even to your friends… because “who knows?” What if you don’t get the status…what then?A year and a half later,  after an interview in Moscow, after bowing and scraping, after multiple boxes of chocolate and cognac with envelopes full of “gratitude” to every clerk that had to stamp or copy or print some basic document, you are finally granted that magical status of a “refugee”.

You are now free to gather your bags. Nope, sorry, your bag. Only one, per person – that’s it, basta!  Put your life in that suitcase, but leave room for a pillow and a blanket (because those, we are told, are expensive in “Amerika”). Tell your children they can have one stuffed toy to bring. Maybe two… maybe a few plastic soldiers. Then you sell everything that is still left, everything you can – perhaps you will gather enough for a month’s rent in that magical country that you are hoping to get to… You sell your apartment too, for a sliver of what it is worth, to a man who makes sure that you understand he is doing you a huge favor; he takes all the risk (oh the martyr) by buying an apartment from a “traitor”. And you get yourself to Moscow.

The last goodbyes from friends and relatives, the last humiliation too, as the border agents take anything they can from your already pilfered possessions. They tell your children that the toy in their hands does not fit into the suitcase and thus will not be allowed through, too bad. And then – only then –  do you board that plane to freedom…

I cannot imagine the terror in the hearts of those refugees who were “turned back”. Stop. That’s not true. Yes I can. I can imagine – because I am not afraid of empathy. I am not afraid to remember the fear and the excitement that “Amerika” represented to us, to refugees. I will not be suckered into the “chaos vs order” narrative. I will not buy the false civilizational mythology of survival. We are not separate civilizations. “They” are not agents of chaos. When the militants destroy ancient artifacts in Iraq – it is not “their” history being destroyed. It is mine, ours! Where would we be without ancient Mesopotamia? Without Ur, Babylon, Ashur and Nineveh? What about the medieval Damascus? The centers of science and literature and law… Our civilization does not depend on their destruction. It never did. Our civilization has moved past that myth of survival. Look around – we are all the same. We are all refugees in this land. We came seeking shelter and opportunity. We came to earn a better life, not to take it. I am a Refugee. I am an American. I am a Jew. I am a Muslim. I am you.


Aleksander Kedrin: Formulae of Creation

Aleksander Kedrin: Formulae of Creation

(Photo above: Aleksander Kedrin in his New York studio)

The art book, “Aleksander Kedrin: Formulae of Creation”, was published in June of 2017 in Moscow.  It contains critical and biographical essays about the artist, as well as personal accounts of his creative journey from his own perspective. This text is my English translation of an earlier Russian volume that was presented at the 2014 exhibition of Kedrin’s work in Moscow. Additionally, the current volume contains photography of his ceramic works, as well as several portraits of the artist that I took in his studio.

I have known Aleksander for decades, his sons and I were high school friends. When he asked me to work on this project, I was both delighted and anxious. Having spent years talking about our mutual love for poetry, I respected Aleksander’s knowledge and talent. But taking on the task of translating his words into English was a serious responsibility. Could I keep his poetic spirit alive in a foreign tongue? So much of what he says is lyrical already, but the challenge is further enhanced by his use of poetic quotes throughout his essays. While some of the poems have had earlier translations, I often chose to do my own in an attempt to stick closer to Aleksander’s reading of the texts. As a student of literature and history, I knew about the Soviet repressions of artistic expression. But Aleksander’s personal story, his and his family’s struggles with the regime were eye-opening and often shocking. 

In addition to his own essays, the book contains many personal accounts written by those close to Aleksander: artists, poets and sculptors. If you want to really know a person, listen to what those around him tell you. The famous sculptor, Ernst Neizvestny, calls Kedrin a “hermit of cosmic depths”; the painter, Garry Zilberman, adds “blessed with divine talent”; and the architect, Andrey Kossinsky, calls him “a true synthesis of East and West.” To me, Aleksander is a poet with a paintbrush. He works in colors and feelings, seamlessly melting deep existential desire and emotion with poetic optimism and the human will. 

The invitation card for the gallery opening - stunning on its own.

“Temptation Fountain” -  Ceramics and Terracotta, 1988. Tourist Cultural Center in Tashkent. Dedicated to Miro and Gaudi.

“Magnificent Summer Day”

“The Potter”

“Persona”

“Pomegranets”

Tondo from the “Blue Cities” Series

“Austere Times”

“The Hunt of Bahram Gur”

“Problems”

“Solaris”

(Above - Ceramic plates decorated with Chamotte, Glass, Smalt and Colored Glaze (1975-1985) as well as a larger 4 piece ceramic relief - in the middle - from the same period)

Working on this book with Aleksander Kedrin has been wonderful. To steep myself in his world, the world of his father and of post-war Tashkent, was an experience akin to time travel.  I hope to visit the Tashkent Metro Station he created (Avenue of the Cosmonauts) one day, as well as his other monumentalist works. I am happy to present a few of my photos that were included in the book, put together by Люсинэ Петросян and Alyona Kalyanova of Галерея ARTSTORY. They did an amazing job curating the project and I can only wish I was in Moscow for the opening of the gallery show itself. The invitation alone is worth a thousand words. Thank you, both, for the work on this project.

The inscription reads (and I must say, Aleksander is too kind) - “To my dear friend and coauthor of this book, Misha, from Sasha Kedrin, with love and gratitude, joy and admiration!”

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