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Behind the Scenes

Q&A with Winemaker Russell Hearn

May 10, 2024

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 Suhru Wines and Lieb Cellars.

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 & Lieb, Russell brings his knowledge, experience, and relationships with quality New York State growers.


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: Being Australian, I have to go with a classic Australian pairing here: Lamb & Shiraz!

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: 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!

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