When I first moved to the North Fork I distinctly remember the Tuscan-inspired design of Raphael sticking out to me. As my recently relocated family and I began our tour of the vineyards along Route 48 and 25, I couldn’t get the one with the fountain in front out of my head.
Something felt different about the vineyard owned by the Petrocelli family. Maybe because they shared a name with my favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Perhaps because it was the first vineyard I visited on the North Fork.
Back then I knew nothing about wine. I’d glug a glass down as if I just ran a mile and needed water. My parents would try it with me. How does it smell? How does it taste? And my only answer would be wine.
Now after a year of immersing myself in the wine industry, I’m happy to report my repertoire of wine descriptors has increased tenfold. And along with that, my appreciation for Long Island wines. Fortunately, a nice perk of being in the industry is the ability to learn directly from the source. Just last week I had the pleasure to sit down with Anthony Nappa where we discussed his winemaking philosophy and experience at Raphael.
Nappa has been head winemaker at Raphael since 2012 when he took over for Rich Olsen-Harbich, now of Bedell Cellars. His past experience brought him to California, Italy, and New Zealand, but Nappa, a Massachusetts native, always knew he wanted to come back to the East Coast. Despite the North Fork constantly being left out in the conversation of prominent American wine regions, it never deterred him from coming here.
Since his start at Raphael, the North Fork has slowly begun to receive the recognition it deserves. Just last month, Decanter Magazine editor Clive Pursehouse selected a Long Island wine as his editor’s pick of the month. He wrote, “New York’s wines can and do go toe to toe with the country’s other major regions.”
“Well, we’ve always known it,” Nappa said about North Fork wines being on the same level as wineries out west. And when it comes to New York wines, certain vintages stick out. 2013 was exceptional. 2015 was terrific. And by all accounts, 2022 is going to be one of the best vintages of the last decade.
The idea behind Raphael wines is to be as food-friendly as possible. Nappa himself is heavily influenced by an Italian winemaking style with an emphasis on wines that are fruit-forward, and not heavy. The majority of the wine made at Raphael is aged in neutral oak barrels to help achieve this profile.
“I’ve always focused on structure, body, mouthfeel, a lot of tannin without it tasting oaky or over the top,” Nappa said. “We don’t filter any of the reds. Everything is wild fermented. We don’t add anything to any of the wines, no enzymes, no tannin. Everything is naturally stabilized.”
In order to get the wines where they need to be, Nappa is focused on the proper blend. Raphael’s La Fontana aims to consist of five Bordeaux varietals but ultimately the blend is determined by what is currently aging in Raphael’s cellars. In lesser vintages, higher-quality grapes end up in it because they’re not making reserve wines that year. The 2017 La Fontana fits the mold. Full, flavorful, and well balanced, it’s a wine that I easily see myself enjoying with a variety of food.
“There’s tons of tannin on the finish and richness in the mouth and a lot of body but it still has fruit notes to it,” Nappa said. “It’s more of those richer fruit notes like black olive because we get a lot of salinity here so it could be more in that direction of a coastal wine. I think it works really well and at the price point you can’t beat it.”
When it comes to Raphael's Cabernet Franc, 2020 was a little different. Traditionally, Nappa likes to pass the juice of his Cabernet Franc grapes over the skins of Merlot grapes to add weight, body, and color to the wine. In Raphael’s 2021 and 2022 vintage Nappa used this ripasso method. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the 2020 vintage did not get this treatment.
But that’s what makes it distinct. Lighter in style, this Cab Franc still delivers beautiful aromatics and flavors. Dried cranberry, thyme, pomegranate, and rose are present on the nose and palate. Even without passing over the Merlot skins the tannin is noticeable but not enough to turn anyone away. It’s easy to drink and can be served lightly chilled.
“Cab Franc has such a unique profile and that’s what we’re trying to accentuate, even the greenness of it,” Nappa said. “Traditionally it’s always been hide as much green flavor as you can but I like to accentuate it and those flavors work great.”
If red wines aren’t your thing, Raphael’s white wines from 2022 are presently being bottled and hitting our shelves soon. “All the white wines we were just bottling for 2022 are awesome,” Nappa said. “It was one of the best (vintages) in a long time.”
And when you try these wines they’ll be uniquely Long Island. “What Long Island has to offer is really interesting and unique,” Nappa said. “When it tastes like it’s from somewhere else then what’s the point?”
View All Raphael Wines Here
Looking for a recipe to pair with either of these reds? Check out Pasta Alla Norma, a Sicillian dish with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Ricotta Salata. The crunchy red fruit and vibrant acidity of the wines meld beautifully with this traditional Italian meal.