North Fork vineyards attract new varietals of buyers

In the bustling Hamptons real estate market, even wineries are having a moment

Castello di Borghese Vineyard
Castello di Borghese Vineyard

In 1973, Alex and Louisa Hargrave purchased a 66-acre potato farm in Cutchogue for $230,000 on something of a romantic whim.

The young, Harvard-educated couple, who had no agricultural experience, imagined a peaceful life working the land and raising a family in the rural North Fork.

Inspired by a local farmer, who pointed out that the land bore characteristics similar to land in Bordeaux, the Hargraves set to work establishing the very first vineyard in a region that has since become known as Long Island’s wine country.

The Hargraves sold the property for nearly $4 million in 1999 to Marco Borghese, an Italian-born prince living in Philadelphia, and his wife, Ann Marie, and Hargrave Vineyards — which by then had grown to 84 acres — was renamed Castello di Borghese.

Now run by the Borgheses’ son Giovanni, the vineyard again hit the market in mid-June, amid heightened demand for farmland, asking $6.5 million. The listing includes the property’s tasting room, a household dating to the 1680s, winemaking facilities and detached barns from the 19th century.

The North Fork has seen a notable uptick in vineyard sales activity in recent years.

In 2017, Mattituck’s Shinn Estate Vineyards was purchased by Randy Frankel, co-owner of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, who in 2019 added Southold’s Croteaux Vineyards to his holdings as well.

The Rivero-González family, which has long operated a vineyard in Mexico, expanded into the U.S. with the purchase of Martha Clara Vineyards, in Riverhead, for $15 million in 2018. That same year, Riverhead’s Palmer Vineyards was purchased by the Massoud family, owners of neighboring Paumanok Vineyard.

The 53-acre Peconic Bay Winery was sold to prolific land buyer Stefan Soloviev in 2019. And in February, Laurel Lakes Vineyards was bought by media mogul and ABC legal analyst Dan Abrams.

Century 21’s Joe DiVello, a North Fork native and the listing agent for Castello di Borghese, said it’s not a question of why these vineyards are being sold right now, but why they are being purchased.

“No one wants to be a pioneer,” he said. “When investors see other savvy investors buying land, they wonder what they’re missing.”

A new type of buyer

Once considered a sleepy, predominantly rural stepsister to the ritzy enclaves south of the Peconic, the North Fork has become increasingly attractive to outsiders in recent years for its distinctly anti-Hamptons qualities.

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“The North Fork is a more sedate and family-oriented place to go,” said Douglas Elliman’s Thomas McCloskey. “Our real estate here is significantly less expensive than in the Hamptons. So people who weren’t into that whole scene and wanted to travel and go on vacation started to come here.”

McCloskey sees the recent vineyard sales as part of this trend, but he’s also observed a shift in the clientele who seek them out.

“A lot of these projects originally were started as hobbies for billionaires, but that appears to be changing,” he said. “Those places were not necessarily run to be profitable, but now I’m seeing people come in, take these places on and make them viable businesses.”

Corcoran’s top-producing North Fork agent, Sheri Winter Parker, has sold seven vineyards in the last five years and currently has another in contract — Mattituck’s Gramercy Vineyards, which was listed for $2.95 million. The buyer is a Manhattan restaurant owner who wants to grow his own wine-producing grapes, she said.

“I think what’s happening is people are sort of reinventing themselves in a way — this might be the third or fourth act of their careers,” she said. “Farming in general seems romantic and tangible, and we are so close to Manhattan. It’s part of the food culture.”

Red red gold mine

Home prices in the area have risen to record highs during the pandemic, but farmland on the North Fork — including vineyards — has largely been immune to this trend.

“Farms are more prudent investments because they didn’t experience the same Covid uptick that the residential market did,” said DiVello. “It’s definitely a reason why more are selling right now. If you sell a high-rise in the city and buy 10 farms on the North Fork, it’s a great investment.”

The pandemic also made city dwellers more aware of the area in general, DiVello added.

“People flocked here specifically because it was already undervalued and only two hours away, and many don’t want to go back now that they’ve had a taste of the good life,” he said. “Some are quitting their jobs. Now they are seeing their kids wakeboarding and fishing and doing things outside, and bringing them back to the city almost seems like a punishment.”

Another factor behind the increased interest could be speculation over the demise of the 1031 exchange, which allows real estate investors to swap one investment property for another while deferring capital gains taxes. Uncertainty over the tax break’s future under President Biden could be driving some investors to take advantage of it now.

Winter Parker agrees that talk about 1031 may explain part of the spike, but she thinks it’s more about a broader “existential crisis” that everyone became much more aware of during the pandemic.

“Look, they’re not making any more land,” she said.