The Patriarch of Jamesport Vineyards was an industry pioneer

Like a fine wine, Ron Goerler Sr. has aged well.

You could say that Mr. Goerler lived his 95th birthday to the fullest. He was not deceived about life experiences.

It wasn’t until his mid-fifties that Mr. Goerler started a business for which he became best known. He and his wife, Ann Marie, established the fifth vineyard on North Fork.

And yet operating a vineyard was only a part of Mr. Goerler’s rich life. He was a man of varied interests, which included harness racing, sailing, scuba diving and golf.

“He liked to keep tight control over whatever he chose to do, but he also loved life,” said Charles Massoud, owner of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue. “He was at an age when others would think about assisted living, [and] he goes out and buys a Porsche.

Mr. Goerler, a pioneer of the North Fork wine industry, passed away at his Cutchogue home on August 30. The family did not disclose the cause of death.

Working as a family can have its ups and downs. Ron Goerler Jr. has direct experience of many years spent with his father in the family business Jamesport Vineyards.

What was it like working with his father?

“Tough,” Ron Jr. said. Then, ironically, he added, “I’ve probably been fired half a dozen times and resigned too, probably a dozen times.”

In 1980 the Goerlers bought a property called Early Rising Farm in Cutchogue at an auction and began planting vines. With this, Jamesport Vineyards was born, the fifth vineyard to be planted on the North Fork. The North Fork / Riverhead area now features over three dozen wine tasting rooms.

Like other founding fathers of the region’s fledgling wine industry at the time, Ron Sr. had no experience in agriculture or viticulture. He had a plumbing manufacturing business. Venturing into a new, largely untested industry took courage.

“You have to be willing to take risks and he was always willing to take risks,” said Ron Jr., who now oversees the vineyard with his wife, Joanne.

Mr. Massoud, who had worked in marketing for IBM before entering the wine business in the early 1980s, said: “When you look at everyone’s background back then, no one was a farmer. What we have in common as a group is that we love to drink wine.

“He was no different from the rest of us in the sense that he came to [it] as a secondary activity, [with] a lot of passion. We never really called it a business. It has always been an expensive hobby that we try to turn into a business. We didn’t know if this would be a successful project at the time. It was not a proven thing.

Born in New York City on November 6, 1925, Ron Sr. graduated from high school at Rockville Center and enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a pilot during World War II. The war ended before he had a chance to fly in combat, although he continued to fly for over 60 years.

Kip Bedell of Southold, the retired former owner and founding winemaker of Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, recalled a time when Ron Sr. took them both and their wives to Block Island for a weekend. . The fog had delayed their return flight for a few hours before it finally lifted a bit.

“He said, ‘OK, we’re going to take off,’” Mr. Bedell said. “So, we took off, and I’m telling you, I think we flew about thirty meters above the water all the way back… I’m telling you, it was a pretty hairy trip.” We laughed about it for years, but it probably wasn’t that funny back then.

Ron Sr. studied business law at Cornell University and received his master’s degree from the University of Miami. He then worked for his father in the plumbing manufacturing company, Crest / Good Manufacturing, becoming President and CEO in 1970. One of his sons, Philip, now oversees this company.

Ron Jr. said the Goerler family vineyard “struggled in the early years. We were not a family of winemakers, like most families who have come here. They were not families of winegrowers. We loved the wine. We loved being a part of a growing industry, and that’s really what fascinated my dad about the business, that you could take a crop like grape, convert it into liquor wine and then sell it. . My dad was a numbers guy. He loved the nuts and bolts behind what made up a bottle of wine.

As the co-founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973 and one of the founders of the Long Island Wine Council, Louisa Hargrave deserves a place on the industry’s Mount Rushmore. She said Jamesport Vineyards found its niche in those early days with “a really good sauvignon blanc” which gave the vineyard a certain cachet. “Everyone makes wonderful chardonnay here, but widening the scope with sauvignon blanc was really a good thing,” she said.

The two Ron’s worked as a mini-team.

“My dad was the guy with the money; I was the muscle, but I learned a lot from my dad, ”said Ron Jr.“ We toiled in the vineyard. We worked hard in the cellar, but I got a taste for it then. I was 17.

Ron Jr. said his father was “a genius to the limit, a charismatic guy. We called him a Renaissance man because he did everything. He was of German origin. His grandfather and father were from Baden-Baden. He was stern, but he was still smiling. When he walked into a room, he had life.

Ron Jr. said perhaps the most valuable thing he learned from his father was to never give up. “And that’s the only thing I tell people all the time is that you have dreams, and if you want them to come true you can never give up,” he said. . “There will be a lot of things along the way that will get in your way. We are lucky he never gave up and I think that’s the only thing I take away from him is that he really has, all he has done he has. made with life and with courage… and he never gave up.

Jamesport Vineyards will host a celebration of the life of Ron Sr. on November 7 (a day after what would have been his 96th birthday).

“If you’re winning 75, you might not have done everything you wanted to,” Ron Jr. said. “If you’re 85, you’ve had a good life. If you do 95, you did everything you wanted to do.

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