By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor
Less than three weeks after Rich Olsen-Harbich left Raphael to lead the Bedell Cellars winemaking team, Raphael found his replacement -- North Fork native Les Howard.
Only 35, Les has been working in the local wine industry for more than 15 years. He started at Pindar Vineyards as a cellar hand. It was there that Mark Friszolowski, then Pindar's winemaker, told him that he'd make a good winemaker and the rest is history.
After five years at Pindar, Howard also worked for Osprey's Dominion Vineyards, Wolffer Estate Vineyards and Bedell Cellars — where he got to work with some of Long Island's most respected winemakers, including Roman Roth (Wolffer) and Kip Bedell (Bedell Cellars).
Les then served as winemaker at Jamesport Vineyards for four years before returning to Pindar Vineyards where he made 80,000 cases per year as head winemaker, the position he resigned from to take the Raphael job.
Asked why he thinks Raphael chose him, Les told me "I think they like that I come from here, and I have a lot of local experience. After 17 years, everything I have learned about Long Island wine goes into my winemaking... mostly that personal satisfaction comes from making wine that is an honest expression of the grape, and true to our region. That and the fact that winemaking is a tough job and you have to work really, really hard!”
"We are truly excited about working with Les,” says Joseph Vergari, general manager at Raphael, “The possibilities are endless when it comes to our growth -- in the vines and for Raphael’s place in the wine industry. Les’ style is a good match for us. We know he will
create some amazing wines.”
What will Les miss the most about Pindar Vineyards? Not surprisingly, it's the people "Running the largest winery in the region was a valuable experience. I enjoyed my time at Pindar and Duck Walk, and I’m going miss the Damianos family, especially the doctor (Dr. Dan Damianos, the owner)., who has been incredibly supportive. We all worked hard together to make quality wines, and I know they’ll continue to raise the bar. I’m also going to miss my staff; they deserve a lot of credit."
I've known Les for a number of years now, and I agree that this is an ideal fit. Les is a smart, personable guy who has some terrific wines in his background -- particularly at Jamesport -- and I look forward to seeing what he does with the fruit grown in Raphael's vineyards, which are managed by veteran Steve Mudd.
Les echoed my excitement saying "I’m excited to be working with Steve Mudd because he’s an excellent vineyard manager; I can’t wait to work with his grapes! And I think I’m going to be a good fit with the whole team at Raphael. Also, it will be nice to get back to a smaller production level, where I can be totally hands-on with the winemaking and get a little creative."