After retiring from a job in construction in 1983, the Farmingdale native headed out east with his wife and 11 children and purchased a 24-acre plot of land in Peconic.
He planted grapes and founded a vineyard that would be in the company of just three others: Hargrave Vineyard, Pindar Vineyards and Paumanok.
“I’ve always been building and making,” he said. “I wanted to make something with my hands.”
He called the vineyard Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards after the brown and grey bird ubiquitous in the North Fork’s skies.
The osprey is a “great, courageous bird,” he said, explaining that it dives into waters to snatch fish to eat even though it can’t swim. He likes to think the large raptors watch over his many rows of vines.
In the early years, Mr. Koehler only grew grapes and sold them to surrounding wineries. His entire family, 11 kids and all, hit the grapevines each October, forming their own harvesting crew.
He soon expanded the operation by purchasing 16 additional acres near Locust Avenue in Mattituck and teaming up with a good friend, Bill Tyree. Mr. Koehler and Mr. Tyree together purchased 50 more acres in Peconic and decided that adding a winery would make for a more prosperous business.
They had a production facility installed in a building on the newest Peconic property and bottled their first wine in 1991. They restored a farmhouse on Main Road in Peconic, just in front of the largest vineyard, into a tasting room.
As the years went on and more wineries sprung up along Main Road and Sound Avenue, crowds came in unprecedented numbers via stretch limousines and party buses, setting a scene vastly different from when Osprey’s Dominion first opened.
Now, Mr. Koehler has a gazebo and a small stage for live band performances set up outside, as well as plenty of picnic tables for summertime visitors.
Guests can purchase packaged cheeses from the winery or bring their own food to enjoy with tastings. Pets are always welcome at the vineyard, Mr. Koehler said as he scratched the chin of his Maine Coon cat named Spice, who has called the winery home her entire 14-year life.
Mr. Koehler’s passion for winemaking lies in the creativity involved and the competition with fellow wineries. He admits that in the early years, his winery was churning out “not such swift wines,” a tune many of the North Fork’s earliest vintners sing.
“Now, the wine here is as good as anywhere else,” he said decidedly. “There’s no [Long Island] wine I’d tell you is a bad wine.”
He praises his winemaker, Adam Suprenant, and vineyard manager, Wojtek Majewski, for producing quality wines. A recent success was the 2007 Reserve Merlot, which was named best Merlot at the 2011 New York Wine and Food Classic.
The vineyard’s signature wines are those in a label called Flight, which was named by Mr. Koehler and Mr. Tyree, who are both pilots.
“We felt there’s always the desire of man to achieve flight,” Mr. Koehler said. “We’re always trying to achieve the highest quality of wine.”
One best-selling white Flight, the Edelzwicker, is a unique blend — of Pino Gris, Gewürztraminer and Riesling — reminiscent of wines made in the Alsace region of France. Osprey’s Dominion also has a hot spiced wine called Spice (no relation to the cat), which is kept in a crock pot and served warm.
After all these years, Mr. Koehler, 82, still loves Long Island’s wine industry — the growing crowds of wine lovers, the award competitions and the work of the vineyard, which he doesn’t plan to give up any time soon.
“I’m always out there,” he said. “Always doing something.”
Meet the Team
Bud: Owner & GM; Loretta: Executive Assistant; Scott: Sales Manager
Adam: Winemaker; Peter: Tasting Room Manager; Wojtek: Vineyard manager