That Long Island Garage Magic

Benford Lepley (left) and Erik Longabardi began making ciders in 2014 and wines in 2017. They continue to make everything in Erik's garage in Roslyn, NY.  Illustration by Jonathan Kemp


That Long Island Garage Magic

Floral Terranes' latest batch continues to surprise and impress


For those of you who haven't heard of Floral Terranes yet, here's the rundown: Benford Lepley and Erik Longabardi went from making foraged apple ciders as a hobby to producing the most exciting wines in New York — all in a garage in suburban Roslyn. Erik and Benford are driven, borderline obsessive, and fueled by enough extra energy to also have full time jobs in addition to Floral Terranes: Benford works for a rug and design firm, while Erik teaches public school in East Elmhurst, Queens.

Full disclosure, Erik's a good friend of mine, and I know I'm a little biased: so it was exciting late last week to find that none other than the New York Times felt the same way about their unique project.

Their newest release of ciders and wine is the best yet, in my opinion. Looking back on last year's offer, apparently I said that exact thing — but that doesn't mean it's not true! Floral Terranes is tireless in their efforts to improve every vintage, and it is very noticeable. This was a heavy year for apples (many apple trees produce fruit only biennially) and I would encourage everyone to not miss on the ciders this year, they are truly in a class by themselves. They have reached a new level of polish and sublime elegance that I've never encountered in another cider.

As befits the small size of their garage operation, there is not endless amounts, so don't wait on these.


Erik and Benford began foraging apples from underappreciated sites in Nassau County, and started buying grapes from the North Fork in 2017. Neither has formal winemaking training. Their approach is more of the DIY rock 'n' roll ethos: in fact, Erik used to play drums in the same twangy, post-Strokes NYC rock scene I was also playing guitar in years ago. But when he moved to suburban Roslyn, instead of setting up his drums in the garage, he started making mead and cider.

Similar to the three chords and the truth approach to music, Floral Terranes is working with just the essentials of winemaking as it dates back to the beginning of civilization: healthy fruit and hard work. They don't use anything other than a small amount of sulfur when necessary, and make adjustments to the wines in the cramped garage by the seats of their pants.

Just like the best rock music strips away the artifice in favor of raw energy, the Floral Terranes wines and ciders are a (literally and figuratively) refreshing departure from the typical wines of Long Island. They are a signpost that speaks of a very different way forward for the region, and looks to build awareness in the community of the unique natural resources that are typically ignored in the daily grind of suburban life. Erik and Benford are constantly meeting new people and are like reverse Johnny Appleseeds, showing people all the unique apple varieties that are already there. Why let the squirrels eat them when you could turn them into delicious cider that speaks to local history and points a way forward that could be a model for places all over the US?

Erik and Benford want to build a community through preserving nature in the midst of suburban sprawl. They want to turn their frustrations with their surroundings into positive change. It's one thing to 'grown where you're planted' but Erik and Benford are a good reminder that you have to shake some action in the dirt, too. Their relentless drive to improve each vintage has turned a scrappy DIY project into something captivating, poignant — and, most importantly, exciting to drink and to share.



Image of Floral Terranes 'Suburban Moraine' Cider 2021
Floral Terranes 'Suburban Moraine' Cider 2021
A 50/50 mix of Black Twig and Winesap apples from Breeze Hill Farm, near Southold. Dusty, chalky, and crystalline. Direct, clear, and invigorating, but very balanced overall. A quite vinous cider with taut acidity and fine-boned, sublime elegance. JK
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Image of Floral Terranes 'Restoration Farm' Cider 2021
Floral Terranes 'Restoration Farm' Cider 2021
Restoration Farm in Old Bethpage, NY was supposed to be a 'living museum' recreting 19th century life on Long Island but the project went bankrupt in the 1980s. Now much of the land has been rehabilitated by local farmers and there is a unique planting of apple trees planted there with varieties unique to the northeast. There are no chemical sprays — instead a more labor intensive approach of integrated pest management and heavy pruning is employed. This cider is a mix of Roxbury Russet, Sheep's Nose, and Newtown Pippin with zero sulfur added. It has a funkier, rancio quality with ginger, honeysuckle, and more wild, floral, yeasty notes. Complex and deeply pleasurable, it finishes with a touch of caraway and minerals. JK
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Image of Floral Terranes 'Newtown Pippin' Cider 2021
Floral Terranes 'Newtown Pippin' Cider 2021
Newtown Pippin, a historic apple of Queens, is a single-variety cider that comes from Restoration Farm in Old Bethpage. This has a remarkable wine-like profile, with biscuity, creamy notes, silky texture, and some notes of sea-spray and umami. A truly next-level cider that is poised, subtle, and delicious, extending the gastronomic possiblities for cider while being deeply singular and expressive. JK
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Image of Floral Terranes Riesling 2021
Floral Terranes Riesling 2021
Orange Riesling is not typically what Long Island is known for, but a wine like this could change that. The Riesling here was sourced from Viviano Vineyards on Long Island's North Fork, and picked in October. After six days of skin maceration, it was pressed into tank and then racked into neutral oak. It's not immediately identifiable as Riesling — it almost tastes more like cider than the actual ciders — but that's not a criticism as this wine is really interesting and unexpected. Lavender and orange pekoe tea aromas are mixed with a very salty, lower acid profile. It has a really nice texture, not too tannic or chewy, but filigreed with some spearmint and green tea notes. Understated and beautifully unique. JK
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Image of Floral Terranes "Abracadabra" North Fork 2021
Floral Terranes "Abracadabra" North Fork 2021
A 50/50 mix of Chardonnay with skin-contact and whole-cluster Merlot, vinified separately and then blended together. The Chardonnay is from Matta Bella in Southold and the Merlot is from a backyard vineyard in Orient. In Erik and Benford's version you can forget about everything you thought you knew about Long Island, Chardonnay, and Merlot. It's easy and pleasurable, great with a chill, but it's not fruity glou-glou. It leans a bit more into secondary flavors and umami. Fruit leather, overripe black plum, and cumin undertones are mixed with a smoother, richer mouthfeel. JK
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Image of Floral Terranes Merlot North Fork 2021
Floral Terranes Merlot North Fork 2021
This Merlot comes from a two-acre backyard vineyard planted in the 1990s in Orient, Long Island. Orient is the most eastern tip of the North Fork and is only about five square miles. I don't know how Erik and Benford found this vineyard but it speaks to their dogged pursuit of vines that are maintained without the chemical regimens more typical to Long Island grape growing. As with their other wines, forget what you think you know about Long Island Merlot. Their version, vinified whole-cluster with punchdowns and aged in old, neutral oak, feels more like Pinot Noir than Merlot to me, though with a little more garrigue and baking spice. It has a softer, elegant profile, not structured or grippy, and I feel like I can taste the sea spray and sumac that its origins suggest. Overall, it's composed, elegant, and another wine from Floral Terranes that challenges and provokes without sacrificing anything in the realm of balance, beauty, or approachability. JK
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