New York Wine & GrapeNews
Check out the NY Drinks NY website, along with photos from our Long Island Harvest Vineyard Visits here.
I’m reminded of dance the most when I visit wine country. The beauty that is in the bottle, so closely resembles the steps it takes to create dance, it is no wonder that my wine life would spring from my dance life. This was evident when I recently visited Long Island, as part of a harvest visit sponsored by the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. I was able to glimpse into the artistry, and world that is the Long Island wine community. As a sommelier, I get to showcase and share the end result of the labors of winemaking. It is the final performance that we see and taste. This trip would show me the process and steps of winemaking that I’ve read about, and studied, and to my great delight I would finally make a connection between the bottle and the process. Our journey began battling UN traffic, and passing the forests of condominiums that dot Long Island City and Queens, on our way to verdant green landscapes, local farmers markets, transforming to rows of Guyot trained vines. My eyes, so used to subway and city views, drank in the orderly rows, the blowing trees from breezes off the Peconic Sound, and the rolling grey skies announcing hurricane Jose’s arrival. I marveled that wine country is so close to the city, and why I don’t visit wine country more often.
It’s fitting that our first visit would be Paumanok Vineyards. Paumanok is the Native American name for Long Island meaning “the island that pays tribute,” and in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, he pays homage to his birthplace in “Starting from Paumanok.” Poetry is definitely being created by winemaker Kareem Massoud, at his family’s winery started by his parents Charles and Ursula Massoud in 1983. The winery is 100% solar powered, working organically, and the first producer of Chenin Blanc in Long Island. We tasted two Chenin Blancs, the 2016 and the Minimalist Chenin Blanc 2016, a Cabernet Franc, and finished with a Petit Verdot Petillant Naturel or Pet Nat, bubbles that are all the rage with every hipster Somm everywhere. A seductive whiff of barnyard funk greeted me, and put stars in my eyes. I wondered if perhaps Charles and Kareem were wizards, and had put a powerful Amortentia spell in the Pet Nat causing all to fall in love with red bubbles. The Pet Nat is only available if you join the wine club, so of course I gotta join. I will win Thanksgiving, and slay at blind tastings with my fellow Somms, while wearing my Gryffindor scarf. The Chenin Blanc put the L in Loire by way of Long Island. Kareem told us that they were considering planting Melon de Bourgogne, bringing a Muscadet to North Fork. I will lose my mind when this happens. Every Saturday and Sunday they shuck local Peconic oysters on the deck. I didn’t know I needed this in my life but I do. Arrangements for glamorous wine life in Long Island wine country happening as I write these words.
Cool breezes from the Long Island Sound greeted us as we settled at the table set up for us at Palmer Vineyards. Shells and grapes picked off the vines for us to taste decorated the tables. Palmer is one of the oldest wineries on Long Island with grapes planted since the early 70’s. The aromatic grapes shine here. Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Malvasia, Viognier, and…Albariño! Miguel Martin, the winemaker for the past 11 years tasted us through Pinot Blanc, Aromatico, a blend of Muscat and Malvasia, Viognier, and a Merlot. The finale was a late harvest Gewurztraminer that he had aged solera style for 8 years. What the actual feldspar just happened? I needed a fainting couch, and some marcona almonds. I drew dragons in my tasting notes. I added Gewurztraminer to my list of boss kitten names. I ran into the vines to get a bag full of Sandy Haven Loam. This was turning into the best day off ever.
We headed next to Bedell Cellars for lunch and tasting with winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich. Now if you want to meet one of the many rock stars on Long Island, get thee to Bedell Cellars. As we entered, they poured 2016 Bedell Cellars Sparkling Rose. They had me at pink bubbles. I forgave them for selling out of the 2009 Merlot after serving it at Barack Obama’s 2012 Inaugural Luncheon. Chuck Schumer! I forgive you! I added Bedell to the increasingly long list of kitten names. They had a buffet spread for us that had me crying extended lees tears. Deviled eggs, assorted sandwiches, mesclun salad with supremes, walnuts, and blue cheese, fried chicken, fruit mélange, and chocolate cookies baked in the devil’s oven. Insanely delicious lunch paired with a line up of wines, that had me writing in all caps. The 2015 Malbec is the first Malbec I’ve tasted from the North Fork. Blackberry, raspberry fruit, with aromas of black pepper and violets danced on my palate. Argentina and Cahors, you have been warned. Long Island has magnificent Malbec, that has the perfect tension of old world style, and new world terroir. They had Chardonnay grapes that had been sorted, and were being pressed in the pneumatic press. As a barrel tour guide, I talk about the benefits of gentle pressing every weekend. To see a pneumatic press in action, and to taste the brown, cloudy juice of Chardonnay, that with fermentation and age would become a clear golden liquid, turned me into an Always Bring Chardonnay girl. Wine always fills me with wonder. I show the video of the press to all my barrel tours when I show them our pneumatic press. It’s like the Velveteen Rabbit. It becomes a real thing!
I have to admit, I was in a little bit of a food coma on the way to Lieb Cellars. Those cookies! Nothing like a floral and beguiling Reserve Sparkling Pinot Blanc 2013 to wake you up! 100% Pinot Blanc grapes made in the methode champenoise style, disgorged after 3 years. Russell Hearn is at the helm of Lieb Cellars, and their second brand Bridge Lane. They box, keg, and can wine in an effort to bring affordable Long Island wines into the market. They own 85 acres of sustainably grown vines, and own their custom crush facility. I have long heard the complaint that New York state wines were on the expensive side. Lieb Cellars is making New York wines at everyday drinking prices. Had I been drinking these kinds of wines early on in my wine history, I wouldn’t have told my first restaurant job that my favorite wine was vodka cranberry. We tasted a sparkling Pinot Noir Rose, a Bridge Lane Chardonnay and a Reserve Cabernet Franc. The quality of the wines is amazing. It reminded me of why I love Cotes du Rhone and Gigondas, when I don’t have a Chateauneuf du Pape budget.
With a pep in my step from all the delicious bubbles, we headed over to Lenz Winery. The rain had stopped enough for us to take a walk through the vineyards. There is nothing more beautiful than old vine Gewurztraminer, and seeing Botrytis Cinerea or noble rot for the first time. Botrytis is that noble rot that attacks grapes, evaporates the water out of the grapes, and concentrates the sugars into the elixir that will turn into Sauternes, and dessert wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon Rose that we started with, had strawberry, raspberry, and bright vibrant acidity. Now into our fifth visit, a common theme had emerged. There is tremendous diversity in the types of grapes that grow beautifully on Long Island. With the moderating effects of the Long Island Sound, the Peconic Bay, and Atlantic Ocean, grapes are harvested well into November. Humidity can be an issue, but the cooling salty breezes, that bless most vineyards, the wines present a floral, citrusy, fleur de sel quality in the white wines, and showcase not only the power of tannins in grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec, but display the blue flower characteristics that aren’t as apparent from other winemaking regions. I also feel the magnetic pull of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It might have been a different movie had Paul Giamatti’s character in Sideways been drinking New York state Merlot. The Cabernet Francs that I’d tasted throughout the day, testified to several things. Long Island is the youngest and fastest growing region in New York state, with a diversity of climate and terroir that indicate infinite potential, and though Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Napa Valley, Cabernet Franc and Merlot duel for the top spot on Long Island. I could write a poem entitled Chinon of North Fork based on the stunning Cabernet Francs of Paumanok, Bedell, Lieb Cellars, and I haven’t even made it to dinner at Noah’s with Macari vineyards. This was turning out to be The Most Epic Day Off of 2017 or TMEDO. You see a graffiti tag in Brooklyn? A DJ named TMEDO? Yes, that would be me sipping on Sylvaner Pet Nat from Channing Daughters. Im getting ahead of myself with the South Fork shout out
We checked into the Harborfront Inn, and had a brief break before dinner at Noah’s with Macari Vineyards. I took photos from my small deck, and vowed to sleep on the diagonal, sipped water in the fancy bathrobe, and made sure I had labeled all the terroir I had collected. If you see a graffiti tag Dirt Girl? That is me as well. We had dinner at Noah’s in Greenport. Chef Noah Schwartz presented us with a menu paired with the wines of Macari Vineyards. Winemaker Kelly Koch, and Alexandra Macari basically hypnotized us with Long Island’s winemaking past, and what its future holds. STUNNING. First, have you ever had an oyster, with a delicate creamed spinach? Fainting couches all around. Macari Vineyards is working biodynamically, has long horn cattle, sheep, and the only egg fermenters on Long Island. The wines had a focus and handsomeness to them. The Sauvignon Blanc Lifeforce 2015 was plush, with grassy notes, and pink grapefruit. We tasted a pre release of a Bordeaux blend Dos Aguas 2013, and a Chardonnay, and bubbles that smote my heart. The Horses 2014, a sparkling Cabernet Franc and tribute to Patti Smith, is a work of art. To hear Kelly Koch and Alexandra Macari speak about the winemaking of Macari, and the history of the family on Long Island, reminds you why New York wines should be on your radar. I had a renewed excitement about Long Island wines and couldn’t wait to get back to the city to talk about them, buy them, drink them, and brag about New York wines.
Monday was North Fork. Tuesday, with rains from Hurricane Jose drumming a tune on the roof of Channing Daughters, I discovered dragons on South Fork. Winemaker Christopher Tracy has dragons. When you walk into the tasting room you see magnums of Rose, and rows of Vermouth. You think you are in heaven because you are. This was the breakfast of champions. If you ever hear people complaining that they do not like Pinot Grigio? They’ve never had a Channing Daughters Pinot Grigio or Ramato. Alto Adige wants its swag back. In fact, Italy might want to take a close look at what’s going on on the South Fork. The soil is richer on the South Fork, with superior water retention. You need less irrigation on the South Fork than the North Fork. I have been in love with the soil Glacial Moraine since my studies of Franciacorta. It is no mistake that sparkling wines do so well on Long Island. Late ripening grapes such as Pinot Grigio bask in the soils of the Hamptons AVA. When the rain finally subsided, Christopher took us outside to the whole cluster ferments. I’ve studied carbonic maceration, and whole cluster fermentation my whole wine life. We tasted Blaufrankisch whole ferment grapes. You have not lived the wine life until you’ve tasted sparkling grapes from tank. I suspect Christopher Tracy might be the Night King. If he has superior javelin throwing skills, he might have an ice dragon hiding in that wine warehouse. But. Seriously. For all the hipsterness of Pet Nat, the Pet Nats of Channing Daughters really took it to the next level. Sylvaner shines, a Merlot/Lagrein blend took my breathe away. The Vermouths. I took extensive notes while I was tasting. I have only a few dragon notes at Channing Daughters. The knowledge was flying so fast, I just had to actively listen, and viserally take in wine notes. I learned more about Vermouth that morning, than my entire restaurant career. I have to get back to that tasting room, because magnums of Rose will have me winning Thanksgiving. Forever.
Our last stop was lunch at Wolffer Estate. We had a tour of the winery, and ended with lunch on the patio. Roman Roth embodies the spirit, elegance, and acumen Of Long Island. For such a young wine region, Wolffer Estate has accomplished great things in South Fork. Wolffer has an old world quality to its wines, really showcasing terroir and traditional winemaking. We ended with a jeroboam of 2000 Cabernet Franc. This was a fitting curtain call, to a foray into Long Island wine history and tasting. The 2000 Cabernet Franc cemented in my mind that Cabernet Franc is the king of Long Island. It had a stoic, quiet brilliance to it, with all flavors of aged Cabernet Franc, and the beauty of glacial morainic soils. I returned to the city, and worked that night on the floor. My language was different, my descriptions more thoughtful. I told most everyone about my trip, and showed tables videos of the wind, whole cluster fermentations, Chardonnay being pressed, pictures of every sparkling wine. A few folks got a whiff of Sandy Haven Loam. If you have not visited Long Island wine country, I suggest you make plans tout suite. You will leave with stars in your eyes, and many bottles on hand to win Thanksgiving!
*Please note that the views expressed herein represent those of the author.