What does wine mean to you? It is an interesting question with no right or wrong answer. Wine means different things to different people. For some it’s an important part of every celebration and every meal, for others it’s just Friday night out with friends. For me wine is a celebration of life. It is a product of the land, a vision of an artist, and a little Chemistry 101 (preferably very basic and natural).
Recently I took a ride out to visit some winemaker friends in the North Fork AVA to discuss the 2011 Vintage. It has been a rough harvest season on the North Shore of Long Island. After a reasonably cool summer, late August brought Hurricane Irene, another tropical storm and an abnormally large amount of rainfall. This much moisture right before harvest can cause sugar/acidity levels to be thrown off, as well as the possibility Mildew and Rot. With all these challenges, there was an air of confidence. “That’s farming”, the tasting room manager at Macari Vineyard’s told a couple sitting next to us. “We work all year long for the harvest, hope for the best and prepare for the worst”.
That preparation reveals itself in so many of the fine wines that are being created on Long Island and around the world. The difference between quality winemaking and bulk winemaking is 1 part technique, and 2 parts passion. This passion can be expensive however. Passionate winemaking is staying true to the land that you farm, low yields (purposely cutting a large amount of fruit off the vine to improve the remainder), vineyard management, hand harvesting, hand sorting and personal care throughout the winemaking process. It is spending more time, effort and money to be true to the craft. Artisan winemakers take pains in every aspect of the process, and this is how they are able to create quality wines even in a “not so perfect” growing year.
For me, I want to taste passion in my wine. I want to know the story, the winemaker, and the philosophy of the winery. These all add to the allure, and yes the taste, of a wine. The story of the wine makes you feel part, in the know and emotionally connected. Quality wine is truly created in the vineyard by a farmer, It is finessed and crafted by an artist, and basic chemistry brings it all together.
In the video above the Winemakers of the North Fork of Long Island discuss the beginnings of the North Fork AVA
2011 was a great year for wine in the United States. Despite the downturned economy, we are consuming more wine then ever before. In-fact, we just passed France as the world’s largest wine consuming nation for the first time ever. Not only are we drinking more wine in the US, but we are also making more wine in America then ever before.
When you think of American Wine you think California, and maybe if you are into wine you consider Oregon and Washington. But did you know that there is now at least one winery in every state in the United States? Furthermore, there are over 7,000 American wineries in operation as of April 2010. This is good news for the consumer, because with the recent wine making boom is not just about quantity, it’s also about quality.
On a recent visit to the North Fork Wine Region of Long Island, NY, I had a chance to not only taste some world-class wine, but to also experience what the region had to offer. There is no better way to experience wine then to walk the vineyards, feel the soil and talk to the winemakers. That truly makes wine an experience.
The North Fork AVA (American Viticultural Area) is located on a bucolic strip of land between the Peconic Bay (to the South) and the Long Island Sound to the North. Though just across the Bay from it’s glitzy cousin the Hamptons, The North Fork is farming country with over 30 wineries and 300 acres of vineyard planted. With a maritime climate not much different from Bordeaux, they have become known for Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest of the “Bordeaux varietals. And with the soaring prices of the land in this region, the wineries have adapted a quality over quantity approach to winemaking.
From the hand sorting of grapes at Paumanok Vineyards with winemaker Kareem Massoud, to experiencing the biodynamic winemaking of Shinn Estates, the winemakers of the North Fork AVA are all about quality and it shows. The wines have been receiving great reviews and high praise from newspapers and Food & Wine publications nationwide. As the awards continue to accumulate, Long Island Wines are increasingly being sought after in fine restaurants and wine shops around the country. The wine speaks for itself, but the real story behind the North Fork Wine Region is how it came to be.
In 1973, Alex and Louisa Hardgrave purchased a 66-acre potato farm in Cutchogue with the dream of proving that French varietals could be grown on the Island. The couple were unlikely winemakers, being Harvard educated and from the families in banking and business, nonetheless they followed their dream. “I was smitten by the romantic notion, the Virgilian mode of having a small farm,” Alex Hardgrave says. Louisa adds, “We didn’t know how to make wine! Can you believe it, we started a commercial winery having never made anything.” They did make wine, and fast forward forty years; Alex’s vision has come to pass.
That’s the story of the region, as for the wines. They are made in the European style. They tend to be lower in alcohol and very acidic. These wines are food wines and are great for pairing. As with most wine regions, the wines go great with local foods. Paumanok’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc is a natural for Longs Island’s Pipes Cove Oysters. Bedell Cellar’s 2007 Musee (91 points Wine Spectator) is a wonderful pairing with a Buffalo Ribeye from North Quarter Farm in Riverhead. Now if you go for the incredibly flavorful Roasted Long Island Duck, you won’t go wrong with Lentz Merlot or Shinn Estates 2008 Wild Boar Doe. The choices are really almost endless, and this is just Long Island.
Imagine 7000 wineries in the US. Different philosophies, different styles, different tastes, It really is a big wine world my friends, so try something new and enjoy the ride.