Category Archives: Wineries

Viniculture in LI, Part II: background.

In exploring vinicultural practices in Long Island, I intend to particularly examine the practice of sustainable farming, which includes organic and Biodynamic® agriculture.  My original, first posting on 15 June 2010, Can 100% Organic Grapes be Grown in Long Island?, provoked some interesting and even useful responses.  I have since renamed it The Challenge of Growing Certified Organic Grapes in Long Island,  given the developments at Shinn Estate and The Farrm that have taken place since that 2010 posting.  The series now continues with this posting (now updated to April 2015 to include new developments and information, particularly with the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing [LISW] program established in 2012). 

This Part II post serves as an introduction to the Part III articles devoted to the individual vineyards and wineries of Long Island.

NY Wine Regions Map 1To put things in perspective, one should bear in mind that New York State is the 3rd-largest producer of grapes by volume in the United States, after California and Washington.  Admittedly, most NY vineyards grow table grapes, but as of 2014 there were, according to the NY Wine & Grape Foundation (NYWGF), 373 wineries in the State, of which of which one in six are in Long Island.  Of all the wine regions of the State, Long Island is the one that is most committed to growing Vitis vinifera varieties, with very little planting of French-American hybrid vines and no Native American grapes at all.

I want to point out some factors that I believe appertain to most of the vineyards that I’ll be writing about—which is to say, all of the ones in Long Island, of which there are sixty-six bonded wineries, all but a handful of which are on the North Fork, as well as seven vineyards that sell their fruit to others.  They comprise, by my own calculation, about 2,565 acres of planted vines (the NYGWF calculates 2,041 acres.)

Geology & Soils

Geologically, Long Island is extensively formed by two glacial moraine spines, with a large, sandy outwash plain extending south to the Atlantic Ocean.  These moraines consist largely of gravel and loose rock that would become part of the island’s soils during the two most recent extensions of Wisconsin glaciation during the Ice Age some 21,000 years ago (19,000 BCE).  The northern, or Harbor Hill, moraine, directly runs along the North Shore of Long Island at points.  The more southerly moraine, called the Ronkonkoma moraine, forms the “backbone” of Long Island; it runs primarily through the very center of Long Island.  The land to the south of the Ronkonkoma, running to the South Shore, is the outwash plain of the last glacier. When the glaciers melted and receded northward around 11,000 BCE, their moraines and outwash produced the differences between the North Shore and the South Shore soils and beaches.

A General Soil Map (below), devised by the USDA Soil Conservation Service and the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station in 1972, shows the different kinds of soils that dominate the East End of Suffolk County, the part of Long Island that is home to most of the vineyards there.

East End, General Soil Map

The soil associations (or types) for Suffolk County as listed in the General Soil Map (and relevant to viniculture) are as follows:

  1. “Carver-Plymouth-Riverhead association [N. shore of the North Fork, extending across the Fork at Mattituck and then running East along the S. shore of Great Peconic Bay to Southold]:  Deep, rolling, excessively drained and well-drained, coarse-textured and moderately coarse-textured soils on moraines
  2. “Haven-Riverhead association [running from Brookhaven along the southern edge of 1 (above).  With an interruption at Mattituck, then extending as far as Orient Point; this is the dominant soil of the North Fork]:  Deep, nearly level to gently sloping, well-drained, medium-textured and moderately coarse-textured soils on outwash plains
  3. “Plymouth-Carver association [runs across the middle of the West-East axis of the county, encompassing Riverhead just south of 2.  It then extends into the Hamptons or South Fork as far as East Hampton but at no point touches the south shore.]  rolling and hilly:  Deep, excessively-drained, coarse-textured soils on moraines [the Ronkonkoma Moraine].
  4. “Bridgehampton-Haven association [actually runs immediately adjacent to, and south of, 3.]: Deep, nearly level to gently sloping, well-drained to moderately well-drained, medium-textured soils on outwash plains”

“Textures refer to surface layer in major soils of each association.”  [A caveat regarding the use of the map says,] “The map is . . . meant for general planning rather than a basis for decisions on the use of specific tracts.”

(There are ten soil types shown on the map, but we list only the four that form part of the terroir of the vineyards of the East End.)

With respect to the soil types in the North Fork and Hamptons AVAs, Louisa Thomas Hargrave wrote an article, “The Dirt Below Our Feet,” in the Spring 2011 issue of Edible East End, in which she made some important observations:

Every discussion of a wine region’s quality begins with the soil.  Going back to ancient Roman times, around ad 50, Lucius Columella advised, in his treatise on viticulture, De Re Rustica (“On Agriculture”), “Before you plant a piece of ground with vines, you should examine what sort of flavor it has; for it will give the wine a similar taste. The flavor can be ascertained…if you soak the earth in water and taste the water when the earth has [g]one to the bottom.  Sandy soil under which there is sweet moisture is the most suitable for vines…any soil which is split during the summer is useless for vines and trees.”

The “useless” soil that splits is clay, a colloidal suspension of particles similar to Jell-O. Clay retains too much moisture when it rains, making the tender roots of wine grapevines rot; it withholds nutrients from the vine when the weather is dry.

There is little clay on the East End of Long Island, except in specific and easily identified veins. We have remarkably uniform sandy soils here that vary in available topsoil (loamy organic matter), but all contain the same fundamental yet complex mixture of minerals.  These soils are ranked by the U.S. Soils Conservation Service as “1-1,” the most auspicious rating for agriculture. Any single handful of Long Island soil will show the reflective glint of mica; the dull gray of granite; the mellow pink, salmon and white of quartz; the red and ochre of sandstone; and black bits of volcanic matter. To describe them simply as “sandy loam” fails to acknowledge the profound effect that having this mixture of minerals must have on the vibrancy and dynamic quality of Long Island’s wines.

Richard Olsen-Harbich, the author of the two AVA applications for the Hamptons and the North Fork, published a two-part series on the soils of Long Island for Bedell Cellars, where he is winemaker:  the first, The Soil of Long Island. Part 1 – Ice Age: The Meltdown, published on April 12, 2011, and the second, more recent piece, The Soil of Long Island. Part 2 – There’s No Place Like Loam, published Sept. 6, 2013, which are useful and lucid explanations of how the glaciers of the Ice Age left Long Island with the soils that grow the vines today.

It should also be pointed out that Long Island soil, regardless of its composition, tends to have a rather low pH, which is to say too acidic for Vitis vinifera vines to grow well as it weakens the vines’ ability to assimilate nutrients from the soil.  The vines need the addition of lime to balance the pH and is something that nearly every vineyard must do to get itself established for vinifera.  It can take years—Paumanok Vineyards was adding lime to its vineyards every year for twenty years before it was able to relax the practice.  It nevertheless has to be done again every few years when the pH gets too low again, as it appears that the added lime may get leached out of the soil over time.

Climate

Overall, Long Island displays a cool maritime climate.  The brutal summer heat seen in the Iberian Peninsula, which is at the same latitude, is tempered in the Hamptons AVA by the Labrador Current which moves up the eastern Atlantic Ocean.  Summer temperatures are also moderated by Little Peconic Bay to its north.  The North Fork enjoys the moderating influences of Long Island Sound.  These same bodies of water help to temper the effects of the Canadian air masses that move in during the winter.  The influence of these waters helps prevent late spring frosts which can kill young grape buds.  The cumulative effect is a lengthening of the growing season to approximately 210-220 days.  Wine-grape varieties can thrive here, as they can grow better and ripen further than just about anywhere in the U.S. outside of California.  The North Fork is such a narrow band of farmland, situated between the bay and the sound that virtually all of the vineyards or near or on the water.  According to the Appellation American Website:

Despite being next door to each other, there are notable differences between the South Fork and the warmer North Fork. The South Fork is more exposed to onshore Atlantic breezes, delaying bud-break by as much as three weeks. Even after bud-break, the area is frequently foggy, keeping early season temperatures and sunshine hours lower than on the North Fork. By the end of the growing season, the seemingly subtle weather differences between the Forks add up to quite different overall climates. The Hamptons are generally very cold to moderately cool, while the North Fork is moderately cool to relatively warm. The damper silt and loam soils of The Hamptons, along with climactic differences, create a unique style, with wines from The Hamptons generally being more restrained and less fruit-forward than wines from the North Fork.

Wineries & Vineyards

By my own count, as of March 2015, there are a total of 76 wine production entities in Long Island, of which:

  • 21 are wineries with vineyards, though they may also buy fruit from others
  • 3 are wineries without vineyards that buy their fruit from growers
  • 11 are wine producers that have neither a winery nor a vineyard, but outsource their production, having their wine made to their specifications from purchased grapes
  • 33 are vineyards without a winery, but use an outside facility to make wine to their specifications  from their grapes
  • 1 is a crush facility that makes wine from fruit, provided by others, to the providers’ specifications
  • 7 are vineyards that sell their fruit to wine producers
  • In all, there are 58 tasting rooms in Long Island

Vinicultural Practices

Regardless of the different terroirs of either Fork, the first point that I’d like to make is that, based on my visits, so far–to Wölffer Estate and Channing Daughters in the Hamptons AVA, and to Bedell Cellars, Castello Borghese, Diliberty, Gramercy, Jamesport, Lieb, Lenz, Macari, Martha Clara, McCalls, Mudd Vineyard, The Old Field Vineyards, Osprey’s Dominion, Palmer, Paumanok, Peconic Bay, Raphael, Kontakosta Winery, Sherwood House, and Shinn Estate in the North Fork AVA–the standards of vineyard management are of a very high order.  The neatness of the rows of vines, their careful pruning and training (most, if not all, are using Double Cordon trained on two wires with Vertical Shoot Positioning, or VSP, and cane pruning), the use of cover crops between rows, and much else besides, attest to the high standards and sustainable practices to which the vineyard managers aspire. 

A handful of vineyards are endeavoring to farm organically and/or Biodynamically, though only a single vineyard, Shinn Estate, is actually working to obtain actual certification for both.  Then there is The Farrm, in Calverton, run by fruit and vegetable grower Rex Farr, who obtained full organic certification in 1990 and planted vinifera vines in 2005–thus harvesting the first certified-organic grapes on LI in 2012.  It is expected that the first wine to be made from its fruit will be produced in 2013 by a newly-established winery on the North Fork.  None of this is to say that a vineyard that does not seek to grow organic or Biodynamic grapes is the lesser for it, though all should seek to farm sustainably.  Excellent, even great wines have been and shall continue to be produced whether farmed organically or not.  Indeed, as I pointed out at the beginning of my first post, there is no proven correlation of quality of a wine because it is made with organic or Biodynamic grapes.  (A case in point is the famous and incredibly expensive wine of the Domaine de la Romanée Conti, in Burgundy.  It has been long acknowledged as the source of some of the greatest red and white wines of all of France, and this was the case before it was converted to Biodynamic farming, and continues to be the case today.)  Part of what makes it so difficult to quantify the quality of a wine made by either method is that fact that there is vintage variation every year, due primarily to factors of weather and climate.  Thus, there is no objective way of being sure that viticultural practice was the dominant reason for the quality of a particular vintage, rather than the weather of a particular season.  Nevertheless, those who practice organic/Biodynamic viniculture do aver that it is reflected in the wine and there are consumers who do think that they can detect the difference.

By now virtually all of the vineyards on the two forks are attempting some form of sustainable farming, though the kind of sustainable work can vary considerably across the gamut of over sixty vineyards.   Along these lines, an important development took place when a new accreditation authority was created in May 2012:  Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, Inc., with the intent of setting out the guidelines for sustainable viticultural practices for all wineries in the region.  Membership is voluntary, but already, as of April 2015, there are sixteen vineyards that have joined, with thirteen already certified and three in transition.  Others are giving membership serious consideration.  A post devoted to the LI Sustainable Winegrowing authority was published on this blog in April 2012 (since updated as of 21 June 2013).

Another important factor to keep in mind is the role of clone selection for the vineyards.  A very useful article about the significance of clones was posted by Richard Olsen-Harbich of Bedell Cellars on March 19, 2013:  Revenge of the Clones.  The piece is well worth reading in its entirety, but there are two salient paragraphs that are worth quoting:

Over the past 10 years, grapevine clones have shown themselves to be of increasing importance in our vineyards. Simply put, clones are a genetic variant of a particular variety. The Chardonnay grown on Long Island decades ago is not the same vine we have today. Plantings since that time – especially in the past 10-15 years, have benefited from a wider selection of available plant material. Back in 1990, if you wanted to plant Chardonnay, you had one choice. Today there are more than 70 registered clones of this noble white grape being grown throughout the world and they all have their particular nuances and characteristics. Many of these clones are already in existence in Long Island vineyards – from the tropical and aromatic Musqué to the classic and alluring Dijon clones from Burgundy. Although these are all Chardonnays, each exhibits their own distinctive character.

This fact is also true of grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Franc, where profound differences in wine quality can be seen between clones grown in the same vineyard, on the same soils. Over 50 clones of Merlot have been identified in Bordeaux. Pomerol alone has over 35 clones of Cabernet Franc. Newer French clones, long kept overseas as tightly held trade secrets, are finding their way into the United States. In most cases these new clones are better suited to our maritime climate. Often these clones will ripen earlier than the older selections we used to have. Some are more resistant to disease. The ultimate result is higher quality wines. I’ve seen clones so different from each other that you would think the wines were made from another variety entirely.

In other words, when the first vinifera vines were planted in the 70s and 80s most of the clones came from California.  Many of these clones had been developed at the University of California at Davis (UCD) but of course were created with California vineyards in mind.  This meant that the clones were less suitable for the very different, maritime climate of Long Island.  For example, the Sauvignon Blanc clone 1 (the ‘Wente clone’) was very vigorous and produced large clusters but it was also very susceptible to rot in LI.  Only in the 90s were new clones planted to replace clone 1, and all of these came not from California but France (primarily from Bordeaux, in the case of the Sauvignon Blanc.)  This process was true for several other varieties.  In other words, the new clones are part of what makes Long Island the most ‘European’ of the wine-growing regions of the United States.

As a matter of fact, the Long Island Wine Region, which includes both the North Fork and the Hamptons AVAs, in 2010 became signatory to the Declaration to Protect Wine Place and Origin that was first enacted in 2005 in Napa (it is also known as the Napa Declaration on Place).  The original signers included not only the Napa AVA but also Washington and Oregon State AVAs, and Champagne, Jerez/Sherry, and Oporto/Port in the EU, among others. (The point of this, of course, is to control the use of place names and prevent the misuse of the name ‘Champagne’ for example, on any sparkling wine that is not from there.  Chablis, Port, and Burgundy were also place names that were widely abused around the world.)

There is no intention whatsoever in my series to judge a vineyard because it does or does not grow or intend to grow organically or Biodynamically.  (Indeed, wineries that are technically organic can still choose not to be certified.  Among the many reasons for this, for example, are that a winery may not want the added costs and the bureaucracy entailed in registering, or a winery may disagree with the government standards.  Whatever the case, such wineries are not allowed to use the term organic on their labels.)

In any event, the point of this series is to understand the reasons for choosing a particular approach to grape production over another.  We want to understand why Long Island vineyards do what they do before we go on to explore their methods of vinification, for between what is done in the vineyard and what happens in the winery is what determines the quality of the wine that is produced.  The wines from Long Island have long been improving since those first, tentative years going back to 1973 (when the Hargraves planted the first vinifera vines in LI) and in recent years are receiving their due recognition in the form of positive reviews, awards, and high scores for individual bottlings.

Important Terms Defined

  • AVA or American Viticultural Area: An area defined by a unique geology and climate that is distinctive from other vine-growing areas and hence that produces wines of a distinctive overall character.  There are none of the restrictions as to varieties planted, vine density, allowable harvest per acre, or any of the other limitations that exist in European appellations, such as the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC).  Long Island has three AVAs, all applied for to the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) which administers the program, in the mid-1980s: The Hamptons (South Fork), the North Fork AVA, and the Long Island AVA.
  • Biodynamic®, or Demeter USA, certification; also, Demeter USA, FAQ, Biodynamic wine (PDF file).  Also, see an excellent discussion in a 5-part series beginning with New York Cork Report, Biodynamics, Part I, by Tom Mansell, along with the ensuing debate in the comments that follow each of the postings.  There is also a controversial series against Biodynamics by Stuart Smith, a winemaker in California, called Biodynamics is a Hoax, a polemic that is worth reading, along with the comments in response.
  • Bordeaux Mix:  A widely-used type of fungicide that mixes copper sulfate and lime, first used in Bordeaux in the 1880s; see Univ. of Calif., Davis, Pesticide notes
  • Compost Tea:  A type of natural compost mixed with water for distribution in liquid form (it may be seen as agricultural homeopathy); see National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Compost Tea Notes
  • Copper Sulfate:  A widely-used industrial pesticide, allowed in both organic and Biodynamic farming within specified limits: see  Cornell Extension Toxicology Network (ExToxNet), Pesticide Information Profile, copper sulfate
  • Cover crops: Vegetation that is either deliberately planted between vineyard rows (e.g., clover, to replenish nitrogen in the soil) or weeds that are naturally allowed to grow between and into rows (the Biodynamic approach); see UC Davis, Cover Crop Selection and Management for Vineyards
  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM):  A major component of sustainable agriculture, it is labor-intensive but effectively reduces the need for certain kinds of pesticides; pheronome ties are a typical method of disrupting the reproduction cycle of some insect; see EPA, Factsheet on IPM
  • Macroclimate:  The climate of a large area or region, such as that of all of Long Island, or perhaps just the East End of LI.
  • Mesoclimate:  The distinct climate of a smaller area, such as that of a single vineyard or a parcel thereof.
  • Microclimate:  The climate of a very small area; it could be as small as a single vine or a distinctive climate of a tiny part of a vineyard, such as a depression in a row of vines.  (NOTE:  These terms are often used interchangeably, but most often microclimate may be used to refer to the mesoclimate of a vineyard.)
  • Organic Certification:  USDA, National Organic Program, Organic Certification
  • Regalia:  A biologically-based pesticide; see Marrone Bio-Innovations, Products, Regalia
  • Serenade: A biologically-based pesticide; see PAN Pesticide Database, Products–Serenade
  • Stylet oil:  defined in the industry as a Technical Grade White Mineral Oil, it is used as a biodegradable fungicide and insecticide in integrated pest management programs.  It also serves as as a substitute for sulfur, reducing or eliminating the need for that application, according to Steve Mudd, a LI vineyard owner and consultant.
  • Sustainable agriculture:  according to Mary V. Gold, on the USDA Website, “Some terms defy definition. ‘Sustainable agriculture’ has become one of them. In such a quickly changing world, can anything be sustainable? What do we want to sustain? How can we implement such a nebulous goal? . . . If nothing else, the term ‘sustainable agriculture’ has provided talking points, a sense of direction, and an urgency, that has sparked much excitement and innovative thinking in the agricultural world.”  Follow this interesting, full explanation of the term at USDA, Sustainable Agriculture definition.  Another excellent source for information about sustainable agriculture is to be found on the NY State VineBalance Program website, which is dedicated to sustainable practices in NY State vineyards, and as mentioned above, the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing certification program, with sixteen vineyards already committed to its regulations and guidelines.
  • Variety vs. Varietal:  not to be pedantic (though I can be), Variety is the term applied to a particular kind of vine and its grape; e.g., Cabernet Franc or Riesling; Varietal is the wine made from a variety or a blend of different varieties.  The terms are often used interchangeably but shouldn’t be.
  • Vertical Shoot Positioning:  is a training system used with single or double Guyot, cane-pruned training, or with a Cordon, spur-pruned system.  VSP is very common in cool and/or humid climate regions with low to moderate vigorous growth, as it encourages better air flow through the vine.  This is accomplished by making all the shoots grow vertically, with no vegetative vine growth allowed below the cordon/cane.  The increase in air flow helps prevent problems associated with disease and also allows the fruit to dry out more quickly after it rains.

      Both cluster thinning and harvesting are generally made easier using VSP, given that there is better access to the fruit.  The objective is to train the shoots so as to create a narrow layer that provides good sunlight exposure and air flow in the fruiting zone of the canopy.  Each shoot is thus trained to grow vertically by attaching it to movable catch wires.  The shoot’s length can easily be controlled by pruning any growth above the top catch wire.  The fruiting zone is generally kept at waist height, which makes it more convenient for the vineyard workers, given that the vineyard rows are worked throughout the season.)

For a full explanation of VSP, see Cornell Univ. Agriculture Extension, Training, and Trellising Vinifera Vines.

Viticulture vs. Viniculture:  again my pedantic side will out–Viticulture is the general term for the growing of any kind of grape vine, whether intended for the table or for wine; Viniculture refers to the raising of wine grapes in particular.

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The vineyards that I intend to write about are listed below in alphabetical order (those wineries that have no vineyard but purchase their grapes from others will not be part of the vinicultural survey– these are shown in gray; the ones that have already had articles posted on this blog are shown in purple; those that have been ‘indirectly interviewed’ are shown in light purple.  If the vineyard has been certified by the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing Group (LISW), that is indicated:

  • Ackerly Ponds, North Fork AVA (85 acres) is now part of Sannino’s Bella Vita Vineyards (which see)
  • Anthony Nappa (no vineyard) posted 6/14
  • Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, North Fork AVA (11 acres)
  • Bedell Cellars, North Fork AVA (78 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Rich Olsen-Harbich interviewed on May 12, 2011; posted June 2, 2011
  • Bouké Wines (no vineyard)
  • Castello di Borghese Vineyard & Winery [formerly Hargrave Vineyard], North Fork AVA (85 acres); Giovanni & Allegra Borghese interviewed on Nov. 18, 2014 and Mar. 27, 2015, to be posted
  • Channing Daughters Winery, Hamptons AVA (25 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Larry Perrine interviewed on April 30 & May 21, 2012; posted January 22, 2013
  • Clovis Point, North Fork AVA (20 acres); see Bill Ackerman interview
  • Coffee Pot Cellars (no vineyard)
  • Corey Creek Vineyards, North Fork AVA (30 acres, LISW sustainable-certified), owned by Bedell Cellars; posted June 2, 2011
  • Corwith Vineyards, Hamptons AVA (3 acres; LISW sustainable-certified); Dave Corwith interviewed May 20, 2014 and Nov. 16, 2015; posted Oct. 15, 2014, updated Nov. 19, 2015.
  • Croteaux Vineyards, North Fork AVA (10.5 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
  • Deseo de Michael, North Fork AVA (.3 acres)
  • Diliberto Winery, North Fork AVA (4 acres); Sal Diliberto interviewed Mar. 28, 2015, to be posted
  • Duck Walk Vineyards, Hamptons AVA, and Duck Walk Vineyards North, North Fork AVA (130 acres; LISW candidate); Ed Lovaas, winemaker, on Nov. 16, 2015.  to be posted.
  • Gramercy Vineyards, North Fork AVA (3.5 acres); Carol Sullivan, owner, interviewed October 2, 2012; posted; as of June 2015 the vineyard is leased out; no longer making wine
  • The Grapes of Roth (no vineyard)
  • Harbes Family Farm & Vineyard, North Fork AVA (5 acres, LISW sustainable-certified)
  • Harmony Vineyards, LI AVA (7 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
  • Influence Wines (no vineyard); Erik Bilka interviewed 6/15; to be posted
  • Jamesport Vineyards, North Fork AVA (60 acres); Ron Goerler, Jr. interviewed on April 14, 2014; posted Sept. 9, 2014.
  • Jason’s Vineyard, North Fork AVA (20 acres)
  • Kings Mile, North Fork AVA (leased vineyard); Rob Hansult interviewed on Sept. 26, 2013; posted same day
  • Kontokosta Winery (23 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition); Michael K. interviewed Nov. 18, 2014, Gilles Martin interviewed Mar. 28, 2015; to be posted
  • Laurel Lake Vineyards, North Fork AVA (21 acres); Juan Sepúlveda interviewed Sep. 26, 2015
  • Lenz Winery, North Fork AVA (65 acres); Sam McCullough interviewed April 20 & 27, 2011; posted May 16, 2011; Eric Fry interviewed Mar. 27, 2015, to be added to original Lenz post
  • Leo Family Wines; John Leo interviewed for PWG on October 3, 2012; posted February 11, 2013
  • Lieb Family Cellars, North Fork AVA (50 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition); Logan Kingston, Sarah Kane, & Jildo Vázquez interviewed June 6, 2013; posted October 4, 2013
  • Loughlin Vineyards, Long Island AVA (6 acres)
  • Macari Vineyards & Winery, North Fork AVA (200 acres); Joe Macari, Jr. interviewed July 9, 2009 & June 17 2010; posted June 30, 2010
  • Martha Clara Vineyards, North Fork AVA  (101 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Jim Thompson & Juan Micieli-Diaz interviewed Feb. 3 & March 27, 2012; posted May 3, 2012
  • Mattebella Vineyards, North Fork AVA (22 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition)
  • McCall Vineyards, North Fork AVA (22 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
  • Mudd Vineyards, North Fork AVA (50 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Steve Mudd interviewed; posted September 18, 2012
  • The Old Field Vineyards, North Fork AVA (12 acres); Ros & Christian Baiz & Perry Weiss interviewed on May 12, 2011; posted on June 7, 2011
  • Onabay Vineyard, North Fork AVA (180 acres total, not all with vines): see Bill Ackerman interview
  • One Woman Vineyards, North Fork AVA (12 acres, LISW sustainable-certified)
  • Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards, North Fork AVA (90 acres); Adam Suprenant interviewed April 23 & May 8, 2012; posted February 3, 2013
  • Palmer Vineyards, North Fork AVA (100 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Miguel Martín interviewed October 12 & 22, 2010; posted November 13, 2010
  • Paumanok Vineyards, North Fork AVA (72 acres planted, LISW sustanble-certified); Kareem Massoud interviewed May 3, 2011; posted May 23, 2011
  • Peconic Bay Winery, North Fork AVA (58 acres); Jim Silver & Charles Hargrave interviewed; posted May 9, 2011;  winery is now closed but see interviews with Steve Mudd & Bill Ackerman, since Peconic Bay’s vineyards have been turned over to Lieb Cellars as of January 2013
  • Pellegrini Vineyards, North Fork AVA (72 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
  • Pindar Vineyards, North Fork AVA (500 acres; LISW candidate); Pindar Damianos interviewed Sept. 26, Ed Lovaas on Nov. 16, 2015.  to be posted.
  • Pugliese Vineyards, North Fork AVA (45 acres); Pat Pugliese interviewed Jan. 19, 2015
  • Raphael, North Fork AVA (55 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Leslie Howard & Steve Mudd interviewed May 21 & June 13; posted September 17, 2012; Anthony Nappa interviewed
  • Roanoke Vineyards, North Fork AVA (10 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); interviewed Richard Pisacano, owner; posted July 10, 2013
  • Sannino’s Bella Vita Vineyard (5.25 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); interviewed Jan. 30, 2015; to be posted
  • Sherwood House Vineyards, North Fork AVA (36 acres); interviewed Bill Ackerman on September 26, 2012; posted
  • Shinn Estate Vineyard, North Fork AVA (20 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Barbara Shinn & David Paige interviewed June 18, 2010; posted July 12, 2010
  • Southold Farm+Cellar, North Fork AVA (9 acres; as of Sept. 2014 just entering production); Regan Meador interviewed Jan. 30 & Nov. 16, 2015; to be posted
  • Sparkling Pointe (29 acres, LISW sustainable-certified)
  • Suhru Wines (no vineyard); Russell Hearn, owner, interviewed for PWG on October 3, 2012
  • Surrey Lane Vineyards, North Fork AVA (25 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition); see Steve Mudd interview
  • T’Jara Vineyard, North Fork AVA (14 acres); Russell Hearn , owner, interviewed for PWG
  • Vineyard 48, North Fork AVA (28 acres planted)
  • Waters Crest Winery (no vineyard); interviewed Nov. 17, 2014, to be posted
  • Whisper Vineyards, Long Island AVA (17 acres); interviewed Steve Gallagher on Mar. 27, 2015, to be posted.
  • Wölffer Estate, Hamptons AVA (174 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); interviewed Roman Roth & Rich Pisacano on April 30, 2012 & June 20, 2013, updated and posted on July 10, 2013

Three very useful links that serve as portals to most of these vineyards are 1) Long Island Wine Country which lists only those wineries and vineyards that are members of the LI Wine Council; 2) Uncork New York! (aka the New York Wine and Grape Foundation) which provides links to all wineries and wine vineyards in New York State.  Also indispensable for New York State wines is the New York Cork Report by Lenn Thompson, with its many interviews, coverage of wine tastings, reviews, and more.

A framable 24 by 36-inch map of the wineries and vineyards of the East End of Long Island, by Steve De Long, can be purchased on Amazon:

LI Wine Map

 

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Lieb Cellars

Lieb Family Cellars Lieb Cellars Oregon Road Spring 2013  At first, the original 20-acre property was called Lieb Vineyard when it was established in 1992 by Mark and Kathy Lieb, but soon after, a new entity, Lieb Family Cellars, was created.  Today both are under the rubric of Lieb Cellars.  Because the vineyard has no winery of its own, at the beginning it used the winery facilities at Palmer Vineyards, and then those of Lenz Winery, where Eric Fry is the winemaker, but as of 2000 it has used the custom-crush facilities of Premium Wine Group (PWG), itself co-founded by Mark with Russell Hearn.  By 2001 Lieb’s tasting room at PWG was opened and it began acquiring more land for vinifera vines.  In early March 2013 PWG and Lieb Cellars came under the ownership of Southport Lane, a private equity firm.  Peter Pace, a marketing executive with long experience in the spirits industry, was appointed as Managing Director of Lieb Cellars this past March, and Russell Hearn is Directing Winemaker of PWG and the winemaker for Lieb.

Lieb’s vineyards have been sustainably managed since its founding and it recently has been awarded a USDA grant of more than $23,000, which will help it support its management practices and sustainable viniculture over the next ten years.  Indeed, it has also joined the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing program—its conversion to the programs guidelines and regulations should be straightforward, given that it already follows the VineBalance sustainable program by Cornell’s Agricultural Extension.

It should be pointed out that Lieb’s commitment to sustainable winegrowing is decidedly emphatic.  From the beginning, it has said in its mission statement that Lieb is dedicated,  “. . . to produce the highest quality estate-grown wines, without compromising the land on which we live.”  Among the practices that they point out in particular are:

  • avoidance of herbicides
  • use of organic fertilizers
  • preservation of topsoil
  • replenishment of nutrients on a disciplined schedule
  • hand-tending and harvesting of vines
  • keeping fruit yields intentionally low

Lieb Cellars staff, 3I met with the management staff at the tasting room on Oregon Road, Sarah Kane who is Director of Operations, as well as her colleagues Logan Kingston and Jean Partridge.  They were very helpful and plied me with tastings of various Lieb wines—as the saying goes, liquor is quicker.  We spoke about many things, including Lieb’s operations and its long-term plans for expansion, We spoke about many things, including Lieb’s operations and its long-term plans for expansion, and some of our conversation was quite philosophical and very interesting.  Indeed, I’ll have to write a separate post for the discussion that we had, for there were some excellent insights into what the challenges are for Long Island wine producers, particularly with respect to competition and the selling of the wine in the larger marketplace.  What was clear was their passion and commitment to not just Lieb, but Long Island wine as a whole.

But when it came to discussion of the viticultural practices of the operation, they got me in touch with the head of the vineyard crew for the original Lieb parcels, Jildo Vázquez, originally from El Salvador, who has been with Lieb for the past sixteen years.  He’s held in very high esteem by the staff who cannot praise him enough for his work ethic, skill, and dedication.

Lieb vineyard, Jildo on tractorJildo came in from the vineyards where he’d been working on a tractor when I asked to speak to him.  Speaking in Spanish, I asked him what he and his crew did to bring quality fruit grown sustainably to the winery.  Rather shy and very soft-spoken, particularly with a stranger, even though speaking Spanish, I had to draw Jildo out.  He answered my questions very simply and directly:  “Well, this first thing that we do is check that each vine is health and clean.  Then we make sure to spray them as needed.”  When I asked him what kind of sprays he uses, he said, “I don’t know, as I don’t do it.  I dedicate myself to making sure that the plants are clean.”  It turns out, according to him, that there are individuals who are trained to do that particular job and must be properly licensed.  It wasn’t enough that a sprayer have the requisite experience; he needed, as Jildo put it, “to have the backing of the law.”  An answer, I thought, that was very reassuring in the context.

For that reason, he only maintains the vines and keeps them clean of any diseases that may threaten them.  Towards the end of the season and just before the harvest he’ll spray the vines to clean them of any bacterial or fungal growths.  He also ensures that each vine has no more than fourteen or sixteen shoots so that it grows well.

I asked about the use of fertilizers and he told me that though he knows that they are used in some places, they are not employed at Lieb because they can adversely affect the vines.  With respect to using machines to harvest the grapes, he made a point of explaining just why they aren’t used at Lieb:  they gather not only fruit, but also leaves, stems, bird droppings, damaged fruit, dirt, and so on.  That’s why they only pick by hand—the harvested fruit is clearly superior.

As his replies suggest, this is a vineyard that is closely and carefully managed, and the quality of the fruit shows in their wines.

Lieb Cellars, Russell & JildoJildo has been collaborating with Russell Hearn closely since PWG began making Lieb’s wine thirteen years ago, especially now that the two firms have been merged.  Jildo is himself a gifted winegrower, as Russell himself attests, given that with his long experience and acute eye he’s able to see if anything is wrong with a vine, and even without tasting can visually see when a vineyard is ready to harvest.  Russell thinks very highly of Jildo and enjoys working with him.  During the growing season, Russell goes out into the vineyard about once a week, and during the harvest he goes every day with Jildo.

As Logan pointed out, Jildo is extremely dedicated, and with the acquisition of the Peconic Bay vines he has been getting up at 5:30 every day and doesn’t quit until 7:00 in the evening.  He has a crew of eight, some of whom have been working with him for years.

At present Lieb has its vineyards planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Blanc, and Petit Verdot, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.  Some of the vines were planted as far back as 1982.

Indeed, Lieb/PWG (Southport Lane) has taken control of Peconic Bay’s vineyards, as the latter is has just put its winery up for sale.  That’s an additional 58 acres in two large parcels, in consequence of which Lieb has hired Steve Mudd, a long-time wide-ranging vineyard consulting manager in the East End to help run Peconic Bay’s Main Road  vineyard and Bill Ackerman of North Fork Viticultural Services (NFVS) who works the one on Oregon Road.  The two men coöperate on certain aspects of the management of the fields, particularly with respect to the sprays to use.  Ackerman mixes his sprays at his own property and then brings in his equipment into all the vineyard parcels, using double-curtained machines that help keep the sprays contained and partially recycled.

Lieb Cellars labels, 4And then there are the Lieb wines. For starters, Sarah pointed out that Lieb Cellars labels, 2Lieb Cellars’ 91-point Blanc de Blanc brut sparkling wine, made entirely of Pinot Blanc, which we were tasting during the interview, was the result of the cooperation of two winemakers:  Eric Fry of Lenz Vineyards, who made the dosage, and Russell, who finished the making of the wine.  In fact, Lieb has employed the gifts of Eric to make dosages for the last twelve years, other than the 2009, which was entirely Russell’s effort.  Eric, according to Sarah, has the right palate for the Pinot Blanc sparkler that Lieb so famously makes.  Tom Collichio’s Craft Restaurant house sparkler —is made by Russell as well as another for Topping Rose House, another Collichio restaurant.

Lieb Cellars labels, 3Essentially, Lieb has two brands:  Lieb Cellars, which includes the Reserve wines, and Bridge Lane, its second label (right).  I’ve tried most of their wines, of which I have purchased several over the years and a few of which are still in my cellar.  All of them, without exception, are clean, well-made, and taste true to the varieties from which they are made.  Lieb is especially well-known for both its award-winning Pinot Blanc sparkler and its also medalled Pinot Blanc Reserve wine.  I’m also especially fond of the 2008 Cabernet Franc, which is wonderful to drink, mature and ready now, or cellared for a few years more.  One that I’ve not yet tried is the White Merlot, where the grapes are picked early in the harvest season and crushed without any skin contact.  From its description on the Lieb Website, it sounds intriguing.

Bridge Lane is being rebranded and is the first label in Long Island to sell wine in boxes, according to a piece by Eileen Duffy, just published in East End Magazine on Feb. 5, 2014:  Forget Screwcaps, Lieb Puts Second Label, Bridge Lane, in Boxes.

All the wines are made at PWG by Russell Hearn, so how could they be anything but good?  (see my interview with Russell about PWG.)

A final note: as of September 24, 2013, according to Lenn Thompson in his New York Cork Report, Lieb has joined Merliance:

. . . formerly known as the Long Island Merlot Alliance, [which] announced today that Lieb Cellars has joined its ranks and that two barrels of Lieb Cellars’ Merlot will be included in the 2012 vintage of Merliance, the group’s cooperative merlot blend.

This move isn’t surprising. Acquired along with Premium Wine Group by private equity firm Southport Lane earlier this year, Lieb Cellars is now under the business leadership of Peter Pace and technical direction of Merliance co-founder winemaker Russell Hearn.

“Lieb seeks to expand the visibility of Long Island wine at high-profile venues across the Northeast,” said Pace in a press release, citing Citi Field, Navy Beach, JFK Airport and other destinations as the winery’s newest points of distribution. “With this expansion, we will certainly elevate the perception of our region as a source for quality wines, with merlot foremost among them.”

Lieb currently makes three merlot-based wines: its Reserve Merlot — always a NYCR favorite and a great value — its second-label Bridge Lane merlot and Right Coast Red blend. “There’s a reason merlot wines dominate our red portfolio,” said Hearn. “The grape thrives on Long Island, enabling us to make wines of consistent quality, no matter what the vintage brings. By joining the Merliance, we seek to continue the important research and quality initiatives the organization advances, and grow the perception of merlot and merlot blends as the signature wines of Long Island.”

With the addition of Lieb Cellars, the Merliance has seven members, including Clovis Point, McCall Wines, Raphael, Sherwood House Vineyards, T’Jara Vineyards and Wölffer Estate Vineyard.

Lieb logo Lieb Cellars Mattituck • 35 Cox Neck Road, Mattituck, NY 11952 • 631.298.1942
Lieb Cellars Oregon Road • 13050 Oregon Road, Cutchogue, NY 11935 • 631.734.1100
Lieb Cellars East Hampton • 26 Park Place, East Hampton, NY 11937 • 631.527.5100

Lieb Cellars Interview with Sarah Kane, Logan Kingston, & Jean Partridge, augmented by information from its Website and PR releases, June 6 and October 4, 2013

The Challenge of Growing Certified Organic Grapes in Long Island.

Virtually every wine grape vineyardist in Long Island wants to work his fields as organically as possible, though very few ever actually intend to become fully organic or certified organic.  Most of them farm sustainably, and about twenty vineyards are practicing Certified Sustainable Winegrowers.  Shinn Estate in September 2010, succeeded when it harvested its first entirely organic grapes, 2.6 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, but it has been a struggle to maintain organic practices from season to seaason, given the disease pressures on Long Island.  a year later the first certified-organic grapes were harvested by a little-known farm with a vineyard in Calverton.  The Farrm, owned by Rex Farr, has been organically-certified since 1990, growing various vegetable crops such as heirloom tomatoes, leeks, and lettuce.  Its first vinifera grapes were planted in 2005 though its first successful grape harvest took place in October of 2011.  On August 28, 2013, Southold Farm announced on its Website that it plans to produce the first Long Island wine made from certified organic grapes purchased from The Farrm’s 2013 harvest.[1]

The challenge has been met, but as Ron Goerler, Jr., former president of the Long Island Wine Council has said, “it’s extremely challenging” and other farmers have tried and failed at it.  Nevertheless, several East End gardeners and farmers of other crops have been using organic and biodynamic methods with some success for years now.  An excellent article, “Farming to a Different Beat” by Geraldine Pluenneke, published in April 2011, [2] discusses in a very fair-minded way the issues of biodynamic farming and viniculture in Long Island.  It points out the success that some of the practitioners have had, such as Amy Pink, a backyard vegetable gardener, or K.K. Haspel, who grows “legendary tomato seedlings,”  or Mary Wolz, a beekeeper in Southold who maintains a hundred hives on both forks of the island.

Kareem Massoud, of Paumanok Vineyards, is cited in Pluenneke’s article as saying that “Whatever viticultural methodology allows me to achieve the healthiest, ripest grapes possible is the course that I shall pursue, regardless of whether that method is known as conventional, IPM, sustainable, practicing organic, organic, biodynamic or any other name.”  In a separate interview that I had with Louisa Hargrave a years ago, the doyen of Long Island wine vineyards made clear that if she had to do it all over again, she’d consider using Biodynamic® practices.

There is a series of posts in this blog that deals with the individual vineyards and takes off from this piece (now updated to April 2014).  So far, twenty of the vineyards of the East End have been written about in Wine, Seriously.

Both the sustainable and organic/Biodynamic®  movements in winegrowing are among the most important developments in the wine world in recent years.  Whether or not it results in superior wines is difficult to say with any certainty, but that is a separate argument that will not be pursued here.  Rather, the focus is on the challenge not only to produce organic wine in Long Island, which represents a special challenge, but also to look at the issue of sustainability in viticulture as a whole.

Let us begin by looking at two excellent wineries:  Channing Daughters Winery and Wölffer Estate Vineyards, both in the Hamptons Long Island AVA, which is to say the South Fork of the island, which has fields of Bridgehampton loam—sandy and well-drained—and a Bordeaux-like maritime climate, with Atlantic breezes that ward off frost until late in the harvest season.  The two forks, or East End–as they are collectively known, also enjoy the most days of sunshine and longest growing season of all of New York State, though the South Fork has a slightly later onset of spring and a somewhat longer season than the North, as well as a less windy clime.  All of the East End has high humidity and, potentially, a great deal of rain right into harvest time.

In discussions with Larry Perrine of Channing Daughters and Richard Pisacano of Wölffer’s, I learned that both had decided against seeking organic certification, though they do practice sustainable viticulture as far as is possible.[3] Their primary reason for rejecting the organic certification route was that the climate conditions—cool and very humid—seriously militates against organic farming.  As Perrine pointed out:  “Organic is virtually impossible in rainy climates like Bordeaux, Friuli, and LI; downy mildew and black rot cannot be contained by using organic methods.”  In Pisacano’s view, “organic certification is too demanding and expensive, apart from the fact that the level of humidity in the area is just too high to allow for organic practices for preventing the control of diseases and molds like powdery mildew and botrytis.”[4] Both want to be able to use conventional pesticides as a fallback if needed, and they also find that added sulfites are needed in the wineries, and these are precluded by USDA Organic Certification;[5] nevertheless, both vineyards do participate in the New York Sustainable Viticulture Program, or VineBalance, as well as in the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers program, which is itself based on VineBalance and provides a different kind of certification for sustainable (not organic) practices.[6]  But all of this was said back in 2009.

The North Fork Long Island AVA shares much of the same terroir as the Hamptons AVA, but it is affected more by its proximity to Long Island Sound than to the Atlantic, and it suffers from similar issues.  Only one of its fifty-six vineyards are yet organically certified (The Farrm, as mentioned above), although a number of them, such as Macari Vineyards and Palmer Vineyard work their land as organically and sustainably as possible, as do other vineyards, such as Peconic Bay.[7] In 2009 Joe Macari told me that he no longer believed that 100% organic viticulture is possible in the North Fork, though he practices sustainable farming to the extent possible, using only organic fertilizers and soil work, for example.  Back then Jim Silver of Peconic Bay Winery had said flatly that any idea of producing organic grapes in Long Island is simply impossible—the stuff of dreams.[8]

On the other hand, Shinn Estate has been working on conversion to full organic USDA certification and Demeter certification for the last thirteen years.  It is now 100% organic in soil work and pest control, and as noted above, has harvested the first (albeit not certified) organic/Biodynamic® grapes in Long Island.  If Shinn could have grown 100% organic/ Biodynamic® grapes for three successive years, the Estate would then have become certified, and that would be a major achievement for the East End.[9] Unfortunately despite continued and dedicate effort, disease pressure due to high humidity was such that it did not happen.  Instead, Shinn has chosen to join the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers program, established in 2012 and based on Cornell’s VineBalance.  This is a far more viable approach for most if not all vineyards on the Island.  (The sole exception has been Rex Farr, who has been growing certified organic produce since 1990 (certification came through the Northeast Organic Farming Association or NOFA).  His vines were planted in 2005, with the first harvest taking place in October 2011.  Farr sells his fruit to wine producers.)

The discussions mentioned above have taken place over a period of six years and it is clear that the perceptions and ideas about organic/sustainable viniculture in Long Island are still evolving.

What is it that makes it so challenging to grow certified organic wine grapes in Long Island?

Let us then look at what is required to produce certified organic grapes:  of first importance is how the chosen method will affect the quality of the wine made from organic grapes, along with the cost of the conversion to a new viticultural regimen, as well as the long-term operating costs—a determining factor with respect to profit.  Much literature has been devoted to the advantages of organic or sustainable viticulture, despite the significant obstacles that need to be overcome.

In the United States, the various forms of sustainable grape-growing are:[10]

  1. Organic (certified, which is to say, 100% organic as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, [USDA] and its National Organic Program [NOP])
  2. Organic (but not USDA certified, falling under categories 2,3, and 4, listed further below)
  3. Biodynamic® (a special category of organic, but following the tenets of Demeter; not recognized by the USDA)
  4. Sustainable or natural (incorporating organic viticulture, but not completely)

Organic farming is defined by the USDA, as explained by the Organic Consumers Association Web page: [11]

[In 1990] . . . along came the National Organic Program (NOP), also part of the USDA.  The NOP’s goal has been to set guidelines for the processing and labeling of organic products and to maintain the “National List” of allowed and prohibited substances.  According to the NOP and the ATF . . . there are four categories that organic products can claim:

  1. 100% Organic
  2. Organic [95%+]
  3. Made With Organic Ingredients [70-95%]
  4. Some Organic Ingredients; i.e., less than 70%.[12]

As can be seen, the range of choices is wide, the ramifications of any particular approach daunting.  Time and cost are important considerations in the process of converting from conventional to organic/sustainable practice, and these vary according to the chosen option.  In the case of the USDA organic certification, at least 3 years is required to convert a vineyard for certification;[13] if Biodynamic®, the transition is the same as for USDA certification and, in fact, overlaps it.[14]

A comparative study performed by Gerald B. White, of Cornell University, ca 1995, broke out the costs of conventional vs. organic viticulture, and provides a basis for projecting those to be sustained after conversion.[15] The study concluded that the costs of organic farming could be considerably higher than it would be for conventional, but it was conducted in 1995 at a vineyard in the Finger Lakes, using very different varieties (one labrusca & two hybrids) from the vinifera ones grown in Long Island.[16] However, the fact that the three varieties in the experiment each had different issues, results, and costs, suggests that the same may be true with different vinifera varieties.[17] An article in the October 2007 issue of Wines & Vines Magazine, tells of wineries that have had some success with the transition to organic viticulture, including Shinn Estate.  Though more an anecdote than a scientific study, it captures much of what has changed since the 1995 Cornell study.[18]

Nevertheless, the choices remain dauntingly complex, for the issue is not merely to choose between USDA-certified organic or non-certified, or between Demeter certification or ACA-only certification[19], but there are different degrees or types of sustainable farming that go beyond standard certification (“natural” winemaking vs. conventional [or interventionist] winemaking as well as socially-responsible viticulture are two matters beyond the purview of this essay, as they are not directly concerned with viticulture proper[20]).

Clearly, a three-year transition period is really a minimum period, as was the case with Shinn Estate, where the process took much more time, before they finally decided to not try to be certified.[21] For certification, the transition needs considerable preparation, including establishing a USDA-mandated buffer zone of at least 25 feet (8 meters) to separate organic transition fields from those farmed conventionally.[22] The conversion also entails some significant adjustments:  there can be no chemical sprays, herbicides, and pesticides, or use artificial fertilizer for the vineyard plot, replacing them instead with natural pesticides and herbicides, foliate sprays, and organic manure or compost, which are all more expensive than the industrial versions.[23] On the other hand, fixed costs should not change, nor wage levels, but more manual field work would be necessary, especially if machine harvesting were not used, which would be the case a vineyard went the “natural” route.[24]

As pointed out by Kingley Tobin, “The three main areas of vineyard management to focus on are Weeds, Disease, and Pests.”[25] For weed control, using ground cover is a good sustainable practice, and helps reduce the use of glyphosate-based herbicides that tend to shut down the main precursor to plant phenolics; the improved phenolic content of the grapes should result in a better product.[26]

For disease, as the soil returns to a more natural state and the vines are no longer exposed to industrial products that diminish their ability to resist bacterial and fungal infections, they should, over time, develop Systemic Acquired Resistance (SAR).[27] Foliate inputs can be made organic by switching to highly-effective silicate applications such as the Demeter 500-series preparations (e.g., 501 horn-silica) or even horsetail tea, which has been used successfully upstate.[28] Periodic applications of chemical sprays may be needed until SAR has been induced, but the use of tunnel spraying apparatus should keep such sprays from entering the soil.  Even this may be avoidable if one applies safe, organic sprays such as sulphur for powdery mildew, while liquid seaweed, fatty acids, compost sprays can all be applied against botrytis.  Given the high humidity of the Long Island region, more frequent applications may make up for their general lack of toxicity as compared to industrial ones.

For pest control, properly-selected ground cover, such as clover, will attract bees and other beneficial insects.  Ladybugs can be purchased in quantity and released after flowering to prey on aphids, eggs, larvae, scale, and other parasites. [29] Pyrethrums (made from flowers) work naturally to deter wasps and yellow jackets that are attracted to the fruit.[30] Soil-borne pathogens that feed on the root damage caused by phylloxera may be controlled by measured use of hydrogen peroxide, as well as by application of harpins (e.g., Messenger®) on the grapes, while BTH can be used to help increase resistance to Botrytis.[31] All this means much more attention must be paid to the condition of the vineyard throughout the season, compared to a conventional approach.  This is essentially the practice of Integrated Pest Management (IPM).[32]

This can all be accomplished over time, though much experimentation as well as trial-and-error will usually be necessary, as every vineyard will have unique issues of its own.  The bottom line is that organic viticulture is more labor-intensive, but with potentially lower supply-and-materials costs, so that the fruit that results should be of higher quality, entirely free of industrial residue or traces, safer for consumption, and better for the land.  The question:  can 100% certified organic grapes, as stipulated in the USDA guidelines, be grown long-term in the Long Island AVAs, or is sustainable viticulture the best that can be hoped for?  The Farrm has been raising organically-certified fruit and vegetables since 1990, and vinifera grapes since 2005.  He has achieved this in part because he has been willing to accept smaller crops when the disease pressure is very strong, and that depends on the weather from year to year.

___________________________________

Endnotes

[2] Geraldine Pluenneke, “On Good Land: Farming to a Different Beat,” Edible East End, Spring 2011.

[3] Telephone interviews with Richard Pisacano of Wölffer Estate and Larry Perrine of Channing Daughters, both on 17 April 2009

[4] Ibid.

[5] United States Department of Agriculture, National Organic Program, “Labeling: Regulatory Text,” § 205.303 (5).  (Henceforth referred to as USDA, NOP, Labeling:)

[6] New York Guide to Sustainable Viticulture Practices: Grower Self-Assessment Workbook, “[the Program] . . . is designed to encourage practices with low environmental impact that maintain or improve soil.”  Also see Channing Daughters Winery, “A Vineyard With a Purpose” Web page.

[7] Interviews with Alejandra Macari and Barbara Shinn, 20 April 2009, with Jim Silver at Peconic Bay Winery, 7 July 2009, and with Miguel Martín of Palmer Vineyards, 12 October 2010.

[8] Interview with Jim Silver, 7 July 2009.

[9] Despite Shinn’s involvement with VineBalance, she does take issue with the term “sustainable,” holding that it can mean anything that a practitioner wants it to, and prefers to speak of “natural viticulture.”

[10] The five categories are my summation of several sources:  USDA, NOP, Labeling: § 205.301; Monty Waldin, “organic viticulture” The Oxford Companion to Wine, p. 498; Jon Bonné, “A fresh take on sustainable winemaking”; also, Sustainability in Practice (SIP) ™ Vineyard Certification Program, FAQ PDF.

[11] Organic Consumers Association, “Clearing up the confusion about Organic Wine,” introduction.  Also see the USDA, NOP, and Labeling: § 205.301a-d, the source for the list.  Only the first two items on the list (a & b) are of concern to us.

[12] USDA, NOP, Labeling: § 205.301-304 passim.

[13] Vincent Russo and Merritt Taylor.  “Yield and Quality of Vegetable Crops in Conventional and Organic Production Systems,” USDA Agricultural Research Service, n.p.

[14] Demeter USA, “Get Certified.”

[15] Gerald B. White, “The Economics of Growing Grapes Organically,” 19white.pdf.  This and other studies to be found at the http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/hort/faculty/pool/ website were all part of a project funded by the federal Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension program (SARE) from 1991-95.

[16] White.

[17] White.

[18] Suzanne Gannon, “Extreme Viticulture: How Northeast growers farm vinifera organically and sustainably,” Wine & Vines Magazine, online, sections on Shinn Estate Vineyards (Long Island) and Cornell’s Program (n.p.)

[19] The need for certifying agents is mentioned in passing in the USDA, NOP, Labeling: § 205.303 (5).  For a discussion of Accredited Certifying Agents (ACA) see Renée L. Robin, “Defining Organic Practices for Wines and Grapes,” in Wine Business Monthly online, section on “Getting Certified: What Rules Apply?”:

These ACAs can be private, public or non-profit entities that have received authorization to certify from the USDA. As of January 2006, there are 53 domestic ACAs and 40 foreign-based ACAs. Currently 11 of these ACAs are located in California.

[20] Joe Dressner, “Natural Wine,” The Wine Importer, speaks of the “French Natural Wine Movement,” whose members refer to themselves, “. . .  as the sans soufistres” because they refuse to add sulfur to their wine when vinifying.  The movement to make wine without sulfites has spread to the United States and has, indeed, been incorporated into the USDA certification standard for 100% organic (USDA, NOP, Labeling: § 205.302).  The issue of what actually constitutes “natural” winemaking is open to debate, as pointed out in Pameladevi Govinda’s “Natural Progression: The Real Dirt on Natural Wine,” Imbibe Magazine online.

[21] Actually, practically speaking, it is more like ten to fifteen years, according to my interview with Barbara Shinn.

[22] See Russo and Taylor’s “Yield and Quality of Vegetable Crops . . .” Technical Abstract, which set up such a 70-meter buffer zone for their experiment.

[23] According to an article by Renée L. Robin, “Defining Organic Practices for Wines and Grapes,” in Wine Business Monthly online, production cost increases can be “as much as 5 to 10 percent” during the period of transition, after which such costs should be about the same or even less that conventional methods.

[24] Jancou, Pierre.  MoreThanOrganic.com:  French Natural Wine, “As it is picked, the fruit must be collected into small containers, to avoid being crushed under its own weight, and taken to the winery as quickly as possible.”

[25] Kingsley Tobin, “Organic Viticulture & Winemaking: Changing New Zealand Grapegrowing and Winemaking to an Organic Philosophy,” section on Solution to Problems, n.p.

[26] Don Lotter, “Wine quality, organic viticulture and vine systemic acquired resistance to pests,” section on “Vine systemic acquired resistance and wine phenolics” (n.p.).  Lotter states that “SAR is induced by low to moderate levels of insect and pathogen attack, the ability of plants, particularly organically managed plants, to induce a type of situation-responsive immunity to attack by diseases and pests is known as systemic acquired resistance (SAR), in which defensive compounds, mostly phenolics, are produced.”

[27] Lotter.

[28] Lotter.

[29] GardenInsects.com, “Natural Pest Control with Ladybugs,” Web page.  (Ladybugs are also called Ladybird beetles.)

[30] Lisa Anderson, “Organic Winemaking, Northwest Style,” under heading, “Challenges of Organic Viticulture,” from WineSquire.com.

[31] Lotter.

[32] United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Web site, “Integrated Pest Management (IPM)  Principles.”

[33] Barbara Shinn e-mail to me, 7 June 2010.  She further asserts that “This is a huge success for the region and a big tipping point. Hopefully the region will take comfort that it can indeed be done and done well.”

References

Anderson, Lisa.  “Organic Winemaking, Northwest Style,” WineSquire.com, at http://winesquire.com/articles/2001/wnw0107.htm, accessed 25 March 2009.

Asimov, Eric. “The Pour: Natural Wines Redux,” New York Times, 16 March 2007.

Bonné, Jon.  “A fresh take on sustainable winemaking,” 5 April 2009, SFGate.com, at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/04/05/FD0H16NPIS.DTL&hw=wine&sn=003&sc=628

Brix, Samantha, “Calverton farmer boasts Long Island’s first crop of certified organic grapes,” Suffolk Times, 7 October 2011, at http://suffolktimes.timesreview.com/2011/10/21449/calverton-farmer-boasts-long-islands-first-crop-of-certified-organic-grapes/

Channing Daughters, “A Vineyard With a Purpose”: http://www.channingdaughters.com/

Cox, Jeff. “Organic Winegrowing Goes Mainstream,” Wine News Magazine, Aug/Sep 2000

Demeter-International e. V., International Certification Office.  List of Fees, Lizenz-&- Gebührenordnung.PDF, as at January 1st 2006 [in English], at http://demeter.net/certification/ce_procedures_fees.pdf?languagechoice=en&languageadmin=0

Demeter, USA.  “Get Certified,” Demeter-USA.org, at http://demeter-usa.org/get-certified/, accessed 8 April 2009.

Dressner, Joe.  “Natural Wines,” from the wine importer blog, 28 April 2007. from http://www.datamantic.com/joedressner/?2331.

Gahagan, Richard M.  “Use of Term ‘Organic’ on Wine Labels,” New York Agricultural Extension Program at Cornell University, at http://nysaes.cals.cornell.edu/research-extension/grapes-and-wine, accessed 8 April 2009.

Gannon, Suzanne.  “Extreme Viticulture: Now Northeast growers farm vinifera organically and sustainably,” Wines & Vines Magazine, October 2007.

Govinda, Pameladevi.  “Natural Progression,” Imbibe Magazine, Sept/Oct 2008.

Jancou, Pierre.  MoreThanOrganic.com:  “French Natural Wine” at http://www.morethanorganic.com/definition-of-natural-wine, accessed 21 April 2009.

Kolpan, Steven.  “Biodynamic Wines: Beyond Organic,” Steven Kolpan on Wine, November 2008, at http://stevenkolpanonwine.blogspot.com/2008/11/biodynamic-wines-beyond-organic.html.

Lotter, Don, Ph.D.  “Wine quality, organic viticulture and vine systemic acquired resistance to pests,” Organic Wine Journal, 11 November 2008, at http://www.organicwinejournal.com/index.php/2008/11/wine-quality-organic-viticulture-and-vine-systemic-acquired-resistance-to-pests/

Macari, Alexandra, of Macari Vineyard, telephone interview conducted on 20 April 2009.

Natural Process Alliance Home Page, The.  http://www.naturalprocessalliance.us/home, accessed 8 April 2009.

Organic Consumers Association, “Clearing up the Confusion about Organic Wines,” from http://www.organicconsumers.org/Organic/OrganicWine.cfm, accessed 6 April 2009

Organic Viticulture, “Organic and Biodynamic Viticulture,” Tuscany-in-a-Bottle.com, from http://www.tuscany-in-a-bottle.com/organic.htm, accessed 25 March 2009

Organic Wine Company. “Organic Wines,” EcoWine.com, at http://ecowine.com/organic.html, accessed 25 March 2009.

Peterson, Walter.  “Marketing Organic Wines in New York,” New York Agricultural Extension Program at Cornell University, at http://nysaes.cals.cornell.edu/research-extension/grapes-and-wine, accessed 8 April 2009.

Pluenneke, Geraldine.  “On Good Land: Farming to a Different Beat,” Edible East End, Spring 2011; published online on 25 April 2001 at:  http://www.edibleeastend.com/online_magazine/farming-to-a-different-beat/

Railey, Raven J.  “Wine with a conscience:  How three local wineries go green,” San Luis Obispo’s website, 4 April 2009, at http://www.sanluisobispo.com/183/story/674260.html

Robin, Renée L.  “Defining Organic Practices for Wine and Grapes,” Wine Business Monthly, 15 April 2006.

Robinson, Jancis, MW, editor.  The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd edition.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2006

Robinson, Jancis, MW, “More French Wineries go Biodynamic,” SFGate.com, home of The San Francisco Chronicle, 2 February 2006.

Russo, Vincent and Merritt Taylor.  “Yield and Quality of Vegetable Crops in Conventional and Organic Production Systems,” USDA Agricultural Research Service, at http://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/Publications.htm?seq_no_115=194264, 1 December 2006; last modified 14 April 2009.  [NOTE: this is an interpretive summary and technical abstract of a 2006 article: “Soil amendments in transition to organic vegetable production with comparison to conventional methods: Yields and economics.”  HortScience, 41(7):1576-1583.]

Shinn, Barbara, Vineyard Manager, Shinn Estate, telephone interview conducted on 20 April 2009.

Sustainability in Practice (SIP) ™ Vineyard Certification Program, “Frequently Asked Questions” [FAQ], PDF file downloaded from http://www.vineyardteam.org, accessed 8 April 8, 2009.

Tobin, Kinsley. “Organic Viticulture & Winemaking: Changing New Zealand Grapegrowing and Winemaking to an Organic Philosophy”, at http://organicnz.vibrantplanet.com/page/2020-18, accessed 25 March 2009.

United States Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] Web site, “Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Principles.”  From http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/factsheets/ipm.htm, accessed 21 April 2009.

United StatesDepartment of Agriculture, National Organic Program, “Labeling: Regulatory Text,” PDF file available at http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3003511, accessed 7 April 2009

VineBalance, New York Guide to Sustainable Viticulture Practices: Grower Self-Assessment Workbook. PDF file, at http://www.vinebalance.com/pdf/intro.pdf

White, Gerald B.  “The Economics of Growing Grapes Organically,” Department of Agriculture, Resource, and Managerial Economics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, at http://nysaes.cals.cornell.edu/research-extension/grapes-and-wine, accessed 8 April 2009.

Wölffer Estate Vineyard, “Vineyards and Winemaking” Web page, at http://www.wolffer.com/store/

 

Wine Books I Recommend

Following is a highly selective list of books that I’ve read or consulted that I consider particularly worthwhile.  If I haven’t read or consulted a book, I do not recommend it.  Alas, there are more that I’ve not read than have—I’ve only 120 books on wine in my library, and some are still waiting to be read, though nearly all have served as references.

Grapes, Wine, Wineries, and Vineyards

There are seven general wine books that one should own in order to be truly well- and completely informed:

1.  Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th ed. (2015) is just indispensable, with a comprehensive coverage of just about every topic bearing on wine that one can think of, a true Abbocatto to Zymase encyclopedia.  All articles are signed, all cited references noted.  Robinson was both the editor and a contributor.  The 4th edition adds 300 additional, new terms, though many will only be of interest to wine professionals.  For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.

2.  Equally indispensable is Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson’s The World Atlas of Wine, 7th ed. (2013).  How else could one find the way around the vinicultural regions of the world, including NY State?  The maps are in full color, ranging in scale from street-level for the Champagne towns and the lodges in Oporto, to 1:45,000 and larger for wine regions.  The text for the many regions is the very model of pithy, clear writing.  For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.

3.  In 2013, two new, serious reference books on wine—sure to become indispensable and classic are:  Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy’s American Wine:  The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States (a very useful feature is its summary of each AVA, including the best grapes grown, and listing the top wineries by category); the other must-have is Jancis’s encyclopedic Wine Grapes:  A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours, written in collaboration with Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz.  See my post, The Three Indispensable Wine Books, for a complete review of Wine Grapes.

4.  Emile Peynaud’s vital and perennial The Taste of Wine: The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation (trans. Michael Schuster, 1987).  Originally written in French as La Goût du Vin in 1983), it is considered definitive by many in the field.

But then, there is always Jancis Robinson’s How to Taste (2000), which is both a how-to for tasting and a guide to the aromatic and gustatory sensations of the different varieties and how they can differ from place to place (i.e., from terroir to terroir).  Robinson’s is certainly the more approachable for most readers.

5.  WSET students and graduates, anyone interested in wine certification, and indeed, even winemakers can benefit from David Bird’s Understanding Wine Technology:  The Science of Wine Explained, 3rd ed., which has been required reading for all WSET students, is a very clear and lucid explanation—in laymen’s terms—of what goes on right down to the molecular level of yeasts, viruses, and chemistry generally.  It’s also a very good read.

6.  I very much enjoyed and admired Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop’s Authentic Wine:  toward natural and sustainable winemaking (2011), which has many really interesting insights into what really goes on in a vineyard, a winery, and what it takes to be a sustainable winegrower and producer.  Much food for thought, though some may cavil about a few of the authors’ conclusions.

7.  If one wanted to carry as much information about wine in a portable package, there’s one that I cannot live without:  Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2016.  It is pithy, witty, thicker than ever, and claims to be the Number One Bestselling Wine Guide, which it deserves to be.  I’ve bought every edition since the very first one, published in 1977 (it was rather slim then).  Also available as a KIndle Book from Amazon.

New York and East Coast Wine

Long Island Wine Country:  Award-Winning Vineyards of the North Fork and the Hamptons, is an indispensable guide to visiting Long Island vineyards and wineries.  Written by Jane Taylor Starwood, editor-in-chief of Long Island Wine Press, she gives us an insider’s track on the owners, the winemakers, and the wineries themselves.  In a conversational tone (and amply illustrated), the book leads the reader from East to West on the North Fork, and then down to the Hamptons, as though it would be followed geographically. It’s a bit frustrating an approach if one wants to do research and would prefer an alphabetical organization, but it’s a quibble given the overall quality and usefulness of the book, which is still reasonably up-to-date as of 2013, given that it was published in 2009. One should bear in mind though, that already important personnel changes have taken place: Richard Olsen Harbich left Raphael in 2010 and went to Bedell Cellars, Anthony Nappa is now Raphael’s vintner, Kelly Urbanik Koch is winemaker at Macari, and Zander Hargrave, who was assistant winemaker at Peconic Bay Vineyards, is now unemployed, as Peconic Bay has closed its doors.  A new, major winery, Kontokosta Vineyards, opened in June 2013 in Greenport.
Louisa Thomas Hargrave wrote a gracious memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery. One cannot begin to understand what was involved in creating the Long Island wine industry without reading this charming and touching account of the establishment of Long Island’s first winery, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973, when there were only small farms and potato fields. It is charming in its modesty, touching in its honesty, and a remarkable tale of what it takes to start a vineyard from scratch when you don’t even know what you’re doing! And look at what it started–a whole industry that is one of the dominant features of the East End of Long Island, begun with passion, commitment, and hard work, but ultimately at the cost of heartbreak and renewal.  Now out of print, it may be available, used, on Amazon or AbeBooks.

In Marguerite Thomas’s Touring East Coast Wine Country:  A Guide to the Finest Wineries (1996) we have the first important guide to the wines and wineries of the East Coast, from Maine to Virginia, replete with useful insights and a good background on the history of the viniculture of each state. It also provides biography capsules of some of the most important or interesting winemakers. Given that the book was first published in 1996, a good deal of its information is now more of historical interest, and it needs, and deserves, a new edition.
More up-to-date than Marguerite Thomas’s East Coast guide is Carlo DeVito’s East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia, published in 2004. Still, even this needs to be brought up-to-date, but its value lies in its own take on East Coast wineries, with listings of the wines offered by each estate with brief descriptions, recommendations and excerpted tasting reviews of the wines. Let’s hope that, like Thomas’s guide, DeVito’s will also receive a new, updated edition soon. For the serious wine tourist, one guide complements the other, so why not buy both?
Vital–thanks to its clear, lucid writing and very useful history of LI viticulture and winemaking–is the excellent if outdated Wines of Long Island, 2nd edition (2000) by Edward Beltrami & Philip E. Palmedo.  It includes profiles of many of the most important personalities in the LI wine world, descriptions and reviews of wineries and their wines–both past and present–and a generally judicious insight into the trends and achievements of the region as of the end of the 20th Century.  Definitely worthwhile owning, if you love LI wines, but it has long been out of print, though Amazon or AbeBooks may still offer it, “pre-read”, online.  It is currently being brought up to date by me, with elements of the series on Long Island wines in this blog being incorporated into it.  We hope to bring out the 3rd edition by Spring 2017.

An interesting and somewhat chatty book is The Story of North Fork Wine: Historical Profiles and Wine Country Recipes (2009), John Ross’s up-close-and-personal look at the people who work in and run the wineries.  A chef who owned Ross’s North Fork Restaurant, he became close to many in the wine trade, especially given that he was interested in devising recipes and menus that would best accompany the wines of the region.

Organic and Biodynamic Viniculture

Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course: The Birth of the Biodynamic Method, is the foundation text of the biodynamic movement. A compilation of eight lectures delivered in Germany in 1924 provides, in Steiner’s own words, the basis for what he called a new science based on the natural rhythms of the world and the cosmos, as recovered from the traditional practices of the peasant farmers of yore. It is meant as a healthy antidote to the rise of farming methods based on industrial chemicals and fertilizers. Many leading vineyards are farmed by this method, from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy to Shinn Estate in Long Island. You owe it to yourself to read the lectures if you wish to really understand what Biodynamics is about.
Nicolas Joly is a leading proponent of Biodynamic viticulture, and he practices his preaching at one of the greatest vineyards of the Loire, the Coulée de Serrant. Joly’s Wine from Sky to Earth: Growing and Appreciating Biodynamic Wine, is a true believer’s panegyric to Biodynamics.  His ideas and those of the founder of Biodynamics®, Rudolf Steiner, are put into practice at two vineyards that I know of:  Macari Vineyards and Shinn Estate.
Lon Rombough’s The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture, is an excellent introduction to how to grow grapes organically. It’s also very practical, as the guide is really intended for the novice who wants to start a backyard vineyard or even a commercial one. It takes the reader step-by-step on establishing an organic vineyard, imparting along the way a good deal of knowledge and savvy advice.
Other Wine Books of More than Passing Interest (or Not)

Tyler Colman, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink (UCal Press, 2008).  I highly recommend this book for its clarity and scholarship.  The subject of politics in the wine world proves to be fascinating, and the author chose to approach it by comparing, for example, the AOC laws of France (and by extension, much of the EU) with the AVA regulations promulgated by the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau).  There are surprising insights  into how and why wine is grown and made in different countries, why labels look the way they do on each side of the Atlantic, and the effects of custom, religion, crime, regionalism, nationalism, and so forth on the wine trade.  Eminently worthwhile for the serious wine-lover.

  • John Hailman, Thomas Jefferson on Wine (UMiss Press, 2006).  Another book that is based on sound scholarship and research, also well-written, but one may wish to skip all the tables and lists, which are difficult to grasp at times simply because the wines of Jefferson’s period (1743-1826) varied so much in name, currency, weights and volumes, that clear comparisons with our own period are so difficult to make.  Still, if one has the patience, there is reward in seeing how all-encompassing were the interests and tastes of the first great oenophile of the United States of America.

 

  • Thomas Pellechia, Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade (Thunder’s Mouth Press, NY, 2006)  A work with great potential written by someone who has long been in the wine trade but whose sense of history is lacking in scholarship and critical acuity.  Some of what he writes is couched in such vague or confused historical terms as to be virtually useless, especially when dealing with antiquity and the Middle Ages.  The writing style is breezy and casual, but it lacks polish and lucidity.  Such a shame.
  • A far better foray into wine history would be the classic Gods, Men, and Wine, (1966) by William Younger, or the more recent Story of Wine (1989)—or the New Illustrated Edition (2004)—by Hugh Johnson, both of which are better-written and historically more reliable.  Neither of the latter books is available in Kindle versions, but they do enjoy the virtue of been on real, durable paper bound in hardcover.

 

  • A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage (2005), is more than just about wine.  It tells its story by means of six beverages: beer (Mesopotamia & Egypt), wine (Ancient Greece & Rome), spirits (Colonial America), Coffee (Europe in the Age of Enlightenment), Tea (the British Empire), and Coca-Cola (Modern America and the Age of Globalization).  It’s both amusing and informative, but I’d put the emphasis on the amusement.  Unless you’ve utterly uninformed about wine or the other beverages, this is really History 001, rather lightweight.

 

  • Questions of Taste:  The Philosophy of Wine, edited by Barry C. Smith (2007), with essays by experts such as Paul Draper, Jamie Goode, Andrew Jefford, and others, with an enthusiastic Foreword by Jancis Robinson.  The contributors also include a couple of philosophers and a linguist.  The language of wine as presented in this book is clearly academic. A worthwhile but challenging book, well worth the time to read.

 

  • Wine Wars, by Mike Veseth (2011), which, with chapter headings like “The Curse of the Blue Nun,” “The Miracle of Two-Buck Chuck,” and “The Revenge of the Terroirists,”  is an interesting and amusing way of treating the effects of globalization on the modern world of wine.  It is also rather informative, and occasionally provides some surprising nuggets of information (such as the fact that Trader Joe’s is actually a German company).

 

 

My take on the state of NY wines back in 1971

[NOTE:  –This piece was originally published in the April 1971 issue of Abel Magazine, the motto of which was Panem et Circensis.  The first vineyard in Long Island didn’t even exist until 1973 and the Niagara Escarpment wasn’t even a gleam in a winemaker’s eye.]

American wines can be separated into two categories:  those which are produced in California and those which are not.  The California product is a step-child of the European one.  It resembles the step-parent in both type and taste, and is actually made from European wine-grape varieties.  The non-California product is made primarily from native America grape varieties belonging to the species Vitis labrusca, and resembles most Old-World wines very little.

Among the non-California producers, New York State is far and away the largest and most important.  Its wines are drunk twice as often as imported wines, and its “champagnes” vie with those of California for market leadership in this country.  Despite the statistics, New York wines remain among the least appreciated of all wines that are consumed by Americans.

One reason for this is that New York producers have established their reputations, by and large, by their “champagnes.”  Their table wines, being in the inexpensive, ordinary category, have hardly been in the the position to acquire the kind of reputation some California producers have gained for their own wines,.  Too many of the Eastern wines, while sound enough, are either sweetened, pasteurized, or even mixed with cheap California wines to get rid of the so-called “foxy” taste so many wine drinkers find disagreeable.

There are quality table wines from New York State.  Not being produced in the quantities of the Western state’s vineyards, they are relatively scarce and not very well known.  Most of them are made from recently planted hybrids developed by oenologists such as Louis Seibel of France.  These vines — producing the new varietals such as Chelois, Baco Noir, Aurora, and Dutchess — can suit anyone’s palate.  The reds are distinctly flavored, sound, and good meal accompaniments.  The whites are soft, fruity, and well-balanced — not too sweet, and obviously unsugared.  They are inexpensive as well, rarely costing more than $2.00.

Pleasant Valley PR photo

A memento of my visit to the Pleasant Valley Wine Company. I am in the center, next to Richard Vine, manager, at right.

Pleasant Valley Wine Co., [aka Great Western Winery (established in 1860 and Bonded Winery #1–the first in the United States.)] is the largest and most important of the producers of these wines at present.  Smaller firms like High Tor Vineyards on the Hudson and Boordy Vineyards on Lake Erie produce interesting wines for less than $2.50 a bottle.  Bully Hill’s red and white wines come from the same district [Finger Lakes] as Great Western, but they cost nearly twice as much.

One producer in the Finger Lakes region had the courage to plant pure vinifera strains such as the Pinot Chardonnay, Riesling, and Traminer, and makes really fine wines which you can try if you are willing to pay the price.  Dr. Constantin Frank’s pioneering efforts under the aegis of Gold Seal Winery has even brought us a remarkable instance of a vintage Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese for $45 a fifth.  Don’t try to find one for hardly any exist.  But $4.50 will buy you his fine Spätlese.

More New York varietal wines will be produced and made available to us.  It is simply a question of time, and of making the producers see that the demand is there.  Eventually, one will not have to be a reverse wine snob in order to drink any New York wine.

 

2013 Assessment of Long Island Winery Websites

As of July 2016, despite a much-needed reassessment, as so many of the sites have been significantly updated and improved, I have had no time to do a full re-evaluation.  My book, The Wines of Long Island, 3rd edition, has just been turned in to my publisher, SUNY Press. After  a period of decompression, I shall revisit all the Websites and update this post.

In an article published in Wines & Vines, “What Visitors Want from Wine Sites” (June 2011), Kent Benson explained what information he thought serious visitors to wine sites (specifically winery and vineyard ones) should provide.  I thought that his ideas were worth serious consideration and decided to try and apply those criteria to the websites of the region that I am most familiar with:  Long Island.  Benson’s original article is accessible at Wines & Vines 6/11.

The Criteria

In order to assess the quality of the Long Island winery/vineyard websites, I have chosen to evaluate them on the basis of both the historical and technical information that they provide.  Below is my adaptation (mostly a reorganization) of Kent Bensons’ wish list for wine websites:

  1. Identify type of operation up front:  Winery &/or Vineyard &/or Tasting Room
  2. History: frank and honest, including founder, subsequent owners and corporate owners: (don’t pretend you’re a “family” winery when you’re not)
  3. Winemaker, vineyard manager, and owner: names, pictures and bios
    1. Technical information (viniculture)
      1. Vineyard information:  acreage, vine density, vinicultural practices, yields, maps
      2. Wine grape source locations, soil types, vine ages
      3. List of all grape varieties in the vineyard with acreage
      4. Vintage report
      5. Technical information (vinification)
        1. Forthright, step-by-step, detailed description of the winemaking process: (tell all); e.g., details of aging regimen:  proportion aged in wood, proportions of French & American oak, proportions of new, one-year, two-year, etc., oak alternatives employed

        b.   Technical data: degrees Brix at harvest, actual ABV, TA, pH, RS, dry extract, disgorgement date: (for sparkling wine) [this set data is for wine geeks; most others may not care]

        1. Estimated drinkability range from vintage date
        2. Purchase information (Online/Wine Club)
          1. Available current releases and at least two previous vintages
          2. Pairing and serving temperature suggestions
          3. Bottle and label shots: (keep them current, show front & back labels)
          4. Pictures of estate or controlled vineyards and of winery

    In addition, I would like to see Winery websites that are easy to navigate and do not require that a visitor need dig for information or other data.  All features should be easily accessible, which means that navigation options should not be embedded more than a level or two down from the main menu or home page.Blogs are very nice to have and can be extremely informative: Bedell Cellars, Channing Daughters, and Shinn Estate have particularly useful ones.  However, they are not scored for this assessment, as most sites have no blogs.

    Events and event calendars are an essential part of nearly any retail winery, but these are not scored individually in the assessments that follow, as they are mostly about entertainment and social matters, and information on winegrowing and winemaking is our real concern.

  4. Consequently, I have also added a new criterion, for ‘general’ features.  These are scored by the number of features listed above that appear on the Website, thus 10 ‘yes’ answers (features present) is complete. If a feature is not applicable (n/a) the score is not reduced.  Furthermore, if a newsletter is available, I score the newsletter for quality of its information—if no newsletter is offered, it is not scored.

    About the Assessments

    NOTE:  The assessments on the following pages are based on my version of Benson’s wish list.  They are my own, and therefore subjective.  Poor scores may sometimes reflect a deliberate desire on the part of the winery not to provide the kind of information that is being looked for here, possibly due to the time and cost of including it on the Web.  In no case do these scores reflect on the wines offered on these sites.

    The purpose of this assessment is both informational for visitors and, hopefully, a prod to the web designers and the site owners to add or improve features, if possible.  Naturally, many of the wineries are very small and may not have the wherewithal to spend money on a better website than they already have.  Some don’t appear to have the means to keep their sites up-to-date, or at least certain features such as blogs, which are time-consuming to maintain.  It would be helpful if all sites provided a ‘last time updated’ on their home pages.

    It shall be updated from time-to-time as enough changes to the websites so warrant. Assigning scores to the websites

    Listed alphabetically, the assessments of the websites carry no imputations regarding a winery’s products.  Major features are graded on a scale of 1 to 5:

    1 = inadequate/little or no information
    2 = fair/some information, albeit cursory
    3 = adequate/basic relevant information, but lacking depth
    4 = very good/most relevant information
    5 = excellent/all relevant information
    n/a = not applicable (e.g., no viniculture information because no vineyard)

    The highest score possible for a website is 5.0 points out of 5. Nominally, the lowest score should be 1.0 point out of 5, but there is one site that has a blog about money and dogs and nothing about wine—an aberration, to be sure, but listed nevertheless for the sake of completeness.

    The Sixty-two Websites (as of 11 June 2013)

NOTE:  In May 2012 there were fifty-five Websites that were evaluated.  As of July 2016 there are over seventy sites to be assessed.

Anthony Nappa Wines / Winemakers Studio: (3.9 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: No; no grape source info either
  • Winery: No (uses Raphael facilities)
  • Winemaker: Anthony Nappa
  • Tasting Room: The Winemaker Studio, Peconic (see Web assessment below)
  • History / background: (4/5) Very good
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Excellent bios on both sites
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (n/a)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (3/5) No notes, but adequate descriptions with food pairing suggestions on both sites
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (3/5) No; brief descriptions of wines, but purchase can only be made by phone at Winemakers Studio; there is also a resellers listing
  • Wine Club: Anthony Nappa: No; The Winemaker Studio: Yes, but the membership form must be printed and mailed in—a tad inconvenient.
  • Contact: phone, snail mail, or e-mail for both Nappa & the Studio
  • Directions: Yes, for Winemaker Studio, with map
  • News/reviews link: Yes, and up to date.
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Tours: n/a
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (4/5) Elegant, easy to navigate, but link to The Winemaker Studio takes you to a very different style and layout (see assessment below)
  • General feature set:  5 out of 10 (2.5/5)
  • Additional features: Resellers option; link to Anthony Nappa Wine’s Facebook page.
  • Up-to-date: Nappa: Mostly, but there is no mention of Anthony’s hire by Raphael to be its winemaker; Studio: OK.

Anthony Nappa Wines

Comment:  Two linked websites, one for Anthony Nappa Wines, another for the tasting room at The Winemaker Studio; information about the vineyards that source the grapes would be very welcome (and so interesting to the geeks among us).

NOTE: The Winemaker Studio features and sells wines by Anthony Nappa, Roman Roth (Grapes of Roth), Russell Hearn (Suhru Wines & T’Jara Vineyards), Erik Bilka (Influence Wines), John Leo (Leo Family Wines), and Adam Suprenant (Coffeepot Wines)

Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyards: (3.6 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No (PWG)
  • Winemaker:  Tom Drozd using PWG facilities
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (4/5) Personal, family focused
  • About / Biographies: (4/5) Personal, no staff biographies
  • Vineyard /viniculture information: (3/5) Succinct, no maps, no mention of terroir; focus on sustainability, but few specifics
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (4/5) very good, but not all wines are fully commented
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (3/5) Many choices, brief descriptions, food pairing suggestions; gift baskets
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact:  e-mail & phone
  • Directions: Yes, with map
  • News/reviews link: No
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes; focus on Rock & Roll and Bluegrass performances; weddings
  • Tours: Virtual (online)
  • Photo gallery: Yes, and video of horses and games as well
  • Website design: (4/5) Attractive if a bit busy-looking, with many options
  • General feature set:  7 of 10 (3.5/5)
  • Additional features: Virtual tour, rescue-horse farm & pony rides, corporate ideas, entertainment schedule
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard

Comment:  Greeted by a picture of a child with a horse, one knows immediately that this is a family-oriented; the vineyard and its wines itself needs more attention.  The BHFV Horse Rescue operation, by the way, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation, devoted to the rescue of horses.

Bedell Cellars: (5.0 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  •  Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Richard Harbich-Olsen
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (5/5) Excellent account of sustainability & its practice
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Excellent, full biographies of all staff
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (5/5) Excellent, full description and parcel maps, discussion of  terroir, sustainable practices (member of Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers [henceforth LISW])
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Excellent, complete notes: (PDFs)
  • Technical wine data: Yes, in PDFs
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Very good descriptions, many choices, including sets
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact:  e-mail, phone & fax
  • Directions: Yes, with map
  • News/reviews link: Yes, many links to reviews in NYT
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: (5/5) Yes, by far the most informative and interesting newsletter of all, with keen and thoughtful observations about wine, viniculture, terroir, and so on.  Issued from time to time.
  • Wine Blog: Yes, highly informative with both wit and humor.
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: Yes, by prior arrangement
  • Photo gallery: Yes, and video as well
  • Website design / usability: (5/5) Excellent, elegant design (by Cro2), art is featured
  • General feature set:  10 of 10 (5/5)
  • Additional features: Excellent explanation of sustainable farming; art gallery; various wedding options
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Bedell Cellars

Comment:  An elegant site, easy to navigate, many useful options, thoughtful design, exceptionally informative and complete. A plausible standard for winery websites with respect to the content that they could provide.  Elegant design helps too, of course.  The newsletter is a model as well—every issue is worth reading (though they do come out irregularly).

Bouké Wines: (4.2 4.6 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: No; purchases fruit from N. Fork & Finger Lakes vineyards
  • Winery: No (PWG)
  • Winemaker: No; Gilles Martin, consultant
  • Tasting Room: Tasting Room, Peconic
  • History / background: (5/5) Full & complete, well-organized
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Excellent bios
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (n/a)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Excellent, good technical info, PDFs
  • Technical wine data: Yes
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Good, brief descriptions, but dig down for full wine notes
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact:  e-mail & phone
  • Directions: No
  • News/reviews link: Yes, including a list of awards
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: Yes, via a small icon at the bottom of the page
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Tours: n/a
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (5/5) Attractive, clean design, unusual navigation in places
  • General feature set:  4 of 10 (2/5)
  • Additional features: Links to responsible drinking sites (AIM & Century); Jazz recommended listening; boutique for wine accessories; the blog is really just a series of links; blogroll is a set of links to blogs by others
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Bouké Wines

Comment:  Attractive and easy to use, it reflects well on the products offered; much improved design  with excellent navigation; it could mention the vineyards sourcing the grapes; the list of NYC retailers selling the wines is confined to Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Oenology (3.7 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: No
  • Winery: No; PWG makes the wine
  • Winemaker: Yes, Alie Shaper
  • Tasting Room: Yes, offers BOE wines and a selection of other LI and Finger Lakes wines
  • History / background: (5/5) Complete
  • About / Biographies: (1/5) None
  • Vineyard/viniculture information: (n/a)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Succinct but complete and clearly presented
  • Technical wine data: Spotty
  • Purchase online: (4/5) Yes, now BOE’s own online system
  •  Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: Yes
  • News/reviews link: Eventually
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: Yes, but the last post was in Sept. 2012
  • Events / calendar: Yes; but no functional links to some events that could use them
  • Tours: n/a
  • Photo gallery: Mostly of the artist labels; art an emphasis of site
  • Website design: (4/5) Slick, sophisticated, but home page is rather busy in consequence
  • General feature set:  6 of 10 (3/5)
  • Additional features: Artists’ labels a focus
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Brooklyn Oenology

Comment: Site functions like a work in progress; the wine links don’t work properly if you select, for example, White Wines, as it takes you to an empty page.  You must select a particular white wine, but it means that making comparisons a bit more difficult.

Brooklyn Winery (4.2 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: No
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes; Conor McCormack
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (4/5) Complete
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Interesting and amusing
  • Vineyard/viniculture information: (n/a)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Complete and clearly presented
  • Technical wine data: Yes
  • Purchase online: (n/a) Online sales are apparently pending; for now, purchase at retail or at the winery
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: Yes
  • News/reviews link: Presently there are no complete reviews; PDFs are awkward to use
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: Yes
  • Events / calendar: Yes; but no links to some events that could use them
  • Tours: n/a
  • Photo gallery: Mostly of the artist labels; art an emphasis of site
  • Website design: (4/5) Slick, sophisticated
  • General feature set: 8 of 10 (4/5)
  • Additional features: Artists’ labels a focus
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Brooklyn Winery

Comment: Site may still be a work in progress, given that though it shows a shopping cart and checkout, in fact online purchases cannot be made.

 Castello di Borghese: (2.2 2.6 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Erik Bilka
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (3/5) Adequate, but one has to read the press releases to learn that this was originally Hargrave Vineyard, the first on LI, which the Borgheses purchased in 1999.
  • About / Biographies: (3/5) ) Adequate, with emphasis on aristocratic Italian heritage, but if one digs deeply there is a press article that provides some
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (1/5) Inadequate, with nothing about viniculture
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (2/5) Adequate, praiseful adjectives
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (3/5) Good, but too much navigation is required
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact:  by phone, snail mail, and email via info@castellodiborghese.com
  • Directions: Yes, text.
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: (1/5) Yes; the newsletter, issued regularly, is largely confined to events at the winery and various links; there is no news about winemaking or viniculture
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: Yes, including a vineyard tour
  • Photo gallery:  Yes
  • Website design /usability: (3/5) busy-looking, keeps viewer jumping around, awkward navigation in places
  • General feature set:  8 of 10 (4/5)
  • Additional features: Olive oil for sale; local beer on offer; Tour: ‘Winemaker’s Walk’ by appointment
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Castello di Borghese

Comment: Web focus is on winery’s prestige and social events as well as its wine; no staff bios, not even of the owners, unless you find the press releases—so the info is available, albeit in a desultory way.

Channing Daughters: (4.8 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Christopher Tracy
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (5/5) Excellent, especially with regard to its philosophy
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Excellent, with full biographies
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (4/5) Excellent, lacking only parcel maps, sustainable practices (member LISW)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Excellent: detailed and complete
  • Technical wine data: Embedded in the description/notes
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Excellent, wines are full described
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: Yes
  • News/reviews link:  Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: Yes, articles posted on East End by Christopher Tracy (not updated since 9/2011).
  • Events / calendar: Yes, but no entertainment or weddings, but rather for tasting classes.
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery:  Yes
  • Website design /usability: (5/5) Excellent, elegant, easy to use (by Cro2)
  • General feature set: 8 of 10 (4/5)
  • Additional features: Art gallery featuring Walter Channing’s wood sculpture
  • Up-to-date: Yes, ‘Where to buy’ option shows the wines are offered in many states and are available in some of the best restaurants in the country, including Daniel in NYC, The French Laundry in Napa, as well as eateries in Montreal and Quebec City.

Channing Daughters

Comment: Elegant and very well-designed, easy to navigate; unusual range of wines, a Website by a very serious winery

Clovis Point: (3.2 3.7 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: Yes; John Leo at PWG
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (4/5) Very good
  • About / Biographies: (1/5) Just names and contact info
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (1/5) practically none
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (4/5) Very good: detailed
  • Technical wine data: Not much
  • Purchase online: (4/5) Very good, abbreviated tasting notes accompany the wine list
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact:  phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, with map option
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes, for entertainment events
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes, of the tasting room for those interested in holding a party there
  • Website design /usability: (5/5) Excellent, easy to use (by EG Creative Group)
  • General feature set:  8 of 10 (4/5)
  • Additional features: Vintage notes for 2004-2011, by John Leo.  Book a party
  • Up-to-date: Yes; last vintage notes are for 2011, latest vintage for sale, 2011.

Clovis Point Wines

Comment: Lacks staff bio details, offers nothing about the vineyard or its vinicultural practices, but the vintage notes shine.

 Coffee Pot Cellars: (4.2 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: No, but sources are identified
  • Winery: No; uses Osprey’s Dominion facilities
  • Winemaker: Yes, Adam Suprenant
  • Tasting Room: Yes, just opened in 2013
  • History / background: (4/5) Succinct and to the point
  • About / Biographies: (4/5) part of History / background, more can be found under Press
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (n/a) Sam McCullough supplies the fruit from his premium vineyard
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (4/5) Provides the most vital information
  • Technical wine data: Some
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Easy to use, with complete descriptions available under “Read more . . .”
  • Wine Club: Yes, with 3 categories
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, to the new tasting room (as of 2013)
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Not yet functional
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Tours: n/a
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design /usability: (5/5) Simple, direct, easy to use (by Janet Esquirol)
  • General feature set:  6 of 10 (3/5)
  • Additional features: No
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Coffee Pot Cellars

Comment: Straightforward website, no frills, it’s all about the wine.

Croteaux Rosé Vineyards (3.0 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: No; consulting winemaker is Gilles Martin, using PWG facilities
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (2/5) Barely adequate
  • About / Biographies: (0/5) No information
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (4/5) Good but brief; includes aerial photo; no mention of sustainable practices
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (4/5) A very good explanation of winegrowing Rosé wines; good descriptions
  • Technical wine data: Some
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Excellent, wines are well-described for purchaser
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact:  phone, e-mail, snail-mail
  • Directions: text & map
  • Photo gallery: No
  • News/reviews link: No
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar:  No
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design /usability: (5/5) Excellent, very clean design, but limited options
  • General feature set:  4 of 10 (2/5)
  • Additional features: Farmhouse Kitchen, a linked website, offers cooking lessons
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Croteaux Vineyards

Comment: Attractive and easy to use, but lacks Background and About info, no bios

Diliberto Winery: (2.3 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: Sal Diliberto
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (4/5) Very good, on the personal side, but must read reviews by others to get most of the information
  • About / Biographies: (3/5) Good, focus on Italian background; for fuller info one needs to go to the Newsroom option and read an interview in the LI Wine Press link
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (n/a) No info about outsourced vineyard
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (2/5) Adequate
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (0/5) Nothing; though not indicated, wines can be purchased by e-mail or by phone or at the tasting room.
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail-mail
  • Directions: text & Google map
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design /usability: (3/5) Good, easy to use, but must “dig” for some info
  • General feature set:  4 of 10 (2/5)
  • Additional features: Weddings; tasting menu (in lieu of a wine list); winery apartment on offer
  • Up-to-date: Press info up to Jan. 2012; most recent wine listed is 2009.

Diliberto Winery

Comment: A very basic website; no online purchasing

Duckwalk Vineyards / Duckwalk North: (3.4 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes
  • Tasting Room: Yes, at both sites
  • History / background: (4/5) Very good
  • About / Biographies: (4/5) Very good, focus on Italian background
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (2/5) Sustainable practices claimed, but little detail
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (3/5) Good, but little about vinification
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (4/5) Good, but prices don’t show with wine choices
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Phone, fax, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: No, just the address
  • News/reviews link: Not yet
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes, devoted to entertainment
  • Tours: Yes, according to LI Wine Country, but it doesn’t appear to be the case according to the winery Website
  • Photo gallery: No, but a slide show of ten images includes one of goldfish (?).  A picture of a duck would make more sense for Duckwalk, one would think.
  • Website design /usability: (4/5) Very easy to use; home page is dominated by pictures of its scheduled entertainers
  • General feature set:  5 of 10 (2.5/5)
  • Additional features: About Duck Walk’s supported causes; there used to be an option to choose any of four languages other than English:  French German, Italian, and Spanish, but that appears to have been removed since the site was reviewed last year (2012)
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Duck Walk

Comment: What?  No directions on how to get there?  No newsletter?  A rather basic site, it could also use more information about viniculture, especially given the claim to sustainable practices, and more about the wines, as well.

Grapes of Roth by Wölffer Estate: (4.4 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: No; grape sources are identified—incidentally—in a review
  • Winery: No, uses Wölffer’s facilities, as he’s its winemaker
  • Winemaker: Yes, Roman Roth
  • Tasting Room:  Wölffer Estate and The Winemaker Studio, Peconic
  • History / background: (4/5) Very good
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Excellent:  full biography, in chapters
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (3/5) Good, about outsourced vineyard
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Excellent: detailed and complete
  • Technical wine data: Yes, very detailed and complete
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Excellent, wines are full described
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: in small print at bottom of Home page: e-mail, snail mail, and phone
  • Directions: n/a
  • News/reviews link: Yes, but it isn’t up-to-date.
  • Newsletter / Mailing List:  No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: External events are listed and are up-to-date, but no calendar
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes, in connection with Roth’s bio in chapters
  • Website design /usability: (5/5) Elegant and straightforward design (in a glass), very easy to navigate (by ZGDG)
  • General feature set:  6 of 10 (3/5)
  • Additional features: No, but you may need to get used to the puns.
  • Up-to-date: Events, yes, but the reviews page has nothing later than 2010

The Grapes of Roth

Comment: Elegant design, if a tad idiosyncratic, very complete info about wines and Roth.

NOTE:  Now that Roth has been named a partner in Wölffer Estate, where he has been winemaker for over 20 years, Grapes of Roth will be part of the Wölffer brand.

Harbes Farm & Vineyard: (3.2 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: Edward Harbes IV
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / Background: (2/5) Adequate, focused on family & farm
  • About / Biographies: (2/5) Adequate, but no biographies
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (3/5) Good, though brief; sustainable practices (member LISW)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (3/5) brief, offers food pairing suggestions
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (3/5) Easy to use, wine descriptions brief but to the point
  • Wine Club:  Yes
  • Contact: phone, fax, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: text and map
  • News/reviews link: No
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes, but it appears not to be functional as of 5/16/12
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: Yes
  • Photo gallery: Yes
  • Website design / usability: (4/5) Newly redesigned, attractive, easy to navigate
  • General feature set:  7 of 10 (3.5/5)
  • Additional features: Other farms, Farm Market, Family fun, Maze adventures, Groups & Parties, Weddings
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Harbes Farm & Vineyard

Comment:  A wine website with a split personality:  fun & games for kids; wine for adults, even a farm market; there are three different farms, only the one in Mattituck has a vineyard

Harmony Vineyards (1.8 2.2 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: No; uses Eric Fry of Lenz
  • Tasting Room: No
  • History / background: (1/5)
  • About / Biographies: (1/5)
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: ( 2/5) little is said in text, but some pictures are worth a few more words
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (2/5) actually, all wines are commented on by quoting reviews, but there are further notes when one goes to purchase online.
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (3/5) easy to use, adequate wine notes
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: address and map
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes
  • Website design: (3/5) Attractive and straightforward
  • General feature set:  5 of 10 (2.5/5)
  • Additional features: Art gallery (text, no images!), We Support (list of causes & charities); video of house moved to new site, accompanied by music; promotions
  • Up-to-date:  wines of the 2010 vintage are on offer

Harmony Vineyards

Comment: Very limited options, focus is on worthy causes and charities

Influence Wines (4.3 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: No
  • Winery: PWG
  • Winemaker: Eric Bilka at PWG
  • Tasting Room: No
  • History / background: (5/5)
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Minimal
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (5/5) Excellent
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Excellent, very complete
  • Technical wine data: Yes
  • Purchase online: No
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: n/a
  • News/reviews link: No
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Photo gallery:  No
  • Website design: (5/5) Minimalist; though not slick or pretty, it is clean, clear, and easy to navigate
  • General feature set:  2 of 5 (1/5)
  • Additional features: None
  • Up-to-date: 2010 is last vintage mentioned

Influence Wines

Comment: Production winemaker at PWG makes but one wine:  Riesling, sourced from the Finger Lakes.  As straightforward a website as one can find

Jamesport Vineyards (4.3 4.6 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Dean Barbiar
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (5/5) Excellent, very thorough
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Excellent, though the biographies could be given more flesh
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (4/5) Good description; sustainable claims, but lacks detail
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description (4/5) Very good, little about vinification
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Excellent; labels, full wine description, easy to use
  • Wine Club / Subscription:  Yes
  • Contact: Phone/fax, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Google map
  • News/reviews link: List of awards, but no links to articles or reviews
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar:  Yes
  • Tours: Yes
  • Photo gallery: A combination photo gallery  and video with musical accompaniment which provides some interesting and useful information
  • Website design: (5/5) Excellent, attractive, easy to navigate (by Cro2)
  • General feature set:  8 of 10 (4/5)
  • Additional features: Wine bottles recycling rewards program; Wholesale inquiries; Futures purchases
  • Up-to-date: Events, Retail & restaurants list needs updating

Jamesport-Vineyards

Comment:  An informative and attractive website that needs a real News/Reviews link; it supports the Southold Project in Aquaculture Training (SPAT), for sustainable fishing.

Jason’s Vineyard (2.8 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: Yes, Jason Damianos
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (3/5)
  • About / Biographies: (4/5)
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (2/5) Just adequate, but little about sustainability
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (2/5) Adequate, but barely
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (n/a) Wines are listed and briefly described, but cannot be purchased online.
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes
  • News/reviews link:  No
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: TBA, according to the Website
  • Tours:  No
  • Photo gallery: Yes, but limited
  • Website design: (4/5) Pleasant design with a Greek theme, easy to navigate and use.
  • General feature set:  3 of 10 (1.5/5)
  • Additional features: No
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Jason’s Vineyard

Comment: A basic website.

 Kontokosta Winery (under construction)

Laurel Lake Vineyard: (3.0 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Juan Sepúlveda
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / Background: (2/5) Very brief
  • About / Biographies: (1/5) Inadequate, no biographies
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (3/5) Succinct
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (3/5) Very good for some wines, but spotty
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Excellent
  • Wine Club:  Yes
  • Contact: Phone, fax, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, with Google map
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: Yes
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design / usability: (5/5) Excellent
  • General feature set:  8 of 10 (4/5)
  • Additional features: No
  • Up-to-date: Yes for the wines, but reviews only go up to 2007.

Laurel Lake Wines

Comment: An attractive site lacking important information, including bios

Lenz Winery: (3.3 3.4 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Eric Fry
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / Background / About / Biographies: (2/5) Adequate, no bios
  • About / Biographies: (1/5) Inadequate, no biographies
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (3/5) Succinct; no parcel maps
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (4/5) Complete description, no notes
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Excellent
  • Wine Club:  Yes; 3-level club program
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, address and map
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes, and not just parties, but serious tastings of wines from around the world; Weddings (however, as of May 2013 the link to the events page is broken).
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes
  • Website design / usability: (5/5) Sophisticated, minimalist look and functionality
  • General feature set:  7 of 10 (3.5)
  • Additional features: Tours; “Petrus tasting” notes to emphasize quality by comparison to  French equivalents; prior tasting results yet to be posted; Lenz cottage stays available for wine club subscribers
  • Up-to-date: hard to tell; latest wines offered date to 2009; the latest reviews were in 2006

Lenz Winery

Comment: An attractive, useful, and interesting site lacking some basic information, including bios

Lieb Cellars / Bridge Lane Wines: (4.0 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No, uses PWG
  • Winemaker: Yes, Russell Hearn is an owner and a winemaker/owner at Premium Wine Group
  • Tasting Room: Yes, at PWG
  • History / Background (4/5) Good, found under the rubric Our Vineyard.
  • About / Biographies: (3/5) Good, limited bio about owners
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (3/5) Good, but incidental to the overall story; no maps; sustainable practices (member LISW)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (4/5) Very good; inconsistent from wine to wine
  • Technical wine data:  Though indicated as available, trying to open the wine spec sheets and tasting note PDFs produces a “Error 404 Page not found.”
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Excellent
  • Wine Club:  Yes
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, from different directions and a map to boot
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design / usability: (5/5) Excellent and very attractively designed.
  • General feature set:  6 of 10 (3/5)
  • Additional features: Featured restaurants that offer Lieb Cellars wine, particularly a link to Craft Restaurant, given that Lieb makes a sparkling wine for Craft’s private label as well as a link for Lieb’s Summer Rosé for Park Ave. Restaurant’s private label.  (Both restaurants are in NYC.)
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Lieb Cellars

Comment:  An attractive and largely well-designed site that is mostly easy to get around; though there are two separate labels—Lieb Cellars and Bridge Lane, the distinction between them is not made clear.  The inability for users of opening the wine tasting notes and spec sheets is frustrating; apart from the error message, clicking on the Continue button simply takes one back to the wines page—in other words, a circular routing.

Macari Vineyards: (4.0 4.4 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Kelly Urbanik, also Helmut Gangl, consultant
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (4/5) Sufficient history & background
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Excellent, especially on the backgrounds of the winemakers
  • Vineyard / viniculture information 4/5: Useful information about vinicultural practices; no parcel maps
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description 4/5: Professionally-written descriptions, no notes
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (4/5) Easy to use
  • Wine Club:  Yes
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Addresses with maps
  • News/reviews link: Yes, including many recent reviews for 2013
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: Virtual (online), tells much of the story of the winery and vineyards
  • Photo gallery: Yes
  • Website design: (5/5) Very attractive and easy to navigate
  • General feature set: 9 of 10 (4.5/5)
  • Additional features:  Weddings, Private parties
  • Up-to-date: Yes, includes 2012 wines on offer and up-to-date reviews

Macari Wines

Comment: The virtual tour that I so highly recommended in 2012 is, alas, no more.

Martha Clara Vineyards (3.5 3.9 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No, uses Premium Wine Group
  • Winemaker: Yes, Juan Micieli-Martinez uses  PWG
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (3/5) Brief, focuses on family
  •  About / Biographies: (5/5) Full bios of owners & winemaker/manager
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (1/5) Virtually no information, but uses sustainable practices (member LISW)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description (5/5) Full, rich descriptions; click on bottle illustration for more information, including . . .
  • Technical wine data: Yes, also via downloadable PDF.
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Store is a catchall for wine, gifts, and events; minimal descriptions of wines with food-pairing notes; full wine information is found under ‘Wines’
  • Wine Club:  Yes
  • Contact: phone & e-mail.  Also Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and BlogSpot.
  • Directions: Yes, text and Google map.
  • News/reviews link: No
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: No, it has been eliminated.
  • Tours: Yes
  • Events / calendar: Yes; encourages large parties, weddings, meetings, etc.  Calendar shows upcoming events through Sept. 2013, including concerts, dinners, other.  Does not mention special viniculture class led by vineyard manager, Jim Thompson, held once a year.
  • Photo gallery: Ample, nicely presented; videos offered, but apparently disabled as of 4/9/2012
  • Website design: (4/5) Front page busy & unattractive, the rest of the pages use a minimalist design & are easy on the eyes; navigation is mostly straightforward; home page uses functional Table of Contents (with fake page numbers—a tad confusing)
  • General feature set: 8 of 10 (4/5)
  • Additional features: Strong emphasis on community involvement & charity support; also offers horse & carriage rides.  Videos offered, but no longer accessible.  Small zoo for children.Up-to-date: Yes

Martha Clara Vineyards

Comment:  Other than the opening page, an attractive site; however, to read about the wines involves using a display of pictures of wine bottles—to select click on the image to read about the wine; the media feature is, quirkily, not quotations or links from the press or reviewers, but rather, videos that are no longer accessible.

Mattebella Vineyards (3.3 3.6 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No, PWG
  • Winemaker: No, PWG
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (1/5) No real information
  • About / Biographies: (2/5)  Just adequate
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (5/5) Good, with emphasis on sustainability (member LISW)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description (5/5) Good, clear expression of philosophy
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Excellent, with adequate wine descriptions and an interesting variety of purchase option
  • Wine Club:  Yes
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail
  • Directions: Option is not functional as of 5/4/13
  • News/reviews link: Yes, but usually cited without dates
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: Yes, but not updated since 2009
  • Events / calendar: No, you can request information via a Gmail link.
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes, with many family pictures in all categories; e.g., Vineyard
  • Website design: (4/5) Attractive and easy to navigate, but a few too many mouse clicks needed here and there; some features are not yet active, such as a list of retailers and restaurants that offer the wines
  • General feature set: 6 of 10 (3/5)
  • Additional features: You can view the front & back labels of the wines, the only site that provides this
  • Up-to-date: The blog and some other sections seem to be spottily up to date.

Mattebella Vineyards

Comment:  In most respects a good winery site, but lack of detail, particularly the About and Background features, frustrates

McCall Vineyards (3.7 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: No: Gilles Martin for Merlot @ PWG; Millbrook Winery for Pinot Noir
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (5/5) Complete
  • About / Biographies: (4/5) Bios are limited to McCall family members, no staff
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (3/5) No parcel maps; general, brief notes on sustainability
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (3/5) Tasting notes
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (4/5) Simple, direct, with tasting notes
  • Wine Club: Yes, 3 levels
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: Yes
  • News/reviews links: Yes; not all links work but otherwise it is up to date.
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes; embedded in the page headers and then streamed
  • Website design: (4/5) Simple, attractive, easy to navigate
  • General feature set: 6 of 10 (3/5)
  • Additional features: Ranch: Charolais cattle; Conservation
  • Up-to-date: Yes

McCall Wines

Comment:  A very attractive site to visit, but it could offer more information

Medolla Vineyards (2.0 2.2 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No, use Lenz
  • Winemaker: Yes, John Medolla with Eric Fry at Lenz
  • Tasting Room: No; Winemakers Studio; Empire State Cellars
  • History / background: (3/5) Family history, little else
  • About / Biographies: (1/5) Practically nothing
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (1/5) Insignificant about either
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (2/5) Minimal
  • Technical wine data: None
  • Purchase online: (n/a)
  • Wine Club: No
  • News/reviews link:  Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List:  No
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: No
  • News/reviews links: Yes; best source for further background on Medolla, but the most recent reviews date to
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (3/5) Basic, clean pages, little offered, the home page greets one with mandolin music
  • General feature set: 6 of 10 (3/5)
  • Up-to-date: Unclear; was the 2007 the last wine Medolla made?
  • Additional features: None

Medolla Vineyards

Comment: Very basic website

Old Field Vineyards (2.5 2.8 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No, use Lenz Winery
  • Winemaker: Roz  Baiz, with Eric Fry at Lenz Winery
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (4/5) Quite a bit of family/farm history
  • About / Biographies: (1/5) Very general information
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (1/5) No details; though sustainable practices are used, no information is given
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (4/5) No notes, but decent descriptions
  • Technical wine data: None
  • Purchase online: (4/5) Easy to use, notes are interesting but could provide more information
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes; can use Google or Yahoo! maps
  • Newsletter / Mailing List:  Yes, but last newsletter dates to October 2010
  • News/reviews link: Yes, includes a few videos
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes, as part of each option; especially large for weddings section
  • Website design: (4/5) Attractive, easy to navigate
  • General feature set: 8 of 10 (4/5)
  • Additional features: Weddings; Newsletter (2005-2010)
  • Up-to-date: Yes

The Old Field

Comment: An attractively-designed site that could use more information about the vineyard and the winemaking; fuller biographies would be welcome too.

Onabay Vineyards (3.5 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: No; consulting winemaker John Leo at PWG
  • Tasting Room: No
  • History / background: (3/5)
  • About / Biographies: (2/5) Some information, no biographies
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (3/5) no vinicultural info; aerial photo
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description (5/5) Very useful and complete
  • Technical wine data: Yes, can be downloaded
  • Purchase online: n/a; the wines are available from restaurants and retailers, for which there is a list
  • Wine Club / Subscription: No
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail via Gmail, snail mail
  • Directions: No, without a street address either
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes to both, though I’ve not received a newsletter since I signed up months ago
  • News/reviews link: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (5/5) Elegant, easy to use, conveys the seriousness of the owners
  • General feature set: 4 of 10 (2/5)
  • Additional features: None
  • Up-to-date: Yes, but a reverence to Steve Mudd as vineyard manager is no long valid; since 2012 it has been Bill Ackerman

Onabay Vineyards

Comment:  Beautiful website, needs to provide more information

One Woman’s Wines: (2.0 2.1 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Claudia Purita
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (2/5) Some personal background.
  • About / Biographies: (2/5) Some personal background
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (1/5) passing mention
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description (3/5) Adequate description, no notes
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (4/5) Yes, but one must first create an online account.
  • Wine Club:  Yes
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Text
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes, the newsletter is limited to visitor’s information and upcoming events
  • News/reviews link: Yes, but no dates are shown with the links; however, the most recent review was published in 2011
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes, but limited info
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes
  • Website design: (4/5) Attractive and straightforward; navigation is easy.
  • General feature set: 4 of 10 (2/5)
  • Additional features: No
  • Up-to-date: probably, but not entirely clear if it is.

One Woman’s Wines

Comment: Basic website, but then, Claudia is a one-woman operation (plus her daughter who works in the office).

Osprey’s Dominion: (1.8/5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Adam Suprenant
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (0/5) Completely ignored.
  • About / Biographies: (0/5) Completely ignored
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (0/5) none
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description 2/5 Sometimes uses quotations from critics, but no notes
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Excellent, the site’s major focus, to the detriment of other options
  • Wine Club:  Yes
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, with map
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes, but I’ve received nothing since signing up a year ago
  • News/reviews link: Yes, as part of the blog, Fishhawk News
  • Wine Blog: Yes, but little about viniculture or winemaking, not updated since April 2012
  • Events / calendar: Yes, focused on entertainment at the winery
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (3/5) Good, functional but not attractive; navigation is OK. (by Cro2)
  • General feature set: 5 of 10 (2.5/5)
  • Additional features: List of wine competition awards
  • Up-to-date: Up to 2012.

Ospreys Dominion

Comment: It’s apparent that this website was designed for other than informational purposes.

Palmer Vineyards: (3.0 1.0 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Miguel Martín
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (0/5) No longer, though it used to tell about the founder, Bob Palmer
  • About / Biographies: (0/5) No staff bios, but pictures of the staff
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (0/5) Nothing
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description 5/5 Excellent; some notes very complete
  • Technical wine data:  For some wines
  • Purchase online: (4/5) With the new makeover it is not presently functional (but it had been very good, easy to use, brief descriptions of wines).  Let’s hope that it will be as good as the former version (212)
  • Wine Club:  Yes
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, via MapQuest
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • News/reviews link: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes; also a video promo
  • Website design: (3/5) OK, easy to use and navigate, but many useful features and options have been eliminated [the site was created using Vistaprint, a do-it-yourself Website application; previously it had been done by Cro2, a professional site designer
  • General feature set: 5 of 10 (2/5)
  • Additional features: None
  • Up-to-date: Apparently, given that it’s a new design, but there is no datable information, though this should be corrected once the online-purchase feature is enabled.

Palmer Vineyards

Comment:  A brand-new look and feel, with the home page emphasizing “Live Music Every Weekend”; the site that feels incomplete and lacks the most basic information on the winery, vineyard, or staff.  A shame, but the site will be regularly revisited to see what it will become once completed.

 Paumanok Vineyards: (4.6 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Kareem Massoud
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (4/5) Very good
  • About / Biographies: (4/5) Very Good, no complete bios
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (5/5) Excellent
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description 5/5 Excellent; complete notes
  • Technical wine data: Yes, but only for their top red wines
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Excellent, full wine notes and reviews are quoted
  • Wine Club:  Yes
  • Contact:  phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, with GPS coordinates & MapQuest
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes, issued regularly to announce wine dinners, reviews of their wines, and the occasional entertainment event
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Wine Blog: Yes, many interesting posts and links to articles, and it’s up to date.
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: Yes
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (5/5) An attractive and well-organized site, easy to use (by Cro2)
  • General feature set: 9 of 10 (4.5/5)
  • Additional features: Quotes Walt Whitman on Paumanok’s name; lists all the restaurants and wine stores at which their wines can be found, as well as a full selection of lodgings in the East End, plus a helpful list of related wine Web sites
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Paumanok

Comment: An excellent site that needs just a little improvement in the History & About sections, including staff bios

Pellegrini Vineyards (4.2 4.3 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes
  • Tasting Room: Yes, Zander Hargrave
  • History / background: (5/5)
  • About / Biographies: (3/5) Lacks biographical information
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (5/5) Full description of the vineyards; no parcel maps; useful notes on viniculture
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Adequate on the Tasting Notes option, but much more complete if one goes to the Trade Support option (2001 through 2008)
  • Technical wine data: Yes, but one has to use the Trade Support option to get to them.
  • Purchase online: (4/5) No wine descriptions accompany purchase options, so one has to go the Tasting Notes option to read them
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: Text & map
  • News/reviews link: Yes, excerpts only
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes, but since signing up 13 months ago, I’ve not received a single newsletter
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (5/5) Very attractive, straightforward to use, though one has to dig through some options; Tasting Notes aren’t also viewable in Purchase section; full wine notes are accessible through Trade Support option
  • General feature set:6 of 10 (3/5)
  • Additional features: In Trade Support there are images of both the front and back labels of the wines.
  • Up-to-date: Yes, for events and tasting notes (up to the 2011 vintage); Trade Support info only goes up to the 2008 vintage, as was the case when the Web site was reviewed in May 2012.  There is no mention of the fact that Russell Hearn, the winemaker, recently left the winery.

Pellegrini Vineyards

Comment: An attractive and interesting site to use, but lack of biographies and unusual options can frustrate

Pindar Vineyards (3.2 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes, Edward Lovaas
  • Winemaker: Yes
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (4/5) No history about the site pre-Pindar
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Includes biographies of all staff, including the dog
  • Vineyard information: (1/5) Very little other than the background history
  • Viniculture: (3/5) Info included in the Green section, including sustainable practices; general, not just about the vineyard
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (3/5) No notes, just description
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (4/5) Many choices besides wine; no additional wine descriptions
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: Yes
  • News/reviews link: Yes, but media all dates to 2005-2007; no updates since.
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (3/5) Attractive, but retrieving info can be complicated by unusual options, can require some digging around
  • General feature set:5 of 10 (2.5/5)
  • Additional features: Green, Making Wine with Wind, Pindar Giving
  • Up-to-date: Yes, but not news/reviews; Mother’s Day notice still up on 5/18/12

Pindar.net

Comment:  Excellent background and history, but could use more information about viniculture and winemaking philosophies.

Pugliese Vineyards (1.7 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Peter Pugliese
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (1/5) Almost no information
  • About / Biographies: (1/5) Almost no information
  • Vineyard information: (1/5) Virtually no information
  • Viniculture: (0/5) No information
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (2/5) Brief descriptions, food-pairing suggestions
  • Technical wine data: None
  • Purchase online: (4/5) Straightforward, suggests food pairings
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: No
  • News/reviews link: Awards list only
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (4/5) Easy to use but limited features
  • General feature set:2 of 10 (1/5)
  • Additional features: Painted glassware
  • Up-to-date: Recent wines are listed up to 2011, but awards listed date back to 2001-2002

Pugliese Vineyards

Comment: The site is strictly devoted to selling the wine; otherwise there is little or no info.

Queens County Farm Museum Vineyard (1.8 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No, PWG makes their wines
  • Winemaker: No, Russell Hearn @ PWG
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (3) A long history, briefly dispatched; no mention of vineyard
  • About / Biographies: (3) No bios
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (0) Nothing at all.
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (0) Nada.
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (n/a)
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: Yes, text only
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Tours: Yes
  • Events / calendar: Yes, up-to-date and covers 2013-14
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (3) Easy navigation but run-of-the-mill.
  • General feature set:4 of 10 (2/5)
  • Additional features: map of farm PDF, but vineyard is not apparent from the layout.
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Queens County Vineyard

Comment: Vines and wines are an afterthought on the website of this museum-farm operation.

Raphael Wine (4.1 out of 5 points)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Anthony Nappa
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (4/5)
  • About / Biographies: (3/5) No bios
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (3/5) Minimal on vineyard, no maps; viniculture is mentioned under several options
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Complete with vintage information for each wine, though the comments are a bit self-promoting
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Easy to use, full information on each wine by clicking its label
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Yes
  • Directions: Yes
  • News/reviews link: No
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar:  Yes
  • Tours: Yes
  • Photo gallery: Yes
  • Website design: (5/5) Elegant, easy to use and navigate
  • General feature set:7 of 10 (3.5/5)
  • Additional features: None noted
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Raphael Wine

Comment:  A nice, clean design featuring an elevation drawing of the façade of the Raphael winery, it is notable in part for what it doesn’t have as well as what it does:  No quotations or links from the news media or reviewers.  It also lacks any biographical information on staff, and tells a visitor little about the vineyard.  One the other hand, it offers excellent wine notes.

 Red Fern Cellars (1.8 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: No
  • Winery:  Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Aaron Munk
  • Tasting Room: No
  • History / background: (0/5) No
  • About / Biographies: (0/5) No
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (n/a)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (4/5) No notes, ample descriptions
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (n/a) e-mail or phone orders only
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact:  only by snail mail or e-mail; no phone listed
  • Directions: No; visits must be arranged in advance
  • News/reviews link: ; link to WineLoversPage.com; Jewish Week (2008, though it reviews 2005 wines)
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes
  • Website design: (3/5) Adequate and straightforward, but few options
  • General feature set:4 of 10 (2/5)
  • Additional features: LI Wine links; option for custom labeling
  • Up-to-date: No; it doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2008; latest wines listed are 2005; it hasn’t changed since last year’s assessment (2012)

Red Fern Cellars

Comment: Functional, but with minimal information; is it even up-to-date?

Red Hook Winery (1.4 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: No
  • Winery:  Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Abe Schoener, Robert Foley
  • Tasting Room:Yes
  • History / background: (1/5) Bare minimum to be useful
  • About / Biographies: (0/5) Minimal info, no bios
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (n/a) buy grapes from many sources
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (0/5) No notes, descriptions
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (3/5) OK, but no information on the wines
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact:  by phone, snail mail or e-mail
  • Directions: Address only
  • News/reviews link: No
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes
  • Website design: (3/5) Adequate and straightforward, but few options
  • General feature set:1 of 10 (0.5/5)
  • Additional features: None
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Red Hook Winery

Comment: Functional, but with minimal information

Roanoke Vineyard (4.4 out of 5) [updated 11-16-13]

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: Roman Roth at Wölffer Estate
  • Tasting Room: Yes, both at the vineyard and on Love Lane in Mattituck
  • History / background: (5/5)
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Good info and full bios of all staff
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (3/5) Little vineyard info or maps; though an adequate, brief note on viniculture (strange, given that the Owner, Rich Pisacano is a “vineyardist” and his father, Gabby, is the vineyard manager.)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (4/5) Brief, sometimes more complete, often less, and just a tad tongue-in-cheek in the self-promoting phrases; e.g., a ‘wild fermentation’ Chardonnay “Quite simply . . . leaps out of your glass!”’
  • Technical wine data: Yes, but some more, some less
  • Purchase online: (n/a) Order by phone, then arrange for pickup or delivery on one’s own.
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Yes, phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, uses Google Maps
  • News/reviews link: Yes, via the option, ‘Judgment of Riverhead’
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes, they are mostly about wines and tastings, often in cahoots with restaurants, some with themes, such as “how to be a Wine Snob”; issued weekly
  • Wine Blog: Of sorts (‘Judgment of Riverhead’ again) but informative, amusing, and well worth reading.
  • Events / calendar: Yes, and it’s all about wine, like the Smackdown tastings
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Not as such, but many pages are well-illustrated
  • Website design: (4/5) The opening page looks crowded but as a whole the site is easy to use and very functional.  Some features require a bit of clicking around.
  • General feature set:9 of 10 (4.5/5)
  • Additional features: Wine library, Winemakers’ Smackdowns
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Roanoke Vineyards

Comment:  A website that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but provides a good deal of serious information in a sometimes light-hearted way.  It is, in its way, rather endearing.  However, it’s a vineyard, so why is there not more information about the vineyard proper?

Sannino-Bella Vita Vineyard (2.5 3.4 out of 5 points)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Anthony Sannino; also with his vine-to-wine students
  • Tasting Room: Yes, at Ackerly Pond’s barn
  • History / background: (3/5) Adequate
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Full bios
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (2/5) Little information, as a member of the LISW, it practices sustainable viniculture, but a nice video of the vineyard with pleasant musical accompaniment
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (3/5) Descriptions with food-pairing suggestions
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (3/5) Yes, with brief wine descriptions
  • Wine Club: Yes, through vine-to-wine program
  • Contact: Yes, phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, with map
  • News/reviews link: Yes, this is where one can find more information about the wines.
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes, but I’ve received none since I signed up a year ago
  • Wine Blog: Option is not functional
  • Events / calendar: Yes, including music, tours, and classes
  • Tours: Yes
  • Photo gallery: Yes, several that are thematically based
  • Website design: (3/5) Not unattractive but busy yet functional, though to find the video one needs to select the B&B option
  • General feature set: 9 of 10 (4.5/5)
  • Additional features: Bed-and-Breakfast (reservations can be made online); Vine-to-Wine experience; virtual tour of the vineyard and slide presentation of the Tuscan Suite guest house.
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Sannino Vineyard/Bella-Vita-Vineyard

Comment: website with focus on the Vine-to-Wine program; several interesting options but little about the vineyard; considerably improved over the version assessed last year.

Scarola Vineyards (3.6 3.9 points out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: No; uses Roman Roth at Wölffer Estate
  • Tasting Room: No, planned but not yet open to public
  • History / background: (5/5) Complete
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Complete, with brief bio sketches of all the staff
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (1/5)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Full notes and description at Trade option
  • Technical wine data: Yes, via For the Trade option
  • Purchase online: (4/5) Limited wine descriptions, with no direct link to the Trade option; order by phone, e-mail, or online
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: No, only the street address
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: Yes
  • Photo gallery: Yes
  • Website design: (4/5) Attractive enough, but there are some navigational challenges
  • General feature set:6 of 10 (3/5)
  • Additional features: link to Cedar House on Sound B&B, owned by Scarola family
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Scarola Vineyards

Comment: Strongly family-oriented and emphatically Italian.  Given that the Scarolas have a vineyard and no winery, it is frustrating to find that the site scrimps on vinicultural information yet has plenty to say about its wines (made Roman Roth).

Sherwood House Vineyards (3.6 points out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: No; Gilles Martin is the contract winemaker
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (5/5)
  • About / Biographies: (5/5), full biographies of the owners and Gilles Martin
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (1/5) Very little mentioned
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (3/5)  no notes, pairing suggestions
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (4/5) Very easy to use, but limited wine information; wines sold online are available in a minimum of 2-bottle lots (or 4, 6, or 12)
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, with MapQuest to the vineyards, tasting stand, and tasting room
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes, sent monthly
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes, and up to date.
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: Yes
  • Website design: (4/5) Elegant, very easy to navigate
  • General feature set:7 of 10 (3.5/5)
  • Additional features: Private events information
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Sherwood House Vineyards

Comment:  Very attractive site that tells too little about the vineyard or viniculture

Shinn Estate: (3.7 4.1 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Patrick Caserta
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (4/5) Yes, and blog fills some gaps
  • About / Biographies: (4/5) Bios of the owners
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (4/5) Very good, but no maps, block info
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (3/5) Adequate description with food-pairing suggestions
  • Technical wine data:  No
  • Purchase online: (4/5)  Yes, good wine descriptions, easy to use
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, and a Google photo map
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: Yes, fun and informative, regularly updated
  • Events / calendar: Yes; mostly about wine, but also features palm readings on Friday; dinners on occasional Saturdays
  • Tours: Yes
  • Photo gallery: Yes
  • Website design: (5/5) Excellent, very easy to navigate and use.
  • General feature set: 8 of 10 (4/5)
  • Additional features: B&B, Distillery
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Shinn Estate Vineyards

Comment: Newly redesigned website, much improved and easier to navigate than the old one; much useful information but short on tasting notes, which used to be much more complete and included technical notes as well.  That’s a loss.

Southold Farm + Cellar:

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: uses Raphael Winery facilities
  • Winemaker: not yet
  • Tasting Room: not yet
  • History / background: (2/5)  At present a brief story, with much hope for the future
  • About / Biographies: (2/5) owners don’t even mention their surnames
  • Vineyard / viniculture information: (n/a)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (n/a)
  • Technical wine data:  n/a
  • Purchase online: (n/a)
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: No
  • News/reviews link: No
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes, but a newsletter may be a while off
  • Wine Blog: n/a
  • Events / calendar: n/a
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (n/a) Under development.
  • Additional features: No
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Southold Farm + Cellar

Comment: Brand-new site still under development., but it does tell the story of the renovation the farm building that will become its tasting room

Sparkling Pointe: Méthode Champenoise (3.7 3.9 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No
  • Winemaker: No; Gilles Martin is the exclusive contract winemaker
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (5/5) told as a charming story
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) bios for owners and winemaker
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (1/5)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Excellent
  • Technical wine data: Yes
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Well-designed, with direct access to wine info
  • Wine Club: Yes, but how to join is not clear as it is not available as an option
  • Contact: Phone, snail mail (can’t find e-mail option)
  • Directions: Yes, and a Google photo map
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes, issued weekly
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: Yes, but virtual tour feature doesn’t work
  • Photo gallery: Virtual tour of the VIP space isn’t functional
  • Website design: (3/5) Home page is rather busy; but generally is easy to navigate. Somewhat improved over version of 2012
  • General feature set: 8 of 10 (4/5)
  • Additional features: Weddings
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Sparkling Pointe

Comment: I find the design too forward and distracting.  Still, it has its good points: detailed information about important things such as its history, the biographies, notes; bad point: almost nothing about the vineyard or viniculture.

Suhru Wines (4.6 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: No
  • Winery: No; uses PWG, of which owner Russell Hearn is a partner
  • Winemaker: Yes, Russell Hearn
  • Tasting Room: Winemakers Studio
  • History / background: (5/5) Excellent
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Bios of the owners and the sales manager
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (n/a)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5)
  • Technical wine data: Yes, if one clicks on the Wine for the Trade option
  • Purchase online: (4/5) with full descriptions, but one must go to the Trade option to see the notes & tech information before purchasing
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail via Gmail, snail mail
  • Directions: n/a
  • News/reviews link: Yes, though not up to date
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes, sent monthly
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: n/a
  • Tours: n/a
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (4/5) Well-designed and attractive, if rather busy, but mostly easy to navigate
  • General feature set: 5 of 7 (4/5)
  • Additional features: None
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Suhru Wines

Comment:  A really serious website. The focus is entirely on the wine.  Premises are not open to the public.

T’Jara Vineyards (4.1 out of 5)

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: No; uses PWG, of which owner Russell Hearn is a partner
  • Winemaker: Yes, Russell Hearn in cahoots with Jed Beitler, co-owner
  • Tasting Room: Winemakers Studio
  • History / background: (5/5) Excellent, via a 12-page PDF
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Very complete with a curious omission:  the owner’s last names aren’t mentioned, but they can be found in the contact information.
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (2/5)  Some excellent description, including a parcel map, but no mention of practices
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5)
  • Technical wine data: Yes
  • Purchase online: (4/5) It would be nice if it would allow one to click and see the notes & tech information before purchasing; 3-bottle minimum
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: No, but there is an address
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: No
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: No
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (5/5) Well-designed and attractive, easy to navigate
  • General feature set: 5 of 10 (2.5/5)
  • Additional features: None
  • Up-to-date: Yes, for the wines, but the last news entry dates to 2012

T’Jara Vineyards

Comment:  A serious but engaging website. The focus is on the history and the wine.  Premises are not open to the public.

Vineyard 48

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (1/5)
  • About / Biographies: (1/5)
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (1/5)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (3/5)
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (3/5)
  • Wine Club: No
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • News/reviews link: Yes
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes, all music
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (2/5) Some navigation choices are in very small text at the bottom of the page; not intuitive or easy to figure out
  • Additional features: Row of Vines Dedication, Weddings and Private parties
  • Up-to-date:

Vineyard 48

Comment: There are links for reviews if one does a search for it.  (It had been a minimalist approach to providing access—the focus was strongly centered on purchases and events.  Little information, even about the wine.)  NOTE:  online reviews tend to trash the place as a party venue out of control; other reviews extoll it as a party venue

Waters Crest (2.0 points out of 5)

  • Vineyard: No
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Jim Waters
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (2/5) No history, a little background in About section
  • About / Biographies: (3/5) Good overview, but no bios per se
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (n/a)
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (4/5) Good description but no notes
  • Technical wine data: No
  • Purchase online: (1/5) Apparently not, but perhaps through wine club; not clear; one has to fill out a PDF application and send it in
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Phone, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Only the street address
  • News/reviews link: Yes, but very limited
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: follow on Facebook
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: No
  • Photo gallery: No
  • Website design: (4/5) Attractive, mostly straightforward to use.
  • General feature set: 6 of 10 (3/5)
  • Additional features: Link to LI Wine Country Places to eat & stay.
  • Up-to-date: Yes, clearly indicated on each page.

Waters Crest Winery

Comment:  In some ways its functions can be frustrating, but this is the only website in this survey that gives a page’s most recent update

Winemakers Studio

Comment: see Anthony Nappa Wines, for they share a Website.

Wölffer Estate (4.7 4.9 out of 5)

As of January 2016 it has been substantially updated, but not yet reassessed.

  • Vineyard: Yes
  • Winery: Yes
  • Winemaker: Yes, Roman Roth
  • Tasting Room: Yes
  • History / background: (5/5)
  • About / Biographies: (5/5) Good biographies of all the staff
  • Vineyard / Viniculture information: (5/5) Mostly general observations, with focus on terroir; for viniculture info one needs to dig into the News feature, but as of 2013 there is now a link to the LISW Web site, which details the sustainable practices followed by Wölffer.
  • Winemaker’s notes / wine description: (5/5) Very complete and full
  • Technical wine data: Yes, very complete, one could not ask for more
  • Purchase online: (5/5) Full notes and descriptions immediately accessible to buyer, but not all wines are provided with notes &/or descriptions—an odd inconsistency; they also offer verjus and vinegar
  • Wine Club: Yes
  • Contact: Phone, fax, e-mail, snail mail
  • Directions: Yes, text with a painted map (not Google or MapQuest)
  • News/reviews link: Yes, though a 2013 review by Howard G. Goldberg has no link.
  • Newsletter / Mailing List: Yes
  • Wine Blog: No
  • Events / calendar: Yes
  • Tours: None appear to be offered
  • Photo gallery: Yes, on Flcker
  • Website design: (5/5) Newly updated, clean and attractive, mostly straightforward navigation, but why should one have to dig for the vinicultural information?
  • General feature set: 8 of 10 (4/5)
  • Additional features: Weddings & Private events, Wölffer Estate Stables
  • Up-to-date: Yes

Wölffer

Comment: One needs to dig a bit for some features.  Very complete information in many areas, but strangely lacking in details about the vineyard—no map, mention of acreage, etc.; read Wine & Vineyard and you then have a link to another page, The Vineyard & Winemaking, where one can find out about viniculture.  Some inconsistencies with regard to wine notes (very full for some wines, no information at all for others).

 

 

Oenology in Long Island: Premium Wine Group–Russell Hearn

Interview with Russell Hearn about PWG (& Suhru Wines, T’Jara Vineyards)

PWG headerFor further background on Premium Wine Group (PWG), please read my earlier post, Oenology in Long Island:  Premium Wine Group—John Leo.

NOTE:  While Premium Wine Group makes wine for its many outside clients, there are also the wines of three of the employees that work there:  John Leo, production winemaker, Russell Hearn, Managing Partner/Director of Winemaking, and Eric Bilka, production winemaker.  While this article is, foremost, about Premium, it also includes sections devoted to the wines of these producers.   (The winegrowing at Lieb Cellars (owned by partner Mark Lieb) and its wines will be the subject of a separate article, as will be the case with Clovis Point, whose wines are made by John Leo.

It should be noted that a press release issued on March 28, 2013, states, “Lieb Cellars and Premium Wine Group announced a merger of the two companies. Established in 1992 and 2000 respectively as two separate businesses with Mark Lieb as an investor, the combined companies have received substantial funding through their parent company Southport Lane, a private equity firm focused on growing its portfolio businesses. Southport Lane selected Lieb Cellars and PWG in part for their “custom crush” business, which is the production home of many North Fork wineries and the only one east of the Mississippi. There has been talk of the company going public.”

Because I interviewed both John and Russell separately, and the conversations were so extensive, I’ve divided the interviews into two posts:  The first was based on my conversation with John, and was published on January 30.  I was then away for six weeks on a cross-country trip and another week was recently spent in Northern Virginia (I was exploring vineyards on both occasions), so I have only now published this post based on my interview with Russell, which also includes discussions of T’Jara Vineyards and SuhRu Wines.  Jed Beitler, Russell’s partner at T’Jara, contributed, by e-mail, a discussion of how he and Russell work out the blends for their wines–his comments are follow the interview with Russell.

From the bio of Russell Hearn on the Suhru Wines Website:

PWG, Russell HearnWith 30 years of winemaking experience, in Australia, New Zealand, France and the USA, Russell Hearn has taken his Australian training with him throughout the journey. During the last 20 years on the North Fork of Long Island, Russell has established himself as an industry veteran who has helped forge our region into one known for producing World Class Wines.  As winemaker for Pellegrini Vineyards, in Cutchogue, since 1991 Russell  garnered five 90-point scores from the Wine Spectator.  Russell continued to drive the style and quality of Pellegrini Wines for almost two decades [until August 2012].

He has consulted for a number of wineries on the North Fork of Long Island, in the Finger Lakes, in New England and in Virginia. He has lectured at Industry Technical Conferences in: New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Interview with Russell Hearn:

JM-L:  John [Leo] just mentioned that PWG has more than 150 different lots of wine.

RH:  Yep.  Well, really, we actually have closer to 200 fermentations.  Of that 130 are different lots.

JM-L:  So of course that means that you are blending some of these fermentations.

RH:  That’s right.

JM-L:  What brought you to Long Island all the way from Australia?

RH:  A girl.

JM-L:  It happens so often!

RH: I worked in the industry in Australia, then exchanged for one harvest to Burgundy, and another year exchanged a harvest in New Zealand, and while I was there I took some vacation time, backpacked around New Zealand, and met this American girl at that point.  Then she came to visit me in Australia, when I went back to work for Houghton Wines in Australia, and the next year I went on an exchange internship to California, so I went across and visited her in Massachusetts.  There’s not much winemaking going on in Massachusetts, but I decided to stay for a while.  Then I went back to Australia, then came back then went to Virginia for two years, then Long Island.  We’ve been married now for twenty-seven years.

It was either Australia or East Coast; California, Oregon, Washington didn’t really interest me.

JM-L:  For what reasons, may I ask?

RH:  For a combination of personal reasons and professional ones.  California—large chunks of it—has what a winemaker can see in Australia, the climate’s just like it is in Australia; Oregon’s too far from the ocean, Washington State’s too far from the ocean—regions that don’t fit my personal objectives.

JM-L:  I see.  So you really like the ocean—water life, sailing, surfing, swimming . . . .

RH:  Sailing, swimming, surfing that’s right.  I want to be close or in the water a lot, and I didn’t know that until we lived in Virginia for two years.  And as pretty as the Blue Ridge Mountains are, we were three-and-a-half hours from the water and I realized that it didn’t work.

JM-L:  Were you working for a winery there?

RH:  Yes, a winery called Dominion Wine Cellars, it’s in Culpeper.  It doesn’t go by that name anymore; it was bought by Williamsburg Winery three or four years after I left.  And then I came here, consulted for several wineries initially; then for Bob and Joyce Pellegrini in late ’91, when they were looking to design a winery, I worked with local architects as they designed the facility; I designed the production part inside, it was built, I was with them for their first vintage in ’92, and I was there full-time until 2000.  Then we I thought of Premium Wine Group, so I was starting this with two other partners, Mark Lieb and Bernie Sussman, I switched to a consultant role at Pellegrini—a very active consultant until the last vintage, 2011—and it’s stopped as of this vintage.

JM-L:  I see.  So now you’re full-time here.

RH:  I finished up, yes.  Being full-time here, yes.  I was doing that in addition . . . .

JM-L:  I don’t know, you people in the wine trade in Long Island seem to have to find more things to do and you’re all working—probably—80-90 hour weeks.

RH:  It keeps it interesting . . . .

JM-L:  It does.  I don’t have that kind of energy, but I certainly enjoy writing about it, drinking it, and I especially enjoy meeting and speaking to people in the trade.  They’re very interesting.  They’re not just farmers, and they aren’t just chemists . . . .

RH:  Yes, it’s a combination of . . . .  There aren’t too many industries in which you have to have so many tiers that you must have at least competence in:  growing it, making it, marketing it, managing it, so that makes it very challenging and very interesting.

JM-L:  Yes.  Well, you must have always had a very high organizational sense.  You couldn’t possible have conceived of this business—PWG—if you didn’t.

RH:  Hm.  I think the best thing that one should do in starting in the trade or starting from school is to work at a large winery.  The winery at which I started in Australia—Houghton’s—made about 800,000 cases.  So it’s not a huge winery—Hardy’s, which owns Houghton’s, makes five and a half million cases.  In a huge winery you’re pigeon-holed, in a large winery you’re forced into an organizational necessity . . . because you’re not as big so you have to do everything to make good wine, and that’s critical in winemaking. It’s not only how you do it or where you do it, it’s also when you do that is critical in winemaking. If you start off in a small winery, or only work in a small winery, you don’t get those organizational skills, because they never needed to, that force you to think ahead.

JM-L:  Yes, just learning by the seat of your pants . . . learning on the job.

RH:  Houghton’s was very organized so I was exposed to a good organizational structure, which as a result allows me to do this relatively comfortably.  There are a lot of moving parts in the shuffle, so we need to make sure that people are paying the correct amount of attention and timing things so that they run on schedule, do deliveries.  It’s not really so much of an issue:  we have several full-time people, we have additional interns at the time of harvest [when the grapes are brought in to PWG].  We have good people who we’ve hired over the last twelve years.  John’s been here twelve years, Eric has been here eleven, Rinaldo’s nine, Rosa’s eight, and Andrew started four years ago.  Patrick’s been here a couple of years. . . we haven’t had a lot of turnover.  We all know what has to be done and we have some smart people here, and so far it’s been turning out well.

JM-L:  So everyone’s on salary.  How many people are there in all?

RH:  Eight full-time people and four additional people during harvest. The winery is working 18 to 20 hours a day, with a lot of automated procedures.  So from September through November we get people from different parts of the world in the industry.  We have two Australians for this harvest, a girl from Hungary in the industry, and an American.  So we go from five days a week for nine months of the year to seven days a week and then in two shifts.  So at this stage the night shift will be coming in about ten minutes . . .

JM-L:  They work until midnight?

RH:  Yep!  As the harvest progresses—as we get into the second half—in October they’ll start coming in at 2:00pm or 3:00pm and work until 2:00-3:00am.

JM-L:  Are they sleeping by the vats?

RH:  Not yet!  Not yet.

JM-L:  Temperature control has changed that, hasn’t it?

RH:  Yes, yes, exactly.  We have a lot of technology here that allows us to sleep well.  So the winery will be operating 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, from September until about the week of Thanksgiving, after which we start packing it in.  We go back to six days a week for a while and then back to five days.

JM-L:  And then you go back to having a life of your own again.

RH:  Yeah, my wife says that she’s a “harvest widow” for a period of time, so . . . .

JM-L:  A “harvest widow”—that’s good!  So I just posted, recently, a piece on Raphael, and one of the salient facts about Raphael is that it cost six-million dollars to build that facility.  That’s very deep pockets for a great deal of money . . ., but then it’s a showcase.  You’re no so concerned with being a showcase, so much, though your facilities are attractive, but of course highly functional.  How much did it cost to build this facility?

RH:  Well, in today’s dollars it would be north of six-million, but as you can see it’s predominantly equipment.  Therefore the saleable value, if you will, is real because it’s all asset.  I mean, the building is an asset obviously, and the building cost, in today’s dollars, might be a million, since it’s a metal building, it’s concrete, it’s not aesthetic. It’s practical, functional.  Setup prices would have been three-ish million.

JM-L:  Yes.  Well, Raphael went so far as to design their winery so that it could use gravity feed, which is also a very expensive proposition.  Would you someday incorporate that into your facility?

PWG, 21R.H:  Ultimately we can use fork lifts and gravity, on that level, so we don’t have a tier setup—everything’s one level.  But we have some —I like to think—real quality additions to our equipment that really minimize the effect of not having gravity [feed].  We don’t pump skins—red-grape skins—everything is gravity because we drain the tank and put the skins into bins that are then fork-lifted back to the press.  A lot of wineries don’t do that, so they pump the skins to the press.  We don’t do that, and we try to be very gentle on the wine.  And we have bulldog Waukesha pumps which push nitrogen rather than pump . . . they’re Waukesha twin-lobe pumps that are the gentlest in the industry.  But they’re very expensive and for a small winery to have a Waukesha pump would be cost-prohibitive.  We have four of them because we’re trying to make an affordable way of making quality wine.  We have equipment here that isn’t anywhere else on the North Fork and the only ones on the East Coast, on some levels.

JM-L:  Really?  So you really are a premium Premium winemaker.

RH:  Winemonger [chuckles].  We kicked around the idea of being Premier—being the first—and that didn’t really carry the concept of being Premium, and we have a high number of quality wines that are coming out through this facility.  We allow people to do what they want to do so, depending on how high a bar they’re shooting for, I think that they can get that at this facility.

JM-L:  Right.  Very interesting.  I was speaking to John [Leo] about his involvement and how you work with your clients and he said that you are, essentially, the cellar crew for the clients.  Obviously, you get your marching orders from the consulting winemaker they hire and there are so many approaches that can be taken to making wine.  You have to adapt to so many requests—do it this way, not that way—do that many pumpovers, no pumpovers, and so on  . . .

RH:  We have to be flexible for their needs.  We’re assisting them in making their wine, we’re intimately involved in the quality control, with their practices and their whole organization.  But the stylistic choices are 100% driven by the producers.

 

JM-L:  Until recently Duck Walk was selling a magnum of their Chardonnay for $10, which is a terrific price, but they don’t have that anymore.  Obviously, it isn’t possible to sell much wine at prices that low.  Your costs out here are too high . . .

RH:  It wouldn’t be economically viable in the long term.  The one thing that we have is quality, which means that we have to sell on quality and we have to be realistic about how much we can ask for those quality products.  So, where is that?  It’s in the high teens and up.

JM-L:  So, do you have special equipment to make sparkling wines?

RH:  We do.  We have all the equipment that we need for riddling [a fully-programmable 1,000-bottle automatic riddling machine] and disgorging, and bottle washing, and capsule pleating, and so on, so we do offer that service.

JM-L:  Do you also provide for aging . . . ?

RH:  Once it’s bottled, we do not continue to store wine here; so each producer would warehouse their wine elsewhere.  Ours isn’t large enough for it; we can’t keep any volume for any length of time.

JM-L:  That wasn’t your intention to begin with.

RH:  No, were we to expand into something like that, we could.  But we’re already full with tanks and barrels.

JM-L:  Have you had to expand with more tanks and so forth as the business grew?

PWG diagrams, 01

 

Let’s take a look at the diagram.  Locations of tanks, this is the main tank room . . .

 

PWG diagrams, 03. . . and then we have external tanks and additional tanks near the bottling area.  So in the original setup these tanks [pointing, above] were not here.  These others [pointing to other tanks outlined in red] were not here—these four.  In the second year we’ve added all of these and in the fourth year we added some outside.  In the fifth year we added a substantial number outside and in the seventh year we added more tanks outside and just last year we put in another eight tanks.  So when we started in the first year we had sixty-five tanks and now we have 125, so we’ve nearly doubled our capacity since or first production.  We now use about 70% of our total capacity so we have room for more tanks.  Do I think we’ll add more?  I think it’ll be a few more years before we increase our capacity.  We do have some organic growth—we’re adding more people.

JM-L:  Exactly.  Now, you also have your own label:  Suhru.

Suhru winesRH:   Two, actually.  Suhru, which is Susan Hearn and myself, and we work with growers  around the state, mostly in the North Fork and the Finger Lakes, to source the fruit that grows best in those regions, so we bring Riesling from the Finger Lakes and Shiraz and other red fruit from the Island here.  So my wife and I and another couple that we’ve known for twenty years, bought a piece of land here in Mattituck in 2000, and planted it in 2000 and 2002.  We sold fruit initially, and then in 2007 we started T’Jara Vineyards.

JM-L:  Oh, yes, T’Jara.  Isn’t that based on an Australian word?

RH:  Yes.  It’s sort of phonetic.  We put a hyphen [apostrophe] between the two words, which mean “where I live/where I grow/where I farm/where I’m from.”

JM-L:  I see.  Does it sound like that when an Aboriginal pronounces it?

RH:  Yes, T-Jara.  You know, I guess you could say that it’s the Aboriginal word for terroir, although they don’t grow grapes there; they never have.

JM-L:  Yes, though I’m sure that today many Aboriginals work in the wineries.

RH:  Yep!

JM-L:  Are there any Aboriginals who actually own their own wineries?

RH:  Well, not that I’m aware of.  I’m no longer really that connected [to the Australian wine industry] to know about that.  But I suppose that there are.

JM-L:  I ask because in South Africa there is a program to help get black Africans into the business.  This is true of the South African label Indaba . . . .

RH:  Oh, yes, of course.  They make a very nice Chenin Blanc.

JM-L:  Getting back to Suhru and T’Jara, Do you have styles that you wanted to make that would stand out from what everyone else does?

RH:  Yeah.  Suhru is a little more of a niche in that we are not going with mainstream varietals.  We do not make Chardonnay; we don’t make Merlot as a varietal, or Cabernet Franc.  We don’t make varietals from these three main varieties that we have out here.  We do utilize the red ones in our blend, but the goal of Suhru is to make wines that we enjoy drinking:  crisp, vibrant, good-acidity whites, and some quick-to-market, soft, juicy reds.  More mainstream in respect of pricing, mid to high teens, and in approachability.  T’Jara is sort of aiming for the high end of the market out here.  We all have to aim high, shoot for the moon, but we aim to make the best red wine out here:  the fullest—but, soft wines that will age because of the quantity of tannins plumper but lusher.

JM-L:  So you pick the grapes as late as possible?

RH:  Correct.

JM-L:  You want them to go beyond their phenolic ripeness?

RH:  Yes.  So they’re barrel-aged for a long period of time but they’re not designed to be oaky wines.

JM-L:  So you use a lot of used oak?

RH:  Well, reasonably so, but everything’s Hungarian, and Hungarian oak is very tight-grained so it doesn’t give up the flavor as much as other—the French—would be.  That doesn’t imprint on the wine heavily, so it keeps that soft plumpness.  We use old oak barrels—one to seven-years-old ones so as to get the benefit of aging but without the imprint of tannin.  Typically we don’t go for that long maceration that, you know, leads to that astringency level that needs time.  They’re big wines but their big, soft wines.

JM-L:  They’re almost ready to drink by the time that they’re released?

RH:  Absolutely.  The goal . . . that is goal number one.  You do not need to age them—they will benefit if you age them, but you don’t need to do so.  Stylistically, for example, Pellegrini’s wines [made by Russell], over the years, have rewarded aging.  But that’s a stylistic choice.  We looked at that model and Jed Beilter [Russell’s partner at T’Jara], Laurie, and Sue and I decided that that wasn’t what we wanted and we wanted our wine to give pleasure from the beginning.

So from a brand standpoint, there’s a separation in terms of the market segment that each is shooting for.  In price separation as well.

Suhru is a brand; at T’Jara we make only as red wines:  Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot are planted there.

JM-L:  So how many cases of wine are you able to produce?

RH:  Well, we have seventeen acres under vine out of twenty acres of land, so ultimately we’ll have 3,000 cases; right now we have about a thousand cases.

JM-L:  I see. And what’s the density of your plantings?

RH:  7 X 5 and 7 X 4.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are 7 X 4 we’re trying to carry as little per vine as possible.  Merlot is 7 X 5 and Cab Franc is 7 X 6—Cab Franc is more vigorous . . . .

JM-L:  Well, that seems to answer the question of why one chooses a density of 7 X 5 or 7 X 4 or 7 X 6—it has to do with the vigor of the vines.  That makes sense.  OK, so T’Jara . . . and Suhru?

RH:  Suhru is producing fifteen-hundred cases.  T’Jara is a thousand cases.

JM-L:  So for T’Jara you’re harvesting what?  About two-and-a-half tons an acre?

RH:  Yes, about two-and-a-half to three tons, depending on the year and the variety.  More on the lower end for Cab Sauv, closer to three on the Merlot.

JM-L:  Russell, thank you very much for the time you’ve given me.  This conversation was a pleasure.

What follows are the T’Jara blending notes by Jed:

The process actually begins much earlier in the vintage year with how the growing season has gone.  Depending on the strength of the season, we’ll know which component varietals we’ll have to work with.  For example, 2007 was both a long and a very hot year.  A spectacular year all around.  So all our fruit showed beautifully on the vine.  That includes our Cab Franc, our Merlot, our Petit Verdot and our Cab Sauvignon.  In 2010, just to compare vintages, it was a hot year, but not as long a year.  The Cab Sauvignon didn’t ripen to a state that we felt was good enough to put in our wines.  So you won’t see that component fruit in our 2010 releases.

This past year, 2012, was also a very strong growing season and all our component varietals grow to maturity.  Each year, however, the fruit shows different characteristics.  So you can’t always assume that the Merlot that came out of the barrel in 2012 will be the same as every year preceding that.  It’s always a clean slate when it comes to blending a particular year’s components.

The process Russ and I go through is the same every year we’ve worked together.  We assemble the component varietals and look to see what possibilities exist.  As you can see from the photo, it’s not the most romantic picture of what transpires.  Beakers, water baths, pipettes all arrayed on a conference room table.

T'Jara blending, 4It also helps that Russ and I learned early on that we had very similar tastes in terms of our palates.  When Russ was the winemaker at Pellegrini, he first brought me in to their conference room for a similar exercise.  We had three flasks, filled with either Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc or Merlot.  We each had to come up with three blends:  a Cab Sauv, a Merlot and a red blend.  Blinded from each other’s admixtures, we each came up with three offering and presented them to each other.  the three blends were all very close to each other and, as we had previously experienced, cemented the fact that we were of similar minds when it came to what we thought would be best in the bottle.

This year, we are dealing with four or, potentially five component varietals to make our wines.  Initially, we didn’t think we would release a red reserve in addition to the Merlot and the Cab Franc.  While 2012 was a good growing season, we just weren’t sure that we’d have a reserve that would be good enough to release.

As the process unfolds, we start with one of our wines.  As you know, for a wine to be called by its varietal name, it must contain at least 75% of that component fruit.  Anything after that is up to the winemaker.  Anything less than that has to be called a blend or some other nondescript name.

Russ and I went through the Merlot and the Cab Franc.  We started with the minimums and tested a number of different combinations of supporting varietals, each to bring something specific to the blend.  Maybe it was more roundness.  Maybe it was more length.  Sometimes, we are trying to balance the various smells coming from the component fruits:  red berry versus darker stone fruit; more chocolaty or tobacco notes versus more jammy qualities.  All those ingredients are what we are trying to balance to achieve a wine that, year over year, will have a similar (not necessarily the same) consistency that those who have tried and liked our wines will come to expect as the years roll on.

To our surprise, we not only were able to come up with what we feel are very formidable Merlot and Cab Franc blends, but we also came up with a reserve blend for the 2012 that we are very proud of.  From the initial sampling, we went through iteration after iteration of blending options.  It kind of surprised us when we focused in on the final option.  But we’re very happy with the result.

That whole process, going from large fractions of blending components to the fine-tuning took over three hours.  But the process doesn’t stop there.  And I’m sure Russ can add further to this discussion here, but he’ll take the blending notes from our session in the conference room and start the process of putting the final blends together in the barrel.  He will still tweak a particular blend as it matures in our Hungarian oak barrels before it’s ready for bottling.  Maybe a touch more Cab Franc here, a slight addition of Malbec there.  That’s all part of Russ’s magic as a top-flight winemaker.

In the end, it’s all part of the joy we have as partners in coming up with wines we are proud to call T’Jara.

 

Oenology in Long Island: Premium Wine Group–John Leo

Interview with John Leo about PWG (& Leo Family Wines)

on Sept. 27, 2012, updated on Jan. 21 & May 24, 2013

PWG, 01

 From the PWG Website:

Premium Wine Group is a contract winemaking facility designed to allow an economical way to produce wine without the huge investment in equipment and facility. The individual style is driven by each Producer / Client in the production of their wine. PWG is designed with an array of technologically superior equipment which allows our clients complete freedom in producing wine. Our experienced staff of wine production professionals allows our clients the comfort that their wines are being handled in the highest quality practices.

Both “custom-production” and “custom-crush” services are provided to licensed producers and wholesalers of wine. These services are being utilized by many local wineries and wineries in the Northeast that source fruit from the North Fork of Long Island, see our Producers / Clients

Established in 2000, an initial 545 tons were received, we have steadily grown to 1,000 tons with an ultimate capacity of 1,400 tons. Premium Wine Group’s mission is to continually upgrade plant, equipment and services to allow our Producers / Clients the highest quality environment in which to sculpt their individual wines. This is evident with more than 18 Wineries producing over 100 individual wines each vintage.

NOTE:  While Premium Wine Group makes wine for its many outside clients, there are also three employees that work there who are themselves clients:  Russell Hearn, Managing Partner/Director of Winemaking, John Leo, production winemaker, and Erik Bilka, production winemaker.  While this article is, foremost, about Premium, it also includes sections devoted to the wines of these three producers.  (The winegrowing at Lieb Cellars (owned by partner Mark Lieb) and its wines will be the subject of a separate article, as will be the case with Clovis Point, whose wines are made by John Leo.)

It should also be noted that a press release issued on March 28, 2013, states, “Lieb Cellars and Premium Wine Group announced a merger of the two companies. Established in 1992 and 2000 respectively as two separate businesses with Mark Lieb as an investor, the combined companies have received substantial funding through their parent company Southport Lane, a private equity firm focused on growing its portfolio businesses. Southport Lane selected Lieb Cellars and PWG in part for their “custom crush” business, which is the production home of many North Fork wineries and the only one east of the Mississippi. There has been talk of the company going public.”

Because I interviewed John and Russell separately, and the conversations are so extensive, I’m dividing this post into two parts:  The first (this one) is based on my conversation with John, and subsequently my interview with Russell, which also includes discussions of T’Jara Vineyard and SuhRu Wines:  Oenology in LI:  Premium Wine Group–Russell Hearn.

According to the bio of John Leo from Winemakers’ Studio Website, “A native of the Hudson Valley, New York, John graduated with a journalism degree and immediately proceeded to wander slowly around the world. He started working in wine in 1982 and joined the PWG, John LeoEast End wine growing community in the early 1990s, becoming winemaker for Clovis Point, in Jamesport in 2004. John works full-time at Premium Wine Group where he makes the Clovis Point wines as well as Leo Family Red. A journalist by training, traveler by inclination, and grape grower by preference, John believes in honest hard work, natural transformation and the pleasure of sharing a bottle with friends.”

Personally, I found John to be thoughtful, articulate, soft-spoken yet straightforward, as well as clearly professional in outlook and attitude.  It was a pleasure to converse with him.

Interview with John Leo (JL):

JM-L:  I want to begin by asking you about your client list on the PWG website.  I recognize all of the names but on [see below], but there is one that puzzles me, DeSeo de Micheal [sic], but actually that’s Deseo de Michael . . . What’s his full name?

JL:  Michael Smith.  His wife is Puerto Rican, so I think that she anointed the name.

JM-L:  So that explains that mystery.  Well, one of the reasons that I called you was because I’d been in touch with Chiara Anderson Edmands, and she’d said that one of the people that I have to speak to is you.  So the advantage of speaking to you now is that I can now speak to you of your wine, their wine, and possibly Sherwood House, because I will be speaking to Bill Ackerman, the vineyard manager.

JL:  You know, the consulting winemaker for Sherwood is Gilles Martin, so he’ll have more answers about style and things like that, but about the logistics part I can help out with because it all does come in here.

JM-L:  So Gilles and Juan—who used to work here—and other consulting winemakers formulate what they want you to do and how do you work with them?  How do they formulate what they want you to do?

JL:  Well, we sit down to talk about that.  I guess that in a stand-alone winery the winemaker is not only making the decisions but lifting the hoses and doing the work.  But they usually have assistants, especially around harvest time, so they’re making their own plans about how much tonnage to bring in, how to ferment it, etc. etc., and their usually delegating that to their assistants in the cellar.  So in a sense that’s what we are . . . we’re custom production, so the consultant tells us that he will bring in 5 tons of this Merlot, 6 tons of that Merlot, we want you to handle this one way and that another way.  So we’re basically the cellar hands . . . we’re the winemaking service for that . . .

JM-L:  So you are, in effect, the cellar assistants.

JL:  In a sense, yes.

JM-L:  Except that you actually do all the hands-on of making the wine . . .

JL:  And we have all the equipment—that belongs to us, and the facility belongs to us, and they’re being charged, sort of, per finished case. [See below, From the PWG website: Wine Production; which lists all the equipment they own.]

JM-L:  I see.

JL:  So we’re the winery with the labor to get the job done that they want, but in terms of how they formulate things, it’s straightforward, just like in any winery, they decide how they want to handle certain batches, what yeasts to use, what temperature to ferment at, how often to pump over, all those decisions they can make to then communicate them to us and we do the work.

JM-L:  The thing, of course, is that they’re not being hands-on, so what happens when some kind of issue, say a stuck fermentation, takes place (which I’m sure doesn’t happen too often) . . .

JL:  Not too often, no.

JM-L:  or, for example, a temperature issue with the tanks, or you find that the amount of pumping over that they request perhaps is not optimum for the wine as its coming out . . .

JL:  Right.  That last one is a different issue.  I might personally disagree with their protocols, but if that’s their protocol that’s what we do.  Lots of oxidation, no oxidation, no air at all. They can ask for seven pumpovers a day or no pumpovers. They can demand of me whatever they want.  If it seems that out of the ordinary we’ll clarify.  We’ll say, “Are you sure that’s what you’re asking for?  That’s not the norm.”  Maybe we’ll have to charge more for more pumpovers, so we just want to make sure that that’s what you want.”  When they confirm it, it doesn’t matter what I like or think is right or wrong for that batch of wine . . . they’re the boss.  In terms of stuck fermentations or a little bit of sulfide issues or things like that, Andrew’s very attentive [Andrew Rockwell, the Laboratory Director].  We’re testing everything every day, after rackings, every day’s ferment, so Andrew’s sticking his nose in the tank every day, and he’s got a good nose and palate and he’s very sensitive, so he’ll let Russell or I know, or if the consultant’s already sitting in the room he’ll go directly to them, or we’ll call the consultant and say, “Hey, there’s an issue with tank 1956, there’s some sulfite issue, a little bit of a stink coming out of it.”

Also, a lot of our newer clients, for example Deseo de Michael, say, “I want to bring in my grapes this year, 600 pounds . . .

JM-L:  600 pounds.  Well, if you only have a third of an acre . . .

JL:  Exactly.  So the first thing I explain to him if you want us to press it, that we need more than that because our presses aren’t that small, so we can’t press 600 pounds effectively, so you’re going to have buy some Chardonnay to put in with yours to make it.  So he’s so small that it doesn’t make sense to have a consultant, you know, realistically, but the first year I helped him through that and I didn’t charge him anything, and I said, “You know, you can do it this way or you can do it this way.  Here’s the decision points now.  You can taste the juice coming out of the press, do you want to cut it there?  Do you want to keep on pressing harder?  You’ll see the change.”  So we just walked him through it.  So for 2011 he hired Gilles [Martin] to be his winemaker for his one Chardonnay, so now it’s at a more professional level.

JM-L:  Good.  But the vines must be very young . . .

JL:  Sure.  So that’s an extreme example of someone who wants to do things right, is willing to pay commercial charges, but he doesn’t have enough volume to get a full-time consultant . . . so we try to be as helpful as we can.

JM-L:  Of course.

JL:  We have other clients like that, they have a little bit of fruit in their back yard, so we try to avoid it, but when it’s a friend of a friend, we do stuff like that . . .

JM-L:  Sure.

JL:  You know, Juan [Micieli-Martinez, Manager and Winemaking Consultant of Martha Clara Vineyards], Gilles [winemaking consultant to several vineyards], Tom Drozd—who makes the Baiting Hollow wines, and Erik [Bilka, the other PWG production manager] has his own wine, and other clients who know what they’re doing.  So we expect them to make all those decisions, so we’re just backing it up.  We do have some non-Long Island clients, but that is just coincidence.

JM-L:  So who are your non-Long Island clients?

JL:  Well, you know, Silver Springs, up in the Finger Lakes.

JM-L:  All the way up there?  Do they send their fruit down?

JL:  Mmm, no.  When they started five or six years ago, they bought Long Island red, so they make some things up there in the Finger Lakes, and that goes for the white, the hybrid stuff, and they wanted to buy some red, so they approached us and said, “We want to buy a few tons, and how do we get it up to us and what can we do?”  And, I don’t think they actually have a winery, I think all their production is custom, either here or there.  So anyway, that’s how we got started.  And now, every couple of vintages they’ll send some white juice down, and they’ll have us ferment it here because it’s going to be part of a bigger blend or something like that.

JM-L:  I see.  Very interesting.

JL:  So they’re one.  And then there’s Belhurst, Belhurst Castle . . .

JM-L:  Are they also in the Finger Lakes?

JL:  Yes, they are.  They’re basically a hotel, a resort hotel, and again, they might have a little show winery, but I haven’t actually been there.  But we make their wines, sort of for the same reasons, they’re purchasing all their fruit, both red and white, and we’re making the wine for them.

JM-L:  Is PWG unique in New York State?

JL:  Not any more.  We were the first on the East Coast as a custom crush, and I don’t know, but I think that there are one or two in the Finger Lakes now.  I know that East Coast Crush started up and it’s connected to one of the bigger wineries.  I don’t know if it’s the exact same facility or if they have separate business names to bring in more clients, or it’s a whole new facility.  Russell might know that.  And I think that I heard of another place, White Springs was, again, doing their own thing but doing a lot of custom work, I think that just changed ownership and might now be all custom.

JM-L: I see.

JL:  But, anyway, we started people thinking about it as an option, since they save a lot of money and only pay for what they’re bringing in rather than buying equipment that’s going to cost them two million to put in and they’re only going to use it once a year, so . . .

JM-L:  Yes, like Raphael, which spent six million dollars on their own winery . . .

JL:  Yeah, it’s a different interest.  If you have the money to invest and you want that showpiece, you know, that’s . . .

JM-L:  Well, they have that showpiece, there’s no question of that.  Pretty impressive!  So, when you have a really abundant harvest out here, even the wineries that have facilities of their own may find themselves with more fruit than they can handle . . .

JM-L:  So you do take overage, as it were . . .

JL:  Yes.  If we have the space for it, sure, and it happens where we have one particular client, another  winery that knows pretty much that they’re going to have more fruit coming in every year than they have space for themselves, so they’ve been saying fairly consistently that they need a tank of twenty tons, or something, for this overage.  There are other wineries where it’s more vintage-related, most years they’re self-sufficient but some years they’re looking for extra space, so as long as we have the room we’re happy to do that.  We also do pressing and settling; some Connecticut buyers of wineries, are buying local Chardonnay or other varieties and they’re looking for a place to have it destemmed, pressed, cold settled [chilled], and then they’re taking it as juice so that they don’t have to drive [the purchased grapes] all the way around.  So that’s another part of our business that is pretty consistent every year.

JM-L:  So you’re just sending them the must?

JL:  Yes, either the must for reds or the settled juice for, say, Chardonnay.

JM-L:  And then they ferment it.

JL:  Yes, and we have fee schedules—so they don’t have to bring things just to bottle; we have a pressing and settling charge, or you can ferment it here, age it here, and then sell it in bulk, instead of selling it in the bottle, and you’re not paying the full cost . . .  In other words, PWG has a fee schedule for all its varied services that allow a client to decide whether to take a wine all the way to bottle, or to sell it early in the process as juice (before fermentation) or later in the process as bulk wine.

JM-L:  OK.  Well, you and Russell, and who else helped found this?

JL:  Well, I’m not a partner, Russell is.  It’s Russell and Mark Lieb and a fellow called Bernard Sussman—he isn’t located out here.  He lives in New Jersey or may have moved to Florida now.  They’re the three partners.  I’ve been here since it opened.  I was working with Russell at Pellegrini Vineyards when he was planning this, and when 2000 was our first harvest he asked me if, when this was done, I’d like to come with him.

JM-L:  Now, how many clients did you start with?

JL:   Roughly a dozen.

JM-L:  Really?  So in other words, you first determined that there would be a market out there, you determined that there would be people who would bring their fruit in, if you would just set up . . .

JL:  Yes. And, you see, the reason that we knew that—especially Russell—was that Russell, had been the winemaker for Pellegrini Vineyards, at that point, for eight or nine vintages, and people kept approaching him, saying “I have fruit for sale, I’m thinking of starting my own label, do you have room?”  So he was doing custom production at Pellegrini, with whatever excess space he had there, for Erik Bilka and everyone else . . . and, you know, people were looking for space.  He knew that there were more vineyards coming online, he knew that this would be a growth market.  And I think that Russell first approached Mark Lieb—or it might have been vice versa—because Lieb had a forty-acre vineyard and no facility, and he was trying to buy more property so that he could build a winery, and there was some political issue, possibly, and it was taking longer than he expected so they got together and he said, “OK, you build this and I’ll be an investor in it and instead of making it a Lieb winery we’ll make it a custom production winery.  And Russell, you’re going to run it, right?”  And it was very clever and it was the right time to get something started . . .”

JM-L:  Interesting.

JL:  Most of those clients are still with us.  I’d say that the only ones that aren’t were the ones that got sold or closed down.  But Martha Clara was there the first year, Sherwood House was there, so pretty much everyone who was looking for a place and found us in 2000 has stayed.

JM-L:  So Deseo de Michael [aka OR Wine Estate as of 2014] is the just latest . . . ?

JL:  Yes, pretty much.  Around 2010, in terms of having a license and all of that.  But for example, my wine, which is a 2007, and Erik [Bilka], who makes a Riesling from Finger Lakes juice that he brings down, and he started in 2009, and that’s it; it’s not so much new vineyards coming on line anymore, but rather people buying fruit who want to start their own brands.

Leo Family Red:  a History

JM-L:  I see.  So let’s talk about you . . .

JL:  I don’t own my own vineyard; my situation is a little different in that I lease two acres. Well, I have a long-term agreement since 1999, with a particular vineyard to lease the two acres and I bring in my own fruit, with the understanding that I’ll do all the handwork.  I do the pruning, I do the thinning, I do the harvesting.

JM-L:  So you’re not buying fruit, you’re essentially the vineyard manager for a parcel that’s leased to you.  So you have complete control of the fruit.

JL:  Yes.  The things that I didn’t have control over—I started at Martha Clara in 1999–where they controlled the spray schedule, the weed control, anything that had to do with tractor work—I could make suggestions.  So in that respect I didn’t have complete control.  But I was fine with that.  That lasted until 2006, when they decided that they wanted to harvest their own fruit on that plot, so they decided that I was too small to make an exception for . . . so I was all ready to move anyway, and I was fine with that; it was time to move on.  So I continued the same arrangement with Pellegrini Vineyards, in their easternmost vineyard, called South Harbor.  So there were two acres planted with Merlot there as well, same arrangement as before, so I don’t have control of the spraying schedule.   So I worked with the vineyard manager and that worked out nicely.  That was between 2007 through 2010.  In 2010 I started working for Onabay Vineyard as a winegrowing consultant, working out in the vineyard.  So they asked me, would I be interested in leasing a couple of acres with them, and since I was already telling them what to do and hands-on with their whole vineyard it finally meant that it felt like my own vineyard, in that sense.

JM-L:  Oh, that’s very nice.

JL:  So in 2011 I moved to Onabay.  I was very happy with Pellegrini, but at Onabay, where they’ve planted several varieties, I was able to have an acre of Merlot, half-an-acre of Cabernet Franc, and half-an-acre of Petite Verdot.

JM-L:  So you were finally able to make a Meritage.

JL:  Yes.  And I did . . . since 1999 I’ve made wine every year, selling it off  in bulk, but bottling a barrel for myself to have something to drink, and. . .

JM-L: I see.  So now you’re now making wine in your own way—originally you were only making Merlot . . .

JL:  Only growing Merlot.  So the early vintages were 100% Merlot, but I started to go to other sources—Premium, for example, and other clients, to get a little bit of  Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, whatever happened to be available depending upon the year, including Syrah, Malbec, as well.  Working here made it easy for me to know what was out there—the quality, the amounts, whatever was available . . .  2007 was the first wine I bottled and labeled myself; up to 2006 it was a just hobby project, what I kept at home for drinking myself and then to cover costs I’d sell most of the bulk; I sell anywhere from 200 gallons to 1000 gallons a year depending on my harvest yield and my blending needs.

Leo Family Red, bottle [From the Winemaker’s Studio Website, there is this description of the 2007:  “The first and so far, only wine released under the Leo Family label. A blend made of sustainably farmed grapes: 80% Merlot, 7% Syrah, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon from the North Fork of Long Island. Aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak, released spring 2011.”]  [NOTE:  I tasted this wine on Feb. 2 at a dinner party where venison was the main course.  It followed a rather funky Spanish Tempranillo, and it showed beautifully.  It was already showing secondary aromas and flavors, including lightly-smoked wood, coffee, lead pencil, and sour cherry.  It was balanced and had an agreeable persistence on the palate and a very clean finish.  I’d describe it as elegant and somewhat austere–rather like a Premier Cru from St-Emilion (Bordeaux).  Its structure suggests several more years of maturation and good longevity.  It was very much appreciated by all the guests at the venison dinner, and was a really fine food & wine pairing.]

Leo Family Red, RL

[The back label—shown at right—tells even more about the wine and how it is made. . . ]

JM-L:  And how much bulk are you selling now?

JL:  Depending on the harvest . . . it was a lot, anywhere from 500 cases to a 1,000, or 200 gallons, some years there wasn’t very much.  The 2007 was a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot . . . it’s not all Merlot.

JM-L:  Which means that it’s more of a Left Bank than Right Bank Bordeaux style of wine.

JL: Yeah, with the Syrah tossed in too.

JM-L:  And with the Syrah, which in the 19th Century, they used in winemaking in Bordeaux.

JL:  Yes, I read that too.  I’m not going to market it as Bordeaux . . . it’s just was the best that I could do.

JM-L:  Of course you’re not going to label it as Bordeaux.  Despite all the claims about how Bordeaux-like your wine is, this is still Long Island, after all . . .

JL:  Exactly.  There’s no French on the label, it’s just Leo Family Red . . .

JM-L:  And where is it available?  Can I buy it, for example, at Empire State Cellars?

JL:  It’s available there; you can also buy it at the Winemakers’ Studio, that’s my biggest outlet . . . Anthony Nappa’s.  They pour it and sell it on a regular basis.  There’s also a small wine shop right here in Mattituck, called J. Shields.  It’s owned by a woman who’s a real oenophile.  She just loves wine; I think she studied the sommelier’s course . . . so she took it in a couple of weeks ago.  So it’s on the shelf there.

JM-L:  What was your aim in making your particular wine?

JL:  Honestly, it’s kind of a cliché.  I wanted to make a wine that I would enjoy drinking.  There are no asterisks.  I wanted it to stand on its own on a commercial level.  I want make it only in good vintages and have it taste better than what people are expecting.  . I wanted to be able say:  Taste it and if you like it, buy it, and if you don’t, well, there are no questions asked.  I made 420 cases, I think I have about 160 left.  If I’m stuck with a hundred cases, fine, I’ll be happy to drink it for the rest of my life.

JM-L:  So you’re really saying that the 2007 has great longevity.

JL:  Yes, I think it does.  Because I released it last year and it’s certainly drinking better this year. It hasn’t shown any signs of fading and improving still.

JM-L:  You think that it has the structure to last another five, ten years?

JL:  Five, ten years from now?  I think so, but I honestly don’t know?  It’s hard to say.  Two to three years to reach its peak, and how long will it hold?

JM-L:  Well, as you know, that’s a sign of good wine and good winemaking.  The very fact that there is so much wine being made in Long Island that is age-worthy is, I think, a stunning testament to the level of the winemaking here, and the quality of the fruit and everything else.  It’s no secret, after all, that for us, that the quality of the wine from Long Island is, frankly, at times sensational—and, well, times that it’s not— but given how good it is I often to prefer it to that of California.

JL:  I’ve come the same way, obviously I’m in the industry and you could say that I’m completely biased, but I’m less and less happy when paying sixty or seventy dollars for a California wine that turns out to be an ordinary red wine, just high in alcohol but without much character.

JM-L: As soon as Robert Parker says “jammy and full of fruit,” I know immediately that that is a wine that I’m not likely to touch.

JL:  Exactly.  They’re making a style.  Good for them.  They’re marketing a style and making it work.  We’re just not that.

JM-L:  The other thing to remember is that everything here is “micro.”  You just do not have the production to take on California, you just can’t make enough for a national market.

JL:  And that should free us up a lot to experimentation, to be able to focus on quality, which more and more of our customers are asking for over the twelve years we’ve been in the business; at first our clients were just happy to get the fruit in, get it at 22 Brix, get the right pH.  It’s got to have flavor.  We’re all working on making higher quality wine, we’re challenging one another, we’re raising the bar.

JM-L:  And what other vintages have you made since the 2007?

JL:  Put into bottle and labeled—just the 2010.

JM-L:  And that was a fabulous vintage.

JL:  It was very good.  At first I didn’t think that it was going to be as good as the 2007, but as I sampled it from the barrel it just got better and better, to the point that I decided to bottle it.  Now I think it may even be better than the 2007.  Leo Family Red will only be made in the best vintages. And now that we have 2012 in barrel I’m optimistic that 2012 could be another Leo
Family vintage.

JM-L:  Well, that’s a good policy.

JL:  Well, it’s nice to have a day job!

JM-L:  John, you’ve been more than generous with your time, and I thank you for it.  I’ll get back to you when I’m ready to write about Clovis Point.

 

Erik Bilka, who was not interviewed, is the other production winemaker at Premium, and also has his own wine label:  Influence—a Riesling made from grapes sourced from Ovid Farm in the Finger Lakes.

From the Influence Wines Website:

“Every vintage a winemaker’s goal is to showcase the best attributes from the fruit he is presented. Fruit intensity, acidity, and sugar balance are all attributes which bring a wine to a harmonious blend of aroma, flavor, and palette impression. The winemakers’ influence determines the quality seen in the glass.

Influence Wine Riesling“Once harvested, Influence Riesling is delivered to White Springs Winery in Geneva, NY on Seneca Lake, where the experienced staff led by Derek Wilber crush, press, and cold settle the juice, which is then shipped to Premium Wine Group on the North Fork of Long Island. Upon arrival, winemaker Erik P. Bilka begins the winemaking process. The juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks. Before completion fermentation is halted in order to maintain the natural residual sugars found in this semi-dry vintage. The refining process which involves separating natural occurring sediment from the final product is done delicately in order to preserve the fruits integrity. This minimalist approach by the winemaker influencing only what the juice requires, allows the fruit to be showcased in the final wine.”

Brix at Harvest – 19.8
Ph – 3.10
Titratable Acid – 7.02
Residual Sugar – 22.00 grams/ liter
Aged – 100% Stainless Steel Tank
Bottled – March 31, 2011

 To me, the commitment by the oenologists who work at PWG simply goes beyond the normal range of expectation and duty.  For each of them is so passionate about wine, and apparently has so much excess energy, that it’s not enough for them to only work full-time at their place of employment, they have a deep need to practice their skills for themselves and their reputations.  One can’t ask for more devotion than that.  It’s also hard to find better winemakers.

Next, Russell Hearn.

From the PWG Website:

Services Provided

Services provided by Premium Wine Group range from grape sourcing, crush/pressing, fermenting, barrel aging, bottling, Methode Champenoise riddling and disgorging, and Compliance Issues. These services are available to “custom production” clients, Alternating Proprietorship and existing wineries. North-East wineries sourcing North Fork of Long Island fruit may wish to ferment rather than move unstable fruit during harvest. Or those that have exceeded their own production capacity might look to utilize our wide variety of equipment.

Contact us for (Fee Schedule or Component Services Fees) and (Standard Procedures for what is included).

The “producer” is to supply at their expense all:

  • Fruit (delivered to PWG)
  • Fermentation supplies (yeast, enzyme and tannin, malo-lactic bacteria)
  • Wooden cooperage or oak additives
  • Packaging supplies (bottles, corks, capsules, labels and related items)
  • Winemaking direction (consultation)

Wine Production

With a highly trained staff operating within a State of the Art facility, all wine production services requested can be performed in a timely and professional manner. Additional specialized equipment allows such processes as:

  • EuroSelect Destemmer-Crusher, the gentlest way of destemming
  • Tube-in-tube Must Chiller capable of dropping must temperature 20° F. downstream from the destemmer-crusher en route to press or fermentation tank
  • Reverse Osmosis System to remove water from grape juice
  • Ozone Machine for barrel sanitization
  • Lees filtration via Crossflow System
  • Crossflow wine filtration via Vaslin Bucher FX 8 System

Methode Champenoise

  • Complete semi-automatic Methode Champenoise bottling, riddling and disgorging equipment
  • Mainguet Crown capping device
  • Oenoconcept – Twin cage (1,000 bottle) automatic riddling machine fully programmable for the most complete riddling
  • Mainguet – Neck freezing
  • Disgorging
  • Mainguet – corking and wire hood application
  • Sick International – external bottle scrubbing/washing and drying unit
  • Sick International – capsule dispensing and eye sensitive/ orientating automatic double station capsule pleating device

Bottling

  • Full in-line 4,000 bottle/hour bottling line.
  • McBrady – cardboard dust evacuating and nitrogen bottle sparging device
  • GAI monoblock twenty (20) spout vacuum/ gravity filler with double (2) nitrogen sparging and triple (3) head vacuum corker
  • GAI single head screw capping machine, capable of applying Stevlin and Stevlin Lux screw caps
  • Automatic capsule dispenser and eight (8) head (reversible) capsule spinner and heat shrink capability
  • Sick Automatic champagne capsule dispenser and pleating device
  • Kosme – triple station (neck, front and back) six (6) turret pressure sensitive servo motor driven labeler
  • Manual inspection and packing station
  • Top and bottom ‘Little David’ case taper
  • Lanxess Velcorin DT 6 S dosing unit

Laboratory

Our facility has a fully-equipped laboratory, with a full-time Lab Director and assistant during the Harvest period. A production software system (Winemaker Database) allows our clients’ bulk inventory to be tracked from the time juice or bulk wine arrives at the winery, every moPWG, 08vement, addition, chemical analysis and process is recorded and tracked. Our clients have full access to this detailed history of their inventory.

  • Mettler Toledo Auto-Titrator, generating pH, TA, and FSO2 automatically for reliable consistency

Analytical

  • Brix
  • Total Acid (Automated Titration)PWG, 03
  • pH
  • Total and Free SO2
  • Alcohol
  • Heat and Cold Stability
  • CO2
  • NH3
  • Enzymatic R.S. and Malate
  • Volatile Acidity
  • Specific Gravity
  • Bottling QA/QC
  • Routine Wine / Lot Maintenance

Crush Pads

PWG, 14We can receive hand harvested fruit in small half-ton bins, or machine harvested in gondolas. The receiving pad consists of a Weightronix truck scale and printer, two 7-ton Membrane presses with s/s dump hopper for whole-cluster pressing. Two destemmer / crushers: Rauch E20 and Euroselect ES, to ensure uninterrupted receiving capacity. Both presses utilize direct to press systems, if requested, to minimize solids and for “dug-out” red fermentations. Our 50-ton Refrigeration system ensures more than sufficient capacity for rapid cooling of juice. Tube-in-tube must-chiller capable of decreasing must temperature 20ºF. Additionally we have a 700 KW generator to ensure uninterrupted electrical service.

Equipment

  • Numerous ‘gentle on wine’ Waukesha (twin lobe) pumps.
  • Pneumatic ‘punch-down’ tool above (18) red fermentation tanks.
  • (2) in-line tank heaters to maintain warm red ferments, correct malo-lactic temperature in tank, pre-bottling temperature control.
  • Crossflow filtration system Vaslin Bucher FX 3 with lees filtration add-on capability plate and frame pad filter as well as membrane cartridge filtration capability.
  • Steam and ozone capability.

Producers / Clients (all of which use only Long Island fruit)

  1. Baiting Hollow Farms Vineyard
  2. Bouké/Bouquet
  3. Brooklyn Oenology
  4. Clovis Point Vineyard
  5. OR Wine Estate (aka Deseo de Michael)
  6. Harbes Vineyard
  7. Lieb Cellars
  8. Martha Clara Vineyard
  9. McCall Wines
  10. Onabay Vineyards
  11. Pumphouse Wines (Scarsdale, NY)
  12. Sherwood House Vineyard
  13. [Leo Family Wines, by John Leo, employee]
  14. [Influence Wines (Finger Lakes fruit) by Erik Bilka, employee]
  15. [Suhru Wines, by Russell Hearn, PWG partner & production manager]
  16. [T’Jara Vineyards, by Russell Hearn]

PWG header Premium Wine Group 35 Cox Neck Rd. Mattituck, NY 11952

info@premiumwinegroup.com
phone 631-298-1900
fax 631-298-3588

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Osprey’s Dominion

Osprey's Dominion sign

From the Osprey’s Dominion website:

Bud Koehler was among the first vintners to settle on the North Fork.

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.

Osprey's Dominion

Interviews with Adam Suprenant,Winemaker, 23 April & 8 May 2012,  updated on 2 February 2013

Adam Suprenant, ex-FB

photo by Wonny Lervisit

Adam Suprenant, winemaker for Osprey’s Dominion, in Peconic, NY, met with me for an interview near Union Square, in New York City, having just been in the company of Peter M.F. Sichel—the influential and well-known wine executive who, among his many achievements, created the popular Blue Nun wine brand—and whom Adam regards as his mentor in the wine world, having known him for many years.

Adam describes himself as a “champion of what goes into the bottle.”

He had earned a BS degree in Agriculture, from Cornell in 1985.  At the time, there was but a single one-semester course on viticulture. His first job as a viticulturalist, in 1986, was with the Banfi vineyard operation in Old Brookville, NY, where he worked under Fred Frank.  During the Holiday Season of that year he worked as a salesman for Sherry-Lehmann.  For the next two years Adam worked for the wine distributor Joseph Victori (now JV Wines) wearing a Brooks Brothers suit while canvassing the liquor stores in the South Bronx, where the product and the clerks worked behind thick bullet-proof Plexiglas.  How it was that he was never mugged and robbed he thinks may be explained by the fact that as a man who was apparently Irish, wearing such mufti, must have suggested to the street thugs that he was a plain-clothes policeman or perhaps a Mafioso.  They didn’t dare touch him.

After he left Victori, Adam needed time to work out what direction his career would take next, so he worked as a waiter at well-known New York City restaurants such as La Petite Ferme, Tavern on the Green, and Bruxelles.  However, by 1992 he realized that he really wanted to make a career in the production end of the wine trade, so he went to California and earned an MS in Enology with a concentration in sensory science from UC Davis in 1996.  His Master’s Thesis was a cork quality-control manual.*

While studying for his MS, he applied for an internship to work at the Château Lafite, the great Premier Cru vineyard and winery in Bordeaux.  At the time, Lafite had an agreement with the Agricultural School at Davis to take on one intern a year to work for the harvest season.  To get in he went on a “charm offensive, in which I overcame myself.”

While there for the ’95 harvest, he was assigned to perform the task of pumpovers (or remontage) in Frenchin the fermentation vats.  (As that kind of work wasn’t deemed suitable for women, female interns were assigned to the lab.)  Thirty-five days of this work, without a break, left his hands became so deeply stained that months later the stains still showed, for they couldn’t just be washed away.  He also served as an intern at Trefethen Winery, a comparatively small enterprise, where he got to do everything—a real hands-on experience.

Post-graduation, Adam then spent two years working for Franciscan Estate in Napa.  It was a very large operation, and in such an operation winemakers don’t exactly get to work hands-on.  Rather, it is a large-scale commercial, computerized affair, a kind of agricultural factory.  The labor costs for such a vast operation would simply be too high and it can be a challenge to maintain consistent quality, though it’s possible to be managed even when the production is greater than 100,000 cases a year.  Given all that, Adam says, “My point isn’t that they can’t make high quality wines, which Franciscan did and still does, rather that there is less of a connection between the winemaker, vineyard and the winery cellar than there is in a hands-on small winery like Osprey’s Dominion.”

He returned East in ’98 and worked as winemaker at Gristina Vineyards, in Long Island until 2001.  As he explained, “At Gristina I felt it necessary to deconstruct California winemaking because in New York State full grape maturity happens at lower sugar levels due to climatic factors.”

When he arrived in Long Island it was just in time to see the great transition in viticulture that was taking place.  As he puts it:  “Old School practices were:  no irrigation, no deer fence, no leaf removal, no crop thinning, no spray after the nets went on, earlier harvest, widespread virus and trunk disease in some plantings and inadequate vine maintenance due to cost cutting.”  Furthermore, they often harvested before the grapes were fully mature.

It took a realignment of the industry that began “in the early aughts”, as the vineyard owners came to understand the need to bring about the changes that had to take place in standard practice:  Leaf removal, green harvesting to thin the crop, reduced use of inputs—especially the high-impact versions—ending their use weeks before the harvest to eliminate toxicity on the fruit before harvest, and allowing longer hang time for the fruit to achieve full mature if possible,  weather and climate permitting.  (This meant that sometimes the fruit would hang in temperatures as low as 51°F, the point at which ripening would slow down and nearly stop.)

Again, in Adam’s words, “The philosophy is to do the ‘right thing’ vis-a-vis the environment, to be a steward of the land in order to perpetuate its use for generations to come.”  However, he goes on to say, “The New School [of viticulture] is the opposite of Old School plus widespread planting or replanting of vineyards with better grape clonal selections/varieties, and higher density plantings.  [In other words,] the New School means higher inputs because of more hand labor to remove leaves to thin the crop; more vines per acre equals more rows to spray per acre, more deer fence, etc.  The irony is that the Old School was actually more sustainable than now because there were less inputs because of lower planting density, less frequent sprays, etc.  Now there is an industry-wide focus on high quality, which can only be achieved with more inputs, not less.”

Weather and climate have always been a challenge along the Eastern seaboard, what with storms and hurricanes, high humidity, and a general unpredictability of weather.  (Indeed, Adam points out that the hardest climate for viticulture in America is East of the Mississippi.)  In October of 2005, for example, the Merlot was just ripe and ready to be picked.  Fortunately, there was just enough warning from weather reports to call in crews to take in the grapes, and they managed to pick 80% of the fruit before one week straight of rain arrived, dropping over 15 inches. After the rain we lost between 30-60 percent of the grapes not picked such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.   In 2011, a hurricane hit LI in late August, again resulting in very difficult conditions, such that some vineyards lost a great deal of fruit—California certainly doesn’t have this problem.

With respect to sustainable farming, Adam wrote this in an e-mail:

“Osprey has been a pioneer since 2002 in incorporating green practices into our farm and winery operations. These include:

  1. Biodiesel – We began using 100% Biodiesel in 2004 or 2005 and continue to use it but as a blend of 20% Biodiesel with 80% diesel.
  2. Wind Energy – We were approved for a LIPA pilot wind project in 2003 but could not get zoning approval. Eventually the politics and the zoning regulations at the Town changed and we erected a wind generator in 2011.
  3. Nitrogen Fertilizer – We began using pelletized chicken manure in 2005 to supplement our conventional fertilizers. We also produce nitrogen from our cover crop rotation of clover which captures nitrogen from the air and turn it into plant-available nitrogen. This reduces our total need for nitrogen fertilizer.
  4. Pesticides – Our spray program utilizes between 35-45 percent organic materials. The remainder are classified as “reduced risk” or are not “restricted use” pesticides
  5. Alternative Transportation – I am an avid cyclist and regularly bike commute to work 2-3 times a week.”

As indicated in Adam’s list, true sustainability is more than just the reduction of toxic inputs to the vineyard.  The carbon footprint of the machinery used in the field is of major concern, so Osprey’s Dominion was an early adopter of bio-diesel fuel (1. above), which is made from vegetative matter.  It turned out, however, that the fuel was rather gummy and began clogging the fuel lines, leading to expensive maintenance of the equipment.  They now use B20 fuel, which has a 20% biological component—not as ecologically friendly, but a necessary compromise if the equipment was to function effectively.

According to Adam, from a holistic point of view, “True sustainability is where we need to go.”  But for him, the term “sustainable” is terribly plastic and can be used to mean almost anything. As he says, “Sustainable is too broadly defined; for example, the use of fossil fuel is not sustainable, yet is allowed under the program.”  Hence a certain skepticism on his part about the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing program, so he isn’t yet ready to commit to involvement in the LISW.  But, he points out,  “I have not read the LISW plan so I am not directly commenting on their manifesto but my knowledge of sustainable programs in other wine regions.”  For him, what is lacking in other programs includes:

  • Requiring suppliers to be sustainable as well
  • Employees/owners incorporating sustainability into their lifestyles
  • Paying a sustainable living wage to all farm employees

With respect to participation in the LISW project, Adam is taking a wait-and-see position.  As far as he’s concerned Osprey’s already qualifies as a sustainable operation given its long commitment to sustainable and organic practices.  He’s not sure that the certification will mean that much or be worth the trouble.

Apart from the issue of the meaning of “sustainability”, also troubling to him is the overzealous use of the term “organic.”  Given that even factory farms claim that their produce is “organic” it raises the question of just what it means when they use it.

However, the reality is that one of the most effective controls for some infestations, such as mildew, is copper, a toxic metal to which eventual resistance is not possible.  Less toxic to the general environment is mined copper as opposed to the industrial product.  However, it should be borne in mind that organic copper has same toxicity as non-organic.  Its use is allowed in sustainable, organic, and even biodynamic agriculture and it is nearly impossible to avoid applying it in all aspects of agriculture, including home gardening, given its irreplaceable long-term effectiveness.

Osprey’s vines are typically planted in rows 9 feet apart with 4 to 10-foot spacing between the vines.  They rotate cover crops every three to five years, alternating between fescue and clover.  Since 2004 they’ve also been using pelletized chicken manure from Maryland.  They prefer to use organic inputs but when necessary will resort to industrial ones.

When he joined Osprey’s Dominion as winemaker in 2001, he at first worked with Tom Stevenson, whom he regards as one of the finest vineyard managers he’d ever known.  When Tom retired so that he could spend more time with his family, Wojtek Majeski took over the vineyard, and the two of them now have an excellent, even symbiotic relationship, for Adam walks the vineyard nearly as much as does Wojtek, conferring with him on when to spray, when to green harvest, how much the foliage should be cut back, and especially, as harvest time nears, when to pick the fruit.  It was during Adam’s walks in the vineyard that, over time, he discovered that one of the worst pests is the common raccoon, which comes into the vineyard as the grapes are ripening. The animals don’t just go after the low-hanging fruit, for they are capable of climbing the vines.  Bird nets, to ward off avian grape predators, are no impediment to the raccoon, which can easily rip them open to get at the grapes.  These creatures can only be control by the use of traps.

Adam and Tom Stevenson worked to incorporate greener growing practices. Wojtek has continued on the path that Tom and he started.  From the beginning of Adam and Wojtek’s relationship they worked closely together to maintain the sustainability standards of the vineyard.

For example, Osprey’s was among the very first vineyards to use pheromone ties to help control one of the scourges of a vineyard, the Grape Berry Moth (GBM).  (Adam explains that “pheromones are mating disruptors, which can only be effective if there is industry-wide application in the vineyard as part of an IPM program supported by the Cornell Extension Program.)  But these are expensive, especially given the amount of labor needed to tie the bait in the vicinity of the vines.  However, it eliminates spraying insecticide and is therefore a truly sustainable practice.  A less costly alternative to the ties is the use of BT, or Bacillus thuringiensis, a rudimentary neurotoxin that is an effective biological pest control, but the moth can and will eventually develop resistance to it.  Thus, “We currently control Grape Berry Moth using organic insecticides. An industry-wide program to use pheromone disruption could theoretically negate the need for any insecticide use.”

GBM have been a growing problem since 2007, and the only way to effectively control them is with pheromone ties, which are expensive.  The vines need continual scouting since the moths produce several generations in the span of a growing season.  In other words, calendric spraying doesn’t work under these circumstances.  One consequence of the moth problem has been an increase in botrytis due to the nature of the damage made by them.

What is further needed, then, is a trapping and monitoring system with support and help from the Cornell Agricultural Program.  Vineyards can’t afford to deal with this on their own.

So Adam sees himself as an “extra set of eyes and knowledge base; Wjotek and I confer on important vineyard decisions to utilize our over 50 years of combined experience growing grapes. [We] are continuing the work that was largely implemented by Tom Stevenson (who retired from Osprey’s and now owns and operates a no-spray, naturally-grown berry farm in Orient, NY, called Oysterponds Farm).”

Osprey's Dominion, 04Some of Osprey’s property was originally part of Alan Barr’s Le Rêve vineyard.  When it was first planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the 1980s, the rows were 9 feet apart and the vines were at 8-foot intervals in the rows, with posts set 6 feet high.  However, in terms of solar exposure the ideal height should be equal to the width of the rows, or a one-to-one ratio.  Consequently, in 2000, trellis extenders were added (see picture above) so that the post heights are now 7 ½ feet, and hedging the foliage at the top wire means that the vine heights are now 8 ½ feet, nearly the ideal ratio and means that the more northerly rows are still not shaded until the late summer sunsets.  In other words, the height was increased to maximize sunlight capture by the vines, theoretically leading to better quality.  The difference may not huge but it might be enough to capture that elusive last 5-10% of maximum quality potential.

100% of the original La Rêve vines were replanted by us between 2003-2007.

The Le Rêve Chardonnay vines were not clonally selected, or as Adam put it, they were the “give me anything” clones.  Since Osprey’s purchased the property additional Chardonnay plantings were done using Davis clone 4 and Dijon 95.  Although most of the original Pinot Noir vines were pulled to make way for other red varieties, there are still 1 ¾ acres left, made up of four different clones, but the winery only makes red wine in warm years.  If, by the third week in September the Pinot has reached 22º Brix then it is made as a red wine; if it only reaches 19º, then it will become a sparkling wine.

There are three acres of Gewürztraminer and an additional three of Carmenere, the latter having been made into a varietal for the first time on Long Island.  There is also some Petite Verdot, as well as one hundred vines of Tannat (a red variety native to SW France and widely planted in Uruguay) that are being grown as an experiment.

Adam also has his own wine label, Coffee Pot Cellars, which he started in 2008, since, he said, “I thrive on challenge.”  He buys the fruit from Osprey’s, while his Chardonnay comes from Sam McCullough’s vineyard; the wine is made at Osprey’s.  Coffee Pot is an “in-the-know” kind of brand.  About 750 cases per year are currently being produced and are divided among four wines, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and a Meritage blend.  Regardless of whatever comes in the future, as far as Adam is concerned, he will always have a relationship with Osprey’s Dominion.

Bud Koehler, Bill Tyree, owners, and Adam.  Photo from Adam's FB page

Bud Koehler, Bill Tyree, owners, and Adam. Photo from Adam’s FB page

Indeed, according to the Osprey’s website, Bud “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.”  As a matter of fact, in 2010 Wine Spectator gave the 2007 Merlot a high mark, 90 and described it thus:

This red is balanced and dense, with ripe plum and black cherry framed by smoke and mineral notes. Sleek, focused and expressive.

Also, the 2009 Pinot Noir was named  the “Best Pinot Noir” at the 2012 New York Food and Wine Classic competition.  In fact, the awards list is a pretty long one.  After all, they grow thirteen varieties and make twenty-three different wines.  Visit the website and see for yourself.

Osprey's logo

44075 Main Rd. • Peconic Long Island, NY 11958 • Toll Free: (888) 295-6188 • Local: (631) 765-6188 • Fax: (631) 765-1903

http://www.ospreysdominion.com/

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Channing Daughters Winery

Channing Daughters, entranceChanning Daughters Winery, in Bridgehampton, founded in 1996 by Larry Perrine—soil scientist and oenologist—and Walter Channing—venture capital executive and gifted wood carver—is one of three Hamptons AVA wineries; the others are Wölffer Estate, in Sagaponack and Duckwalk Vineyards in Watermill.   In 2012 Channing Daughters was one of the four founding vineyards of Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, Inc. (LISW), offering the first independently-assessed certificate for sustainable viniculture in the East.  As of 2016 it has grown to 17 members.

There are a total of 73 producers and wine brands in Long Island, most of them located on the North Fork, a separate Long Island AVA.  Of all of them, Channing stands apart from all the rest by its choice to produce wine from varieties that almost no one else on Long Island, let alone the United States, have planted or made into wine.  These include Muscat Ottonel, Malvasia, and Tocai Friulano among the white varieties, and Blaufränkisch, Dornfelder, Refosco, Teroldego, and Lagrein among the reds.  There are, of course the more usual grapes—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, often sourced from other properties, particularly Mudd Vineyards.  Its wines may bear The Hamptons, Long Island, North Fork of Long Island or Long Island AVA.  French, American, Hungarian, and Slovenian oak barrels are used to age many of their wines, while many see only stainless steel.   In other words, there is nothing standard about what they do at this winery.  From all of this one can divine that Channing Daughters is fond of experimentation.  Thus, in the very capable—let’s say gifted—hands of winemaker Christopher Tracy, Channing Daughters makes unique blends and varietal bottlings, a total of thirty in all.

Larry Perrine (rhymes with terrine), was a consultant when he and Walter Channing founded the winery. He became its founding winemaker and partner with Walter Channing, and is now CEO of the enterprise.  He heads the team that actively runs the winery.  These include not only winemaker/partner Christopher Tracy, but also partner/general manager Allison Dubin, vineyard manager Abel Lopez, Jacqui Perrine, Anthony Persico and Debbie Huneken.

Larry, born in 1951, grew up in Southern California, but by the time he graduated from high school he was ready to peregrinate.  While still in California he earned a BA in English and thought to teach, but it turned out that the California school system at the time was retiring teachers faster than it was hiring them.  In the meantime he took jobs in wine shops and took to gardening, which he liked so much that he decided that it would be very nice to make money doing it.  Hence his decision to go back to college and major in soil science at California State Polytechnic University.  Studying soil science wasn’t exactly the same thing as earning an agronomy degree, which is really about how to farm.  Soil science involves hard-core chemistry courses and two years of Calculus, among other things.  He did so well that his professors urged him to go on to graduate school.  Three schools offered him positions, including the University of California at Davis, Cornell University, and the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities.  As Minnesota was the only agricultural school located in an urban setting and Larry had always wanted the experience of living in a city, he chose Minnesota.  It was a good choice for him, as it turned out.  He studied advanced soil science and microbiology.  As part of his studies he worked on soybeans and their nitrogen-fixing capacity (a trait shared with other legumes and even the locust tree).

While living in Minnesota in the late 1970s, Larry came upon a small Minnesota winery that was pioneering cold-climate viticulture and worked a few harvests with them.  Another grower, Elmer Swenson, was busy breeding his own cold-hardy grape varieties, setting the stage for what would become a formal University of Minnesota grape-breeding program.   Eventually it developed into today’s well-respected grape-breeding, viticulture and winemaking program for new hybrids able to withstand the very cold Midwestern winters.

Early in Larry’s life, while still in California, his partner at the time (she later became his wife) turned him on to wine in a serious way, as a result of trips to Europe.  Nevertheless, his work in soybeans and agricultural development led him to involvement with local food cooperatives which in turn resulted in his becoming engaged in politics—food politics, with all that that entailed, including working on political campaigns, raising money, and helping to elect progressive politicians.  He did this for three years, after which he wanted to return to work in agriculture.

It was a New York Times article published around 1980 about the rise of quality wines in the Finger Lakes that persuaded Larry that he should move to upstate New York to return to agriculture.  So began Larry’s stint at a Finger Lakes winery and vineyard on Keuka Lake with a grand stone house in Greek Revival style that was, sadly, in very run-down condition.  It turned out that the wine operation was in the same shape.  There was no wine lab, despite the fact that all the equipment for one had been purchased years before and was left lying around.  It was, in Larry’s words, “a macabre operation.”  He was hired to install the lab with the available equipment—a job for which he was well-suited, given his work as a research scientist.  Dana Keeler, a protégé of Hermann Wiemer, had been recently hired as a winemaking consultant and he and Larry went through the cellar to determine which wines were salvageable and which were not.  It was a good way to learn about wine faults.

In 1983 Larry was admitted to the Food Science and Technology graduate program at Cornell’s New York State Agriculture Experiment Station at Geneva in the Finger Lakes.  He did his Masters program from 1983-85, working on viticulture issues on Long Island.  After Cornell, Larry moved to Long Island and worked for the Mudd family, viticulture pioneers on Long Island, during 1985-86.  This led to his getting a job at the Long Island Horticulture Research and Extension Center in Riverhead as a Research Associate in viticulture, working with the viticulture team at the NYSAES/Geneva, which included Robert Pool, Tom Burr, Roger Pearson, Bruce Reisch and Alan Lakso.  Larry worked as a viticulture researcher for three years focusing on bird control and Botrytis bunch rot management.  His tenure as a Cornell viticulture researcher overlapped with the arrival of Alice Wise, the new Fruit Extension agent (which, of course, included grapes).  When Larry left Cornell in 1988, Alice Wise took over a newly-consolidated viticulture position working for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County as the grape research and extension specialist, a position she still holds today.

He then went on to work at Gristina Vineyards in the fall of 1988, so that he participated in its first vintage.  He stayed with Gristina as winemaker and general manager for six years, but left in early 1994 to pursue his expanding viticulture consulting career.  Larry became a consultant to more than twenty wineries and vineyards in New York State (including Long Island), Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Michigan, for five years.

In 1995 he met Walter Channing, who was looking for a consultant to advise him on improving his vineyard property he’d started planting in 1982.  Tom Drozd, then winemaker at Palmer Vineyards, told Larry about Channing’s search and put them in touch.  So, in 1995, Larry—who had an attorney friend staying with him at the time—went with his friend to meet Walter at his farm.  Walter and Larry immediately connected with one another.  The lawyer then suggested that they formalize a contractual relationship between them.  Within the span of a year Larry went from being a consultant to helping Walter found Channing Daughters Winery in 1996 (a reference to his four daughters), becoming its winemaker and a business partner.

Walter started with a one-acre vineyard planting on his farm in 1982, planted 3 acres of Merlot in 1987, and an additional eight acres of Chardonnay vines in 1991.  There is now a total of 28 acres planted to wine grapes.  About 60 acres of farmland (including the vineyards) are permanently protected through a conservation easement held by the Peconic Land Trust.  Channing Daughters Winery has grown into a 12,000 case winery from 1996 to the present.

About Vineyards

Channing Daughters vines & trellisThe cover crops between rows include a mix of fescue, clover, and rye, and during the growing season these are always kept mowed.

The first wine grapes of the modern era were planted on the east end of Long Island in 1973, and the industry is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  Basic planting decisions include vine spacing.  Vine spacing on Long Island is various, but most of the earliest plantings from the 1970s-1980s were planted 9’ X 8’ (9 feet between rows and 8 feet between vines within a row).  That was the initial recommendation coming from Cornell and was the typical Concord vine spacing.  Over the last 20 years, most new planting are spaced more closely—commonly 8’ between rows and 4-5’ between vines within a row.

As an academic in the 1980s, Larry used to wake up at night pondering the prevailing theories of “vine competition” and the notion that close vine spacing stresses vines, leading to better fruit quality.  Did vines really compete with each other, thereby reducing vine vigor and promoting fruit ripening?  In Bordeaux, for example, vines have traditionally been planted as close as 1 meter by 1 meter, producing modest-sized vines, good yields and ripe fruit (depending on the vintage).  The traditional popular notion, even in Bordeaux, at the time was that the close spacing produced smaller vines and riper fruit.

It even reached the New World.  Opus One, the famous collaboration between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, planted its vines according to the spacing that was used at Mouton-Rothschild in Paulliac, a commune of Bordeaux—1 meter by 2 meters.  The result in the fertile and fairly deep Bale Loam soils (up to 48” rooting depth) was a jungle in the Napa vineyard.  Too much vigor, thus too much growth.  The close spacing that is de rigueur in Bordeaux is not as practical in the flatter and richer soils of parts of Napa Valley.

Busting a Myth: The Theory of Vine Spacing and Competition

When visiting Bordeaux Larry once asked Gerard Seguin, a soil scientist who worked at the INRA (Institut National de Recherche Agricole) about the question of planting density in the region and he replied that the vines were planted closely in order to fill the trellis due to the rather low vigor soils in much of Bordeaux.  Not to devigorate the vines.  In other words, high vine density has less to do with stressing the vines to improve the resulting fruit.  It has more to do with filling the trellis and keeping yields up on less vigorous soils.  So the theory of vine competition appears to be a myth, though a very-well entrenched one.  Another point to bear in mind is that in Bordeaux as well as in other traditional vine regions in France as well as much of the rest of Europe, close planting also reflects the fact that when vineyards were first planted centuries ago there were no machines, which require wider rows; a person, a horse, an ox, could easily pass along closely-spaced rows.

Larry also explained something about vine canes.  A cane is a series of buds on a hardened off shoot that grew last year.   These buds produce new shoots upon budbreak.  In wide vine spacing (8’ between vines) if there is a four-foot cane (fairly long), for example, you’d find that the vine will, physiologically, provide more nourishment to the proximal and distal buds on the canes, leaving the middle ones less nourished and less likely to produce fruitful shoots.  In this case it would be better, then, to have a second two-foot cane and let them  overlap the center of a 4 ft cane from the same vine, so that one has a double cane for a short distance and the entire length of the trellis is filled.  With two-foot canes one has, in effect, eliminated the middle buds.  As Larry points out, overlapping canes is a growers’ technique that is not found in textbooks.  However, with closer spacing between vines, this issue is mitigated.

Early Variety/Clone and Rootstock Work on Long Island

In 1977 a non-replicated varietal grape planting was installed at the LIHREC in Riverhead.  That planting was subsequently replaced in 1982 by a replicated wine grape varietal/rootstock experiment known as the Dyson Trial .   The focus was on Riesling and Chardonnay, two vinifera varieties that had been grafted to six separate American rootstocks.  Additional varieties were also included.  The Dyson Trial was also undertaken in three other viticultural areas of the State—the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes and Lake Erie.  Over a lifetime of at least a decade, these trials singled out specific rootstocks as preferred because they produced smaller vines and promoted earlier fruit ripening.

According to Larry, “In the early 1990s, there emerged an interest in evaluating the performance of different ‘clones’ or sub-types of commercially important wine grape varieties on Long Island.  This led to the planting of a new experimental vineyard at the Riverhead station by Alice Wise and Libby Tarleton. The focus was primarily on Chardonnay and Merlot, but also included numerous other varieties.  This clonal and varietal evaluation trial is still yielding results as it gradually evolves to eliminate some varieties.

“This ongoing trial on Long Island is an outgrowth of work done in Burgundy in the 1950s and ‘60s by Raymond Bernard, a research viticulturist in Dijon, Burgundy.   His group discovered then that there were many types and subtypes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Burgundy.  These different ‘clones’ produced different aromatics, cluster sizes, levels of acidity, and amount of fruit sugar.

“New grape vines are produced by selecting dormant cuttings or ‘budwood’ from a known planting of a specific grape variety.  New vines are ‘cloned’ from ‘mother vines’ to keep the genes identical and the varieties ‘true’.  Seeds are not saved as they, if planted, would not produce the same grape variety.

“Traditionally, vineyard managers used mass selection (an arbitrary harvest of budwood from of a varietal planting) of cuttings to produce new, baby vines.  These cutting were then grafted to resistant rootstock.

“However, Raymond Bernard, who was asked by his industry to determine why the region’s vineyards were in long-term decline (it turned out to be caused by grape viruses), saw differences in the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines that had been newly planted.   He not only helped ‘clean-up’ Burgundy’s new vine supply system, he also began identifying and selecting what he saw as clear subtypes or ‘clones’ with the most desirable wine characteristics for different conditions and terroirs.  (Some clones, for example, were unsuitable for Burgundy but would fare well in Champagne—a much cooler region with a shorter growing season, thus needing the right amount of acidity at harvest.)

“Finally, in the 1980s, New World viticulturists became interested in these sparingly available Old World clones.   Initial imports of the clonal cuttings ended up spending years in quarantine upon arrival in the United States until they could be certified virus-free and safe to plant in American soil by the UC Davis Plant Material Services program.  Over time agreements were made that facilitated the import of the clones and by the mid-‘80s, numerically identified clones of were being offered for sale by American vine nurseries.

“For example, Channing Daughters has a block of 8 ½ acres planted to ten different Chardonnay clones, including Burgundy clones 95, 96, and 76.   One of the advantages of using many clones is genetic diversity and potential wine complexity.  The clones that are in the field have been selected for their wine quality, and include not only the three Burgundy clones, but clones identified in California (e.g., at UC Davis), and there is also a Muscat clone of Chardonnay with distinctive flavors and quite aromatic.  Chardonnay Daughters makes a field blend out of the mixed clonal plantings and calls it Clones.”

[End of Perrine interviews]

Christopher Tracy, the winemaker, is proudly non-ideological in his approach, and will make some wines with wild yeasts, others with inoculated ones. Some wines are filtered, others not. Everything depends on what he perceives to be the best way to work with a particular batch of juice. Varieties can differ widely in what kinds of treatment they will best respond to. In consequence of making so many different wines—often only differentiated on the label by a vineyard name—it’s very evident that the philosophy of this winery is strongly terroir-oriented. It also means that all the wines are made in relatively small batches. Since production of each wine is small, there is a likelihood that they will sell out sooner than later.

On the other hand, Christopher is very firm about his preference for corks over screwcaps. It has to do with a strong romantic streak in him—a love of the process of extracting the cork and hearing that satisfying ‘pop’ as the cork comes out. He’s convinced that cork taint has been largely—though not entirely—vanquished, thanks to new technology and treatment of raw cork, which one must remember is the product of the bark of a living tree.

The winery website describes Clones as:

“a barrel-fermented chardonnay with a skin-fermented twist! Clones is an exotic white blend that is based primarily on ten distinct clones of Chardonnay and also includes three other grape varieties.  The 2010 version is composed of 89% Chardonnay, 8% Gewürztraminer, 2% Tocai Friulano and 1% Pinot Grigio.  The wine was fermented and raised in Slovenian and French oak (7 hogsheads and 3 barrels) of which 11% were new and 89% were neutral (17 months in barrel). All of the wine was fermented with ambient/wild yeast and went through a ‘natural’ secondary or malo-lactic fermentation.”

  Some Other Channing Daughters Wines

A selection of some other interesting wines in the Channing portfolio includes the following (with the descriptions taken from their Website):

Channing Daughters Due Uve bottle2010 Due Uve  “Due Uve from 2010 which is just a fabulous red wine vintage to boot. Here is a new vintage, a new blend (more Syrah), and a new experience. Our 2010 Due Uve (two grapes) is a blend of 84% Syrah and 16% Merlot. The Syrah comes from the Mudd West vineyard in Hallocksville and the Merlot comes from Sam’s Vineyard in Aquebogue. All the fruit was hand-harvested, de-stemmed into one ton bins, stomped on by foot, punched down by hand and fermented with naturally occurring wild yeast. After primary fermentation the wine was racked to all old neutral barrels, where it spent sixteen months before being gravity bottled without fining or filtration.”

 

Channing Daughters Mudd 2007 bottle2007 MUDD  “The 2007 Vintage, along with 2005 and now 2010, is considered one of the best growing seasons for ripening red grapes on the East End of Long Island, ever. We believe our 2007 MUDD is a scrumptious reflection of that great 2007 vintage. Not only is it delicious now, but because it is just a baby, it will improve in the bottle for at least six to eight years and drink well for a solid dozen! Our 2007 MUDD is composed of 60% Merlot, 21% Syrah, 9% Dornfelder, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Blaufränkisch. All the fruit was hand-harvested on the North Fork and de-stemmed into small one ton bins where it was stomped on by foot and punched down by hand. After primary fermentation, the wine was racked to a variety of barrels, hogsheads and puncheons (42% new oak, 23% 1yr old, 16% 2yr old, 16% 3yr old and 3% 4yr old) where it spent twenty-three months before being bottled by gravity without fining or filtration on September 22nd 2009.”

2010 Mosaico “Mosaico is an exotic field blend that comes from a complanted block in our Sylvanus vineyard on our estate in Bridgehampton. Our 2010 Mosaico was fermented with naturally occurring ambient yeast and is composed of 32% Pinot Grigio, 29% Chardonnay, 14% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Muscat Ottonel, 7% Tocai Friulano and 8% Gewürztraminer. This is a dry white wine where all the varieties were grown, harvested, pressed and fermented together in a stainless steel tank (86%) and a new French oak puncheon (14%). All the fruit was hand-picked and whole cluster-pressed, except for the Muscat and Gewürztraminer which were fermented on their skins and blended back in. . . . All the fruit was hand-picked and whole cluster-pressed, except for the Muscat and Gewürztraminer which were fermented on their skins and blended back in. . . .  The 2010 Mosaico spent a year on its lees and was bottled by gravity on September 13, 2011. . . .”

As one can see from the description above, each wine, including the single-varietals, has some judicious blending to add complexity and balance, making the wines even more interesting.  (The notes are very technical, testifying to the seriousness of the winery.)  Channing also makes eight different rosés, each distinguished by choice of varieties and vineyards—for Channing believes in terroir and seek to express it in each of their wines.  There are no wines made like this anywhere else—but then, it could be argued that each and every winemaker and every winery take pride in making wines distinct from all others.  That, of course, is what making wine is about.  And that leaves us, the consumer, with thousands of choices, thirty of which come from Channing Daughters.

There is one other thing that distinguishes Channing Daughters winery from all others, and that is the charming and witty sculpture by Walter that is seeded in the vineyard and public spaces.  To wit (pun intended):

Channing Daughters, sculptures, 2 This carving, made from a tree stump, adorns the area around the winery.

 

 

 

 

 

Channing Daughters, sculptures, 4And this one greets a visitor to the tasting room.  How can one not like a winery like this?

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly, Walter Channing shall carve no more, for he died on March 12, 2015, after a long illness.

Channing Daughters LogoChanning Daughters contact strip