Tag Archives: North Fork Wineries

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Paumanok Vineyards

“At Paumanok we practice viticulture that allows us to achieve our goal of growing the ripest, healthiest grapes our vineyards can produce while managing the vineyards in a responsible, sustainable way.  In general, we follow the program and principles of New York State’s Sustainable Viticulture Program set forth here: VineBalance, by Cornell Cooperative Extension with whom Paumanok has had a productive relationship since my parents planted our first vines in 1983.  We believe that the most important factor in making great wine is starting with the healthiest, ripest fruit possible.  Growing grapes in order to achieve this goal and growing them sustainably are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are one and the same.”

–Statement from an essay by Kareem Massoud, “Sustainable Viticulture at Paumanok”

Established in 1983, the 103-acre estate (with 72 acres currently planted to vine) is entirely owned and managed by Ursula and Charles Massoud, and their three sons, Salim, Kareem, and Nabeel .  The main red varieties are Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon; the main white ones are Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.   As for clones, a field already planted with Cabernet Sauvignon was replanted with clone 412, which produces very tiny grapes, which provide more flavor and tannins (it was developed by ENTAV/INRA of France, to which a royalty of $.20-.25 per plant is paid).  However, there are no experimental plots as such here, for, as pointed out by Kareem, everything planted in the vineyard could be said to be experimental.

The dense planting of the vineyards (at 1,100 vines per acre) they say produces more concentrated fruit and therefore higher quality wines.  Their wines are only made from estate-grown grapes and production is limited to just under 9,000 cases.

The first vineyard was planted across the street from the winery in 1982 (42 acres) but was not acquired until the late 1980s; the first Paumanok vines were planted in 1983, and the winery opened in 1991 with the release of the first estate-bottled wines; 12-15 acres were planted in a new field in 2005.  They had to apply one to two tons of lime (calcium carbonate) per acre for the first twenty years on their original plots to bring soil acidity into balance so that it is now stabilized to the higher pH that is more amenable for vinifera varieties.

A more recent addition to Paumanok vineyards is a plot of 25 acres that was purchased from the Riverhead School Board in June of 2014, which will be planted to Chenin Blanc, the signature grape of the property.  The property had originally been purchased by the school district for a school that was never built.  The proceeds from the sale add to the coffers of the school district and represent an important resource for Paumanok, which will plant the first five acres to Chenin Blanc in 2015.

Certainly the newest and biggest addition occurred in August 2018, when Paumanok acquired Palmer Vineyards on Sound Avenue. This has added another 40 acres of vineyards to Paumanok’s holdings. It is a good fit with regards to the varieties planted at Palmer. Perhaps most appealing is the Albariño, which has been a great success at Palmer, so much so that other wineries are also planting the variety. Indeed, Paumanok has ordered an acre’s worth of this variety that is to be planted next year. The plan is that the new Paumanok planting will eventually be incorporated with the Albariño at Palmer to make even more wine of that variety. Meanwhile, the relatively small planting of Riesling at Palmer will be used to augment the larger Riesling planting at Paumanok.

The juice from the Palmer vineyards will be fermented at that winery but will be finished at Paumanok’s facility. Kareem will be responsible for all the winemaking for both properties.

Kareem, the eldest son, has been the winemaker in partnership with his father, Charles, for the last sixteen years.  He also works very closely with his brother Nabeel, who manages the vineyard.  Salim, the second son, is the factotum of the family business.  For the Massouds, “sustainable” means “healthy,” for “the riper and healthier the berries the better the wine made with the least intervention.”

In the essay he provided me for this article, Kareem writes that “My perennial barometer of whether what we are doing is sustainable is the biodiversity in our vineyard: lady bugs, praying mantis, dragon flies, earth worms, etc., are present in our vineyard in abundance.  As you probably know, some farms and vineyards actually  introduce populations of some of these beneficial insects as biological controls.  So the fact that we have them without having to introduce them says to me that we must be doing something right. We maintain a permanent cover of grasses and wild clovers and other vegetation [between the rows] and under the vine which create a habitat for all the biodiversity cited above.”  In other words, at Paumanok they have naturally achieved the symbiotic diversity that is essential to sustainable viticulture.

Though Paumanok practices sustainable viticulture, Kareem thinks that organic farming, at least as understood by the general public, is a myth, insofar as organic farming allows the use of both copper and sulfur; nevertheless, some organic producers will claim that they are not “spraying chemicals” (but what are copper or sulfur if not chemicals?).  Such farmers are therefore using the term “organic more as a marketing tool” than acknowledging the actuality of what organic farming entails.  It is, in other words, a matter of the use , or misuse, of language.  To him, it is more important to be “selecting more benign synthetic pesticides relative to more toxic organic (not an oxymoron) controls.  The best example of a toxic organic control is copper.  Copper does a great job at controlling downy mildew, but it is a heavy metal which is something we would rather not spray as it will destroy our soils as it accumulates in the soil over time.   The sulfur used in [both conventional and organic] farming is made as a byproduct of petroleum production.  There are numerous synthetic pesticides which are far more benign that we may opt to use instead.”  Indeed, for Paumanok, organic is incidental to the outcome at the vineyard; however, he remains open-minded about aspects of biodynamics, as he thinks the compost tea preparations may be of value, but he remains skeptical of the ‘hocus-pocus’ associated with it, such as following astrological signs or stirring the compost teas in two different directions (the ‘biodynamic’ part of biodynamics).  On the other hand, if the mystical aspects of biodynamics could be scientifically proven to be efficacious, he’d use it if it meant growing better fruit.

As Kareem points out, “at Paumanok, we manage our vineyard as sustainably as possible. . . . we do not use any more inputs (crop protectants, micro nutrients and fertilizers) than necessary to grow the ripest fruit possible.”  For example, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is driven by self-seeded ground cover, mostly rye grass and sorghum.  The cover is allowed to grow into the vine rows and is kept under control by a special vineyard mower that is towed by a tractor.  This machine, the Fischer GL4K, is described on the manufacturer’s Web site as “the world’s first hinged mid row and undervine slasher, offering total chemical free weed control solutions for growers with delved, ‘V’ shaped or uneven grounds.”  It does, however, have some drawbacks, one of which is that it is capable of damaging or even cutting off the vine from its roots, as can be seen in the photograph to the right.  Kareem explains that the vineyard crew is still learning how to use the machine without causing damage to the vines.  The point is that it should allow control of weed growth in the vineyard without the need to use herbicides at all.  (There is a video of the machine in action on Paumanok’s Facebook page.)

Further IPM control is managed by:

. . . employing] various IPM (Integrated Pest Management) tactics to reduce our reliance on pesticides.  For example, we perform the following activities on the entire vineyard: manual-shoot positioning with catch wires and clips to hold the shoots up straight, suckering, shoot-thinning, fruit-thinning or “green-harvesting”, hedging and leaf removal in the fruit zone.  All of these practices increase the vines’ natural ability to resist disease (such as powdery mildew or downy mildew) by allowing UV rays from sunlight to burn off the inoculum [material that introduces disease to a previously healthy plant] and generally make conditions less favorable for mildew and other pathogens by creating a microclimate within the vine that minimizes moisture and allows it to dry quickly after a rain event by allowing better ventilation.  In any vineyard, but particularly on Long Island [emphasis mine], these activities are essential to give the vine its best chance of naturally fending off pests such as powdery mildew which would take hold much more easily and rapidly – and require more spraying – had we not done these activities.  We carry out these practices as diligently, meticulously and thoroughly as possible.  What does that mean?  For example, when we drop fruit, i.e., green-harvest, we don’t do it just once but repeatedly until harvest.  Some vines may have been visited four, five, six or more times (for green-harvesting alone) to ensure that only the cleanest, most desirable fruit remains hanging on the vine upon harvest.

In addition, “Several of the pesticides we use would qualify for an organic program, however, there are some grape pests for which we feel there is no satisfactory organic control [my emphasis] that we know of at this time, such as black rot, phomopsis and botrytis.  Given that grapevines must be sprayed (if you know of a grower that never sprays their vines, please let me know), our belief from day one has been to use the most effective, least toxic material available regardless of whether that product is labeled for organic or biodynamic use or not.” Paumanok has therefore invested in state-of-the-art spraying technology.  Kareem says that “we use a recycling tunnel sprayer to spray our vineyard.  This sprayer greatly reduces drift, and, as the name implies, recycles much of what would have otherwise been lost as drift.  This results in a reduced environmental impact and improved profitability, two key pillars of sustainability.”

With respect to the Cornell University Agricultural Extension VineBalance program, Paumanok is very involved; it has the book and follows it.  Indeed, Ursula Massoud is on the Cornell Cooperative Extension Advisory Committee for viticulture.  VineBalance is working towards a certification program for New York grape growers, but there are politics involved that inhibit its advancement, which has to do with growers and producers of juice grapes by corporations like Welch’s.  They do not want third-party certification versus the wine-grape growers who do want it.  So the certification program is still in development. Another way in which Paumanok shows its commitment to sustainability is by the installation of the first solar panels at any vineyard.  As Kareem points out, the family lives on the property and drinks water from their own well, so they have one more reason to be responsible custodians of the lands they farm.  Theirs is a “terroirist” stewardship that respects the land and its produce.

In the vineyard they make sure that at harvest the vines are all clean before the machines go through.  (Their machinery uses synthetic food-grade hydraulic fluid (costing $20-25/gallon) in order to minimize the amount of industrial fluid that can find its way into the environment.  Nevertheless, they prefer hand-picking, but to ensure that boxes of picked grapes never touch the ground, an empty one is used underneath the box with grapes to keep the fruit clean.  The goal always is to pick clean as well as healthy grapes.

Kareem has one last thought:

As Paumanok continues to experiment in the vineyard and improve on our [30+] years of viticultural experience on Long Island, we will pursue whatever methodology allows us to achieve our goal of growing the healthiest, ripest grapes possible regardless of whether that method is known as organic, practicing-organic, biodynamic, IPM, sustainable, etc.  There is only one dogma to which we will adhere:

GREAT WINE IS MADE WITH THE HEALTHIEST, RIPEST GRAPES OBTAINABLE.

Consequently, given all the above, Paumanok joined the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers group, becoming the twentieth member as of November 2015.

And the results show in the wine that Kareem, as winemaker, produces at Paumanok.  For me the proof is in one of the finest Sauvignon Blanc wines made in this country that I’ve tasted, and an excellent Chenin Blanc that is unique in Long Island. Paumanok also sells:  steel-fermented Chardonnay, barrel-fermented Chardonnay, two Chenin Blancs, Cabernet Franc, three different Merlots, two Cabernet Sauvignons, a late-harvest Riesling, a late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc, two Rosés, and several blends, all made by what Kareem calls “minimalist” wine making (he dislikes the term “natural wine making,” which implies something that it really is not).

The July 6, 2015 issue of the NorthForker has an article, “Long Island wines receive record-breaking reviews in The Wine Advocate” which reports:

Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue also earned some impressive numbers, with four scores of 93 and three scores of 92.

“In the world of wine, Robert Parker has been recognized as possibly the world’s most influential wine critic,” said Paumanok winemaker Kareem Massoud. “We think of [wine ratings] as a necessary evil. Like it or not, people are going to evaluate your wine and give your wine a score. In spite of all of the limitations of relying on a number, it still feels good to end up with a highly rated wine.”

Massoud said Mark Squires of WA visited the winery in March of 2015 and later requested a second set of samples of the wines he tasted, a common practice for wine critics.

“Even the best critics will get palate fatigue,” Massoud explained.

One of the Paumanok standouts for Squires was its 93-point 2007 Merlot Tuthill’s Lane.

“Here, [Paumanok] makes a wonderful Merlot,” Squires wrote. “Full-bodied and caressing on the palate, this shows very fine depth, but it retains its elegance all the while.”

All in all, 23 of Kareem’s wines earned a score of 90 or more.  That is more than any other winery on the Island and a remarkable achievement.

Most recently, Paumanok was named NY Winery of the Year 2015 by the NY Wine and Food Classic held in August at Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes.  This is the second time that the winery has been so honored.  Its 2014 Medium-Sweet Riesling was declared best white wine in the competition.  See Edible East End’s article.

title_tastingsBased on an interview with Kareem and Nabeel Massoud on 3 May 2011 with additions from “Sustainable Viticulture at Paumanok Vineyards,” an essay by Kareem; last updated September 15, 2018

Paumanok GPS Coordinates

40°56’54.38″ N
72°36’12.18″ W

PAUMANOK Vineyards
North Fork of Long Island
1074 Main Road (Route 25)
P.O. Box 741
Aquebogue, NY 11931

Phone: (631) 722-8800
Fax: (631) 722-5110
Email: info@paumanok.com

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Palmer Vineyards

Based on interviews with Miguel Martin & Josh Karp in October 2010; updated May & August 2018

Palmer Vineyards was opened to business in 1986 when Bob Palmer, a New York City advertising and marketing executive, purchased farmland on the North Fork of Long Island in 1983. He  built what was then the most modern winery on the island and planted a vineyard. Before long, using his marketing savvy and traveling worldwide to promote his new venture and its product, Palmer became one of the best-known LI wineries.  Since then many other vineyards and wineries have been established on the East End, some of them even larger and more modern. Yet Palmer still has one of the largest vineyards, at 100 acres planted to vines (in two parcels, each of 50 acres), with an annual production of 10,000 to 12,000 cases, including red and white wines, a rosé, and a traditional-method sparkling wine.

Until 2018, Palmer’s winemaker was Miguel Martín, who was hired by Mr. Palmer in 2006 to succeed Tom Drozd as winemaker. Miguel an experienced and highly knowledgeable vintner had previously worked at, among others, Robert Mondavi in California, Caliterra in Chile, and Gonzalez Byass in Spain. While living in Barcelona (he worked in the Penedés wine region of Cataluña) he and his wife, Ellen, who is from the Hamptons area, saw an ad in a trade publication for a winemaker in Long Island. When Palmer took Miguel on he was told that he had free rein to do whatever he deemed fit to run the winery and make wine. It was an offer Miguel could not turn down, so he moved back to the Island with his family and took over winemaking at Palmer. He has done exactly as Palmer told him to do, making very good, often excellent wines, and constantly extending Palmer’s offerings: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Viognier. He was also the first to plant Albariño–a Spanish variety from Galicia– in the region in 2010. Its wine is aromatic, with a touch of spice, yet dry, and it became an immediate hit.

Over the years, Miguel continued to introduce a new range of wines. The latest, released in 2018, is Reposo, a dessert wine made from raisined, botritised Gewürztraminer grapes left on the vine for weeks after harvest. The grapes were then fermented in used brandy casks and allowed to age for eight years before being bottled and released. A fine account of the production of this wine can be found at Edible Long Island: Palmer Reposo wine.

I’d visited Palmer Vineyards a few times before, but in mid-October, 2010, I arrived at the time of the harvest. I observed first-hand the work of a mechanical harvester—a $300,000 behemoth that is share-owned with another vineyard in order to make it more affordable. The harvester is used for collecting the grapes so efficiently that it can complete a 200-yard row in about 10 minutes or less, with little damage to the fruit, but of course without the selectivity that comes with hand-picking. Obviously, this is not the method the winery uses for producing top-quality wines with prices to match, but rather is one means of producing decent wines at affordable prices. In this case the vineyard lot in question was planted with Merlot, and a crew of experienced vineyard workers efficiently went through the rows to be harvested, lifting and fixing the bird netting to expose the grape clusters. The harvester straddles a row and using a set of mechanical beaters shakes the vines so that the ripe grapes fall to a conveyor belt of plastic cups that carry the grapes up to a collection grid that dumps the grapes into either of two mechanical arms—one on either side of the harvester—with bins large enough to hold about a ton-and-a-half of fruit each. When the bins are full—after four or five rows have been harvested—the harvester delivers its largess to a stainless-steel gondola with a capacity of five to six tons. Once the gondola is filled with grapes, it proceeds to the winery, where it is immediately hooked up, by means of a 4-inch diameter hose, to a pump that then feeds the grapes into a destemmer-crusher.

The destemmer-crusher is a compact machine that accomplishes two things at once: it removes any stems or leaves from the grapes by means of a steel rotating spindle with long steel pins, hurtling them out at one end of the machine while the grapes pass through, by gravity, to the crusher. The crusher does just that to the fruit, which is to say that it crushes the grapes enough to break their skins and allow the juice to flow out. (Pressing is a much more forceful way of getting the maximum juice out of the grapes, leaving behind only the pomace—but more on that at a later time.)

On a subsequent visit in late October, I observed a handpicked harvest, where Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were being selectively clipped, stems and grapes together, and delivered to the winery. This time, a crew received the bins of grapes and dumped them on a sorting table. Any bad bunches were removed and the rest pushed into the destemmer-crusher, which this time was piling the removed stems so quickly that they needed to be regularly removed by pitchfork and placed in a wagon. These grapes were destined for the high-end wines made at Palmer.

So, back at the winery, after a day’s harvest, I had a chance to sit down with Miguel and talk about another matter that is of special significance to this series of posts on viticulture in LI: the question of terroir, which is something that has long been discussed, argued over, embraced as a concept of agriculture in France, while seriously questioned in the United States.

Here is a classic statement about it by one of its adherents:

‘The very French notion of terroir looks at all ‘the natural conditions which influence the biology of the vinestock and thus the composition of the grape itself. The terroir is the coming together of the climate, the soil and the landscape. It is the combination of an infinite number of factors: temperatures by night and by day, rainfall distribution, hours of sunlight, slope and drainage, to name but a few. All these factors react with each other to form, in each part of the vineyard, what French wine growers call a terroir.’ –Bruno Prats, the proprietor of Château Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux, as quoted in The Vintner’s Art: How Great Wines are Made, by Hugh Johnson and James Halliday (1992)

(One of the factors not named explicitly above is the human one: culture, politics, agricultural practices, even belief systems play a part in terroir. In other words, human intervention, such as the choice of varieties to be grown, the vine density, pruning and training methods, how the vine rows are laid out—e.g., to take advantage of sun or to deal with prevailing winds—etc.)

According to Miguel, the most important issue in LI is the climate (which includes the weather), as it is the one element that cannot be controlled, being highly variable and therefore the greatest challenge to both the viticulturist and the vintner. In 2009, for example, the vineyard lost 10-15% of harvest due to heavy rains, but had to spend more in order to retain the fruit that was still hanging. Indeed, climate is definitely a controlling factor in terms of site choice, viticultural practices as mentioned in the paragraph above, and dealing with such issues as vine diseases and pests, which is particularly problematic given the high humidity that prevails in LI. Thus, virtually all vineyards on the North Fork , including Palmer, use double-cordon training with Vertical Shoot Positioning (which is explained in my introductory post to this series, Viticulture in Long Island, introduction to Parts 2-xx).

With respect to the soil as a part of the concept of terroir, Miguel is firm in saying that the effects of soil alone are exaggerated, and he cites for evidence an article published in The New York Times in May of 2007, by Harold McGee and Daniel Patterson, “Talk Dirt to Me.” The point is made in the article that what we like to call goût de terroir (taste of the earth), is in fact not at all the result of rocks and soil alone, but more the result of the fermenting yeasts and human intervention. “Plants don’t really interact with rocks,” explains Mark Matthews, a plant physiologist at the University of California, Davis who studies vines. “They interact with the soil, which is a mixture of broken-down rock and organic matter. And plant roots are selective. They don’t absorb whatever’s there in the soil and send it to the fruit. If they did, fruits would taste like dirt.” He continues, “Any minerals from the solid rock that vine roots do absorb — sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, a handful of others — have to be dissolved first in the soil moisture. Most of them are essential nutrients, and they mainly affect how well the plant as a whole grows.” This insight is a clarification of the soil factor in terroir, but would seem to put to rest the notion of a goût de terroir as something discernible in wine.

In the Palmer vineyard, historically a combination of both natural and synthetic composts has been used based on soil needs, such as additional nitrogen or phosphate. The lack of either of these would be visible in the vine leaves by means of certain patterns of discoloration. Indeed, in what should be seen as a move towards a more organic viticulture, Josh wrote in an e-mail: “With some (much needed) advice from Barbara Shinn I have started a [natural] compost pile. At Palmer we always put the pomace back into the fields along with the prunings from the winters’ pruning but a [natural] compost I feel will affect the soil faster and with more nutrients.”

Palmer, like most East End vineyards, uses clones designed for late blooming and early ripening in its newer plantings, such as of Albariño, Viognier, and Muscat, in order to avoid the damages inflicted by spring frosts and autumn weather. Clover (which is self-seeding) is planted for ground cover between the rows, because it is low-growing and nitrogen-fixing. Copper-sulfate sprays are used up to one month before the harvest. One should only spray the foliates, not the fruit (there is a type of curtain spray system used for this—it has a trough that recovers and recycles dripped spray so that it doesn’t enter the soil, an important factor, as high levels of copper in the soil can be toxic to the topsoil biota). As harvest-time approaches, the copper sprays are put aside and alternative, more environmentally-friendly sprays such as Serenade or Stylet oil are used. (Stylet oil is a highly-purified white mineral oil which is extremely versatile and it functions as an effective insecticide, fungicide, and miticide.) Thus, if there is a late appearance of, say, powdery mildew, it can then be dealt with in a way that poses no risk to the plant, the fruit, the land, or the worker. Furthermore, said Josh: “Any product used is always being checked to see if it can be used less (fewer times used along with a lower rate) with the same effectiveness or can be replaced for a product that can be organic or that is considered less harsh.”

What this all means is that supervision of the vineyard is a constant, requiring that both the winemaker and vineyard manager are checking daily for signs of disease, pests, vine malnourishment, and so on. For example, overlapping canes lead to problems of rot, so must be corrected regularly by the vineyard workers in the field. Bird netting (seen in the picture wrapped and marked for the row on which each will be set) has to be carried, after veraison, into the rows of vines and set properly, otherwise birds would decimate the crop. (The nets do not trap the birds, but merely keep them from reaching the grape bunches.) That still leaves raccoons, deer, foxes, and other vermin to feed on low-lying fruit. Groundhogs need to be monitored too, for their tunnels and underground burrows can heave vines and kill them. One must love nature in a tough way in the vineyard. This year Palmer has installed both bat and owl boxes to help keep insects and animal pests under better control. Unfortunately, owls and bats seem to be rather particular about where they nest and the offer of domiciles has so far gone ignored. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t around, though. Both are among the vineyards natural friends, but there are also insect predators who feed on aphids, mites, caterpillars, moths, and so on. Ladybugs, for instance, are a natural control for aphids, which suck the vine leaves and can cause them to wither. In other words, to the extent possible, natural pest controls are used.

What all this has meant is that Palmer Vineyards was very ready to join the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing group some years ago, and in May 2018 was again recertified as complying with the standards of LISW, the Vinebalance Workbook, and international standards of sustainability.

Bob Palmer died in January of 2009, and though the winery continues as he had envisioned it, his family had put the property up for sale.  In July 2018 it was purchased by Paumanok Vineyards, owned by the Massoud family. Paumanok had been seeking to expand and Palmer fit it plans very well. Unfortunately, while they held on to most of the Palmer staff, they could not justify having two winemakers and had to let Miguel go. Kareem Massoud, the very gifted winemaker at Paumanok, will handle winemaking at both wineries. The story was published in the Wine Spectator: Paumanok Vineyards buys Palmer

Miguel is held in such high esteem that when it was reported that he was now unemployed, Wölffer Estate immediately contacted him and offered him the position of Assistant Winemaker to Roman Roth. But then, they’d known Miguel for years, and he also makes the white wines for Roanoke Vineyards, owned by Richie Pisacano, who is the vineyard manager at Wolffer. That story is told in an article in Edible East End: Miguel Martin moves to Wölffer Estate

Palmer Vineyards

Aquebogue, Long Island, New York 11931

631.722.9436

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Martha Clara Vineyard

In 1978 Robert Entenmann—of the Entenmann’s Bakery family—purchased a potato farm in Riverhead and transformed it into a Thoroughbred horse farm, once breeding up to two hundred mares.  Apparently he was eager to do something new and different after a time, so he converted the farm into what is now Martha Clara Vineyards—named after his mother—in 1995.  The vineyard, comprising 113 contiguous acres out of a total of 205 that compose the Big E farm, is now planted with fourteen varieties of grapes, including Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Semillon, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Malbec.  Because so much was invested in creating a first-class vineyard with its equipment and facilities, a planned winery was never built.   Meanwhile, Clydesdale draft horses for the weekend carriage rides available to visitors still graze in a paddock, and there is a small zoo with Baby-Doll sheep, Scottish Highland cattle, goats, a donkey, a llama, and other farm animals for the entertainment of children.  Martha Clara has a family-oriented visitor’s center, and there is a very spacious tasting room where there are twenty-five wines to choose from, including several quaffable versions, some of them rather sweet.

However, in April 2018 the property was sold by the Entenmann family for $15 million to the Rivero-González family. This would appear to be a major step in the family’s ambition for international recognition. The property had been on the market since 2014.

The Rivero-González family said in a release that it owns an eponymous winery and vineyard in Parras, Coahuila, Mexico. It has “15 years [of] experience in the Mexican wine industry and is excited about this acquisition, which will help the members of this family expand their interests beyond Mexico.” María Rivero will run the family’s wine operations at Martha Clara. The Vineyard Website says that “the Riveros are willing to work with the local community in order to encourage and enhance the legacy of the former owners of Martha Clara Winery in a successful way.” Further plans have not been announced as yet.

This makes it the second wine-producer on the East End to be owned by Latin-Americans; the other is Laurel Lake, which is in Chilean hands.

At present all the wines are made at Premium Wine Group under the watchful direction of the new winemaker, María Rivero. The word is that a winery will eventually be built on the Martha Clara property.

Jim Thompson came to Martha Clara from Michigan  as Vineyard Manager in 2009. Steve Mudd told Jim, at the time of his first interview with Martha Clara, that in the North Fork the vineyard will be soaked with moisture every morning, but of course the grapes and vines need to be dry in order to develop healthily.  This is because Long Island vineyards are on very flat land, so that there is no natural circulation of air unless a breeze comes up.

Originally, the vines were planted in rows that were treated with herbicides to such an extent that they were as smooth and clean as a billiard ball, but, since coming on board, Jim prevailed on Mr. Entenmann to reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides (he liked a trim, clean look in his fields) and allow cover crops to grow, such that now even toads have returned to the vineyard—a particularly good sign, given that toads are especially vulnerable to toxins, which they can absorb through the skin.  The cover crops are white clover and low mow grass which is a combination of shorter growing fescues and a combination of the two.

Given the very flat, horizontal terrain of the property, Jim said that 7-foot spacing between rows is too narrow for tall vines that may reach 7 feet in height or more, because it means that when the sun is at its zenith of about 45° in the summertime, a shadow is still cast across the edge of a row immediately adjacent of another row, thus reducing solar exposure under the vines themselves, making it difficult to dry the soil adequately.  It means that there is good sun from, say, 10:00am to 2:00pm, whereas a spacing of 8 feet could mean that the soil could enjoy the effects of the sun from 9:00am to 4:00pm.  Presently, the spacing is 5′ x 7′ except for twenty acres that are 4′ x 7.’

He also remarked that, “It is a very different thing to sustain 15 acres versus 100.  It is one thing to scout 15 acres and another to do so with 14 varieties on 100 acres.  At Martha Clara, each variety is planted in at least two separate, non-contiguous blocks, so with 14 varieties we would have at least 24 blocks to scout, but it is more likely as many as 40.  Clearly, with this many varieties in that many blocks it is difficult to manage.  Scouting is time-consuming and needs to be done on a pretty regular basis to catch infestations before they can spread and do serious damage.”

“Fortunately, he went on, “Martha Clara is well laid-out for a right-brain mentality, with very straight rows which are perfect for mechanical harvesting, which is essential for a vineyard of this size.  After all, it would take 20 to 30 people in the vineyard to pick enough grapes to fill one stainless-steel fermentation tank, whereas the harvester can do so in a matter of an hour or so.”

Martha Clara is “a vineyard in a box” according to Jim, for its 101 acres of planted vines are hemmed in on all sides by neighboring structures.  It is also one of the four properties that forms the core group of the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers certification program.  In preparation for that, Jim says that , “I have narrowed my herbicide strip to 1/3 the total row width or less, I am doing some bud thinning which I anticipate/expect will reduce pesticide requirements. We have hired an intern whom I expect to be scouting for diseases and insects on a regular basis. I am reading related materials and articles.”

It is often difficult to find good vineyard workers to hire, according to Jim.  Not long ago he had an applicant come to him who stood at the door to his office, leaning his right side against the door frame.  Jim asked the man about his qualifications and then inquired about his work experience with the hoe.  “It is not a problem,” averred the applicant.  A day later, when Jim went to see the new crew at work, he found that the new “hoe worker” had no right arm.  It was not a problem because he had gotten others to do the work.

Given all that, there are varieties that are easier to grow and maintain than others.  Some vinifera varieties are especially difficult to deal with in the LI area, including Pinot Noir, Semillon, Syrah, and Viognier.  For Martha Clara, the Pinot Noir is problematic because it can begin well and seem promising, but in the end produces unexciting wine. Semillon, Syrah, and Viognier have promise, but Juan pointed out that “Syrah may come up short on sugar, but flavors are beautiful in our Syrah in warmer years; in cooler years they tend to show more intense notes of black pepper.  As for Viognier, it makes beautiful, well-rounded wines, but Jim [did comment on the] difficulty in handling it in the vineyard.”

The vinifera varieties that do best in this climate are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Riesling.  In fact, Jim would like to expand the Riesling planting, but first would need to research the available clones for their appropriateness in the North Fork soil.  (Clone selection, as a matter of fact, is as vital to the success of a varietal as the choice of terroir for the vineyard, or, to put in another way, it’s vital to select a clone that will thrive in a given terroir.)  He has also added two acres of Malbec (a French variety that often associated with Argentina), using three different clones, and will see how those do here.  The one vinifera variety that Jim would also like to plant, once he knows more about it, is Torrontés (the aromatic grape from Argentina).  Were he to do so, it would be the first planting of that variety in the Eastern US.

However, because vinifera vines are so susceptible to fungal disease in the LI climate—given its high humidity and volatility—Jim and Juan have planted three experimental plots of hybrid varieties:  Marquette (a U. of Minn. red hybrid with Pinot Noir in its sap along with excellent cold hardiness and good disease resistance), La Crescent (another Minn. hybrid), and NY 95.301.01 (also known as “No-spray 301,” a Cornell hybrid that needs minimal inputs against mildews and fungi) to determine if these could handle the climate and terroir better than some of the vinifera vines.  Juan explained that, “this has been done more out of curiosity as we have one row of each vine type.  There is not enough for commercial production.”  It is enough, however, to explore vines with the very traits that are lacking in virtually all vinifera varieties: resistance to cold and mildew—the bête noir of humid-climate vineyards.

A visit to the tasting room proved especially interesting, not only because of the range of wines offered, but because Martha Clara is promoting the use of kegs for dispensing wine by the glass.  To them, kegs offer several advantages:  1.   they help preserve wine better than do opened bottles; 2.   they eliminate bottles altogether, thus reducing the amount of materials and energy required to make bottles; 3.   they reduce the cost of shipping and storage, which can be expensive in the case of bottles; 4.   they can be reused for up to fifteen to twenty years.  There seems to even be a difference in the character of the wine from the keg compared to that from a bottle.  The Pinot Grigio served from a keg had a tad more fruit than that which was poured from a bottle.  Consequently, the winery would also like to sell wine in kegs to restaurants and tasting bars.

In tasting six of the wines on offer, it was apparent that the fine wines can be very fine indeed, with a pronounced house style.  The Syrah from the 2009 vintage was nearly mature and manifested the typical traits of a Syrah that had been barrel-aged for thirteen months—black fruit and cigar-box notes with an unusually forward expression of cracked peppercorns.  It had been fermented with 3% Viognier blended in—as is the case in Côte Rotie.  The strong spiciness appears to be the result of a cool vintage, though I suspect terroir and style also played a role here.  In fact, the 2009 Viognier varietal (with its characteristic aromatics of spice and ripe white peaches with floral notes also had a strong spiciness on the palate—pronounced lemongrass, or was it white pepper?  Both wines had a firm acid backbone to give them structure.  I liked them both for their unusual spiciness, which makes them suitable for Indian, Thai, and Mexican cuisine or any well-seasoned food.  The 2009 Cabernet Franc, made from hand-picked fruit, unfined and unfiltered, was also very nice, with herbal & chocolate notes on the nose & palate, integrated tannins and firm acidity, now ready to drink but still to benefit from some cellar aging.  Terrific for accompanying barbecued steak, for example.

Because Martha Clara had spent so much money on developing its vineyard it was decided not to build a winery, given its enormous cost, and to contract its wine assemblage to Premium Wine Group.  A visit to PWG, where Juan now works, allowed an opportunity for some barrel tasting. Several wines were sampled, including the 2011 Viognier—developed on its lees in steel, and the 2010 Syrah—which will be blended with 3% Viognier in the Côte Rotie style—which, tasted from the barrel, showed a more demur peppery flavor given the cooler vintage than that of 2007.

based on interviews with Jim Thompson & Juan Micieli-Martínez
3 February & 29 March 2012; updated 30 April 2018
as well as online & printed sources

http://www.marthaclaravineyards.com/

6025 sound avenue
riverhead, ny 11901

phone 631.298.0075
fax 631 298 5502
info@marthaclaravineyards.com

 

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Shinn Estate

Shinn Estate, 01By 2017 Barbara Shinn and her husband, David Page, had worked very hard for twenty years to create a natural ecosystem in their vineyard.  In order to achieve this they committed themselves to growing grapes that they hoped would be organically certified by the USDA, as well as being fully certified by Demeter as a Biodynamic vineyard. It didn’t work out, at least not exactly. More about that below.

They did, however, become leaders in the sustainable farming movement in Long Island, so what happened in April 2017 was a complete surprise to the wine community. Interestingly, it was a surprise to Barbara and David as well. They received an unanticipated, solid offer to purchase Shinn Estate, including the winery, vineyard, inn, and windmill, that they could not refuse. The property was sold to  Barbara and Randy Frankel, who live in the Hamptons.

When Barbara and David bought their property on the North Fork in 1998, they knew nothing about grape-growing or wine-making.  At the time, they already owned a successful restaurant, Home,  in New York City, but they were drawn to the North Fork by its excellent produce and seafood, as well as the rural charm and unspoiled villages.  Already committed to the idea of using local produce served with local wines, a philosophy that was embedded in the cuisine and wine offerings of their restaurant, the wineries of the area also beckoned, and they finally bought a twenty-two acre plot of what was once a wheat field.  They became friends with many vintners, including Joe Macari, Jr., who showed them how to develop a vineyard according to sustainable practices.

At first they only grew grapes for sale to other wineries, but by 2006 had one of their own.  In 2007 David and Barbara opened their converted farmhouse into a B&B so that they could continue to pursue their devotion to the locavore movement along with their own wines.  They moved from conventional farming to an increasingly organic and then Biodynamic approach slowly and carefully beginning in 2002, then started the transition to organic viticulture in 2005, and to Biodynamic practices by 2008. Unfortunately, they never got there.

The greatest problem facing Shinn Estate—as well as all vineyards in Long Island (and for that matter, all of the East Coast)—is the hot and humid climate, which helps promote all manner of diseases of the vine, including powdery and downy mildew, black rot, and phomopsis viticola, or dead-arm.  To control these pests, conventional farmers use a host of industrial pesticides with great success—it is this that has made vinifera grape-growing possible in regions where it would otherwise wither and die.  However, there are new weapons for the organic and Biodynamic growers, such as Regalia (according to the manufacturer, “a patented formulation of an extract from the giant knotweed plant (Reynoutria sachalinensis). Its unique mode of action switches on the plant’s natural defense mechanisms to inhibit the development of bacterial spot, bacterial speck, target spot, powdery mildew, [etc].”).  Shinn also uses Serenade (which according to its producer, “consistently helps growers win the battle against fungal and bacterial diseases, as it contains a unique, patented strain of Bacillus subtilis . . . to destroy diseases such as Fire Blight, Botrytis, Sour Rot, Rust, Sclerotinia, Powdery Mildew, [etc].”).

Nevertheless, as Barbara Shinn admits, the Achilles Heel for any organic or Biodynamic viticulturalist is downy mildew.  By far the most effective control of this blight is copper sulfate, which is an industrial product that is almost unique in being accepted for both USDA Organic as well as Biodynamic farming.  While there are usually few limits as to how much copper sulfate can be applied in the course of a growing season, anyone using it is aware that the copper content is inimical to healthy soil.  While it may destroy downy mildew, it is also highly toxic to organisms in the soil, and in sufficient quantities it will drive out beneficial ones such as earthworms.  Worse, it is a strong irritant to workers and also has long persistence in the soil, to which it bonds strongly, so it accumulates over time.  However, Biodynamic farming does allow up to three pounds of copper sulfate per acre to be added in the course of a year.  For many farmers, this would not be enough, and double that application would not be unusual, especially in this region.  Still, Shinn tried to abide by this strict limit.

Like all Long Island viticulturalists, the Estate uses Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP) for training their vines.  The vines are planted to a 7’×4’ European-type density, which helps to lower yields and leads to more intense wine.  Then, shortly after budbreak they select the shoots that each vine will grow to provide canopy, removing the rest.  Once the vines bear fruit, they go through each one again, removing about two-thirds of the berries so that the remainder will benefit better from the resultant increased nourishment they receive from the vine.  This means that the wines made from this fruit will have more intense flavor and aroma without having to resort to very much intervention in the winery.

One approaches the winery from a narrow country road distinguished only by the sign Shinn Estate, 02for the estate and the attractive farmhouse by the entrance.  A tall windmill, newly installed to generate electricity for the winery spins its blades in the wind and stands as a testament to Barbara and David’s commitment to self-sufficiency and sustainability.  Carefully-tended rows of vines have been planted nearly to the edge of the road.  Barbara and David were in the parking area with Anthony Nappa, their winemaker back in 2010, when I arrived.  (Anthony is now winemaker at Raphael and Patrick Caserta has taken his place.)  Shortly, we went to the warehouse where they age their wines in oak barrels.

Tasting from the barrels is always an interesting challenge, as one is tasting a wine in the process of maturation rather than when it is ready to drink, but quality is evident in each sample of the red wine that we taste . . . much of which is destined for eventual blending.  Shinn produces a large variety of wines, red, white, rosé, and even a sparkling wine.  Their best wines are made exclusively from estate-grown grapes (the other wines are from grapes bought from local growers).  These are the wines that are meant to benefit from the organic and Biodynamic procedures that they follow.  We then proceeded to taste their many, distinctive wines in the tasting room. (A full discussion of the wines will come in a separate posting.)

The vineyard tour brought us first to the irrigation system, which is an electrically-controlled mechanism that Shinn uses primarily for its Biodynamic compost tea inoculation, which is administered once a month.  The tea is made by taking the Biodynamic preparation that has been aged in cow horns buried in the ground, then mixed with water into a 50-gallon batch that is fed into the twenty-two acre vineyard over a period of an hour.  This is but one of several means by which Shinn provides the necessary, natural nutrients to keep the soil healthy.  Other organic soil amendments include limestone, potassium, humic acid, kelp, and fish hydrolizate (liquefied fish, which is rich in nitrogen).

Furthermore, the Shinn vineyard uses a full cover crop, which is to say, the crop is not only between the vine rows, but grows right into them.  They do not even till the soil.  As the Shinn Website explains it:

Shinn Estate, 11As a vineyard is a monoculture crop, vegetal diversity is attained by planting various kinds of cover crops between the rows of vines.  Thus there are different kinds of grass, clover, and perennials and annuals that grow throughout the vineyard.  This cover crop provides habitat for all manner of insect life, enhances the organic mix of the soil, and is a healthy environment for the microorganisms of the soil.

In addition to its diversity, the cover crop also helps reduce the vigor of the vines by forcing them to compete for water with other vegetation when it’s rainy (a good thing when one is growing wine grapes) and at the same time helps the soil retain moisture better when it’s dry.

Like any vineyard that is farmed according to sustainable practices, Shinn Estate employs Integrated Pest Management to deal with insect pests (which means using natural predators to help control them).  They also have sought to encourage insectivore bats to live in special habitats built for them in the vineyard—so far, however, the bat houses have no takers.

They planted different clones of each grape variety, with six selections of Merlot, for example, and three each of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.  There are also two selections of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that account for the white varieties.  Each block of grapes is hand-harvested separately, with the east and west sides of each row of vines being picked separately as well.  In addition, they also lease a small, five-acre plot, Schreiber Vineyards, which is planted with 30-year-old vines of Chardonnay and Riesling, which adds more variety to their portfolio of wines.  It lies just a mile up Oregon Road and is farmed identically to the Shinn vineyards.

Given all of this care and attention in the vineyard, the fact remains that weather will inevitably have an impact, and in a region like Long Island—unlike California—weather variability is a given.  It is, of course, a major reason for vintage differences.  Last year, for example, there were very heavy rains that affected some vineyards much more than others.  Where some vineyards only a few miles away lost up to 30 or 40% of their fruit, Shinn only lost about 10 to 15%.  The reason was their particular mesoclimate—the heavy rains left their crop thoroughly soaked, and the vines looked as though they were on the verge of collapse, but just after the rain was over, a strong, persistent wind came up that dried the vines quickly, so that even the wild yeasts on which they depend in the winery were restored after only a few day.  The berries lost all the water they’d absorbed very quickly too, so the damage was minimal.  (Of course, the weather of another summer could produce the reverse of this outcome; there is never a guarantee.)

By 2012 Shinn Estate was one of the founding Vineyards to join the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers certification program (for more about it see the post, LISW).  That was the easy part, as it were, since they were already following all the practices set forth in the LISW workbook.  The hard part, organic certification, still eluded them in 2017 as downy mildew, in this humid climate, still cannot be tamed by strict adherence to organic grower’s guidelines.

And now they have sold Shinn Estate to a New Jersey financier and his wife, Barbara and Randy Frankel: Shinn Estate Announcement of Sale. Newsday wrote that the sale had “not been part of the plan,” but an unexpected offer changed that. “It came as a surprise to us someone would walk through the door and make us an offer,” he said. He declined to discuss terms of the sale or the new owners.

Randy Frankel is a former managing director at Goldman Sachs, whose various business interests include a minority stake in the Tampa Bay Rays baseball franchise and part-ownership of Windham Mountain Ski Resort in Windham, N.Y., according to an online biography. The Frankels wanted to take a new path in business, and as residents of the Hamptons were well familiar with the wineries of the East End of the Island. They hired Robert Rudko as an advisor. Rudko, who has been in the wine trade for many years, helped find the property, which fit their hopes and expectations exactly.

Rudko is now running the property as both CEO and General Manager; he is working with the new owners, assessing the vineyard, the winery and tasting room, and the B&B. Already, according to him, an expanded tasting room with a real “Wow” design is in the works. The winery is due for some significant equipment upgrades and the B&B is being refurbished. He said that once all the work is completed, it will leave visitors “slack-jawed” by the transformation.

Patrick Certa, who has worked with the Shinns as winemaker for several years now, will continue in that role. The vineyard and the sustainable practices used to work it shall continue as well. However, the new owners are hoping to acquire new vineyard parcels to add to the current acreage in order to expand production.

Barbara and David were apparently mentally ready for this break, as they already had a commitment to running a hydroponic farm that they own in Maine. Nevertheless, they said they will remain connected to the business as consultants for the “foreseeable future.”

The sale represents the closing of a distinguished and dramatic chapter in the story of the wineries of Long Island and the opening of a new one.

Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse
2000 Oregon Road
Mattituck, NY 11952
631-804-0367

The Shinn Estate Website

Based on interviews with David Page and Barbara Shinn, 18 June 2010, with additions from their Website, and on 23 May 2014. The interview with Robert Rudko was on 24 April 2017.

Viniculture in LI, Part III: The Lenz Winery

A statement on the Lenz Winery Website by Sam McCullough, its vineyard manager:

At Lenz, our philosophy in the vineyard is high-touch.  We are interventionists and we intervene, at great cost in time and effort, to micro-manage each vine to ripeness each year.  Leaf removal, shoot thinning, cluster thinning, crop reduction, triple catch wires, super-attentive pest and fungus control (our ‘open canopy’ approach keeps fungus problems to a minimum), all combine to add cost (unfortunately) but to ensure fully ripe grapes of the highest quality.

Lenz, 36 years, 2Established in 1978, the winery has three vineyard plots with a total acreage of about 70 acres planted to nine different vinifera grape varieties: Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir.  Of these, the principal red variety is Merlot and the principal white is Chardonnay.  Bearing in mind that the original Lenz vineyard is over thirty years old and came under new ownership only in 1988, when Peter and Deborah Carroll purchased it from the original owners, Patricia and Peter Lenz, the original vines of Chardonnay and Merlot are among the oldest on the island.

Sam is an affable, direct, and very knowledgeable farmer, with a degree in horticulture and with long experience in the business of growing wine grapes.  He is not shy about saying that though the Lenz vineyards are farmed as sustainably as possible, when there is a need for using conventional farming methods he’ll not hesitate to employ them.  The reason is simple:  there is too wide an array of fungal and other pests to rely entirely on biodegradable or organic means of control.  With respect to herbicides, he prefers to use what he calls pre-emergent controls so that stronger ones are not needed later in the event of an outbreak.  The same is true of the fungicides he uses:  low-impact controls for prevention, but will not hesitate to use copper and sulfur when infections do break out.  It is because of this that he makes no claim to running a sustainable-farming operation, but is rather a conventionally-farmed property that tries to be ecologically low-impact where possible.

In other words, Sam is not taking Lenz down the organic road due to cost and practicality.  Speaking frankly about Shinn Estate’s achievement in bring in its first organic harvest of grapes, he takes a wait-and-see attitude with regards to being able to achieve similar results three years in a row—which is necessary for organic certification.  He feels that the weather last season was especially favorable for organic viticulture.  It may not work so well this year if the weather turns too harsh.  On the hand, Sam feels that some Biodynamic® applications may actually work insofar as even the very small quantities of compost tea that are used (about 50 gallons per acre) may enhance the development of healthy biota on the vines and help them better resist pests and other infections.  He’s not persuaded that cow horns or astronomical events such as the soltices are at all important, and that the applications would work anyway.  As he put it:

I am not opposed to organic viticulture or biodynamics.  I am indeed skeptical that it is possible to consistently succeed at producing vinifera grapes in our climate without the use of synthetic chemicals and I am in no position to try it.  I do not disdain or ridicule those making the effort.  I wish them success.

I do believe, and strongly, that it is quite possible to use conventional agricultural methods responsibly and safely: safe for the environment, the farmer, farm workers and the consumers of our crops.

I believe conventional farming to be safe and economical.  Without conventional farming, the 2% of our nation’s population who are involved in agriculture could not feed the country with production to spare.  Those who wish to use alternative methods that avoid the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are free to do so and I wish them success.  The popular hysteria so easily incited by the mention of pesticides and food is unfounded.  However, those who wish to consume naturally-produced foods and can afford to do so constitute a lucrative market.

Thus, to the extent possible Lenz employs “green” practices in the vineyard, such as the use of self-seeded cover crops between rows so that there is considerable variety in the flora and fauna of the soil.  These, of course, are a natural habitat for insects that are predators of many vineyard pests such as aphids.  The crops also include plants that return nitrogen to the soil, encourage earthworms to propagate, and generally keep the soil healthy.  Nevertheless, while he prefers to use pre-emergent herbicides to control pest plants, he will use Roundup to control weeds within the vine rows proper when necessary, as he considers it to be highly efficacious and of low environmental impact if used sparingly.  So too with pesticides—he uses Danitol, a wide-spectrum insecticide/miticide that is essentially a synergized pyrethrin that is especially effective with grape pests such as the glassy-winged sharpshooter, the grape berry moth, and others, but will also use Stylet oil, which is biodegradable, as well.

Sam tries to use dry farming for the three vineyard plots and therefore has no irrigation lines permanently threaded into the rows of vines as is the case at some of the other wineries (not that those irrigate at times other than drought either).  He finds that if there is a need to irrigate, it’s easy enough to bring the irrigation lines into the vine rows as needed, Furthermore, he explains that given the problems with permanently-installed irrigation lines, such as leaks, breakage, blocking of the lines, and so on, he really doesn’t think that it’s worth the expense, especially since irrigation is only needed once in every three to four seasons, when there is drought.  So too with machine-harvesting vs. hand-picking the grapes.  Rather than use a large and expensive machine such as that employed by a few other wineries, Lenz removes the grapes with a tractor-towed harvester.  He notes that hand-picking clean grapes can cost around $100 a ton; hand-selecting while picking grapes can elevate the cost to about $200.  By using a towed harvester with an attached selection table and a man or two to pick out the detritus—leaves, stems, bad grapes, insects—he can keep costs low and still have the advantage of selected grapes.

Actually, some varieties are better off being hand-picked, due in part to the thinness of the skins, and that is the case for the Lenz Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon.  These are, after all, 36-year-old vines, which are able to produce more concentrated, flavorful fruit than can young vines, though they are rather shy bearers.

Sam works closely with Eric Fry, the winemaker who has been at Lenz for 25 years. When Sam first came to Lenz in 1990 the two “butted heads” at the beginning, but they now have a very effective relationship. It is, after all, for the winemaker to decide when the crop is ready to harvest, and both men agree that the kind of ripeness that they are looking for in the fruit can only be tasted, not just measured for sugar levels with a densitometer or looking at phenolic ripeness. It must taste just right to be harvested—this is experience, not science, at work in this instance.

Because they collaborate closely on the timing of the harvest, which includes deciding which parcels and which varieties to pick first—at optimum ripeness to the taste of the winemaker, ultimately, the estate grapes are ready to be made into wine not only for Lenz, but for several clients that do not have their own vineyards or winemaking facilities. These clients (not all of them in Long Island), buy their grapes from parcels set aside for them by Lenz and are then made into wine by Eric according to their style specifications. He also works closely with several local vineyards to help make their fruit into wine at the Lenz facilities.

Lenz Winery, Eric Fry 2Eric, by the way, is a really gifted winemaker and highly respected by his peers. Some refer to him as a kind of genius. He wears his gray hair in a pony tail and has something of the Hippie about him still. He is actually a very gentle person, very direct, strongly opinionated, self-assured, and generous with his time and readiness to help others. For Lenz, Eric’s practice is to make its best wines to be capable of aging, and he refers to himself as an “acid head”—not referring to LSD but to high acidity levels in the wine. In other words, he encourages it in the wines he makes. It is acidity, after all, that helps give wine structure and longevity. For Eric, that means holding on to the wine for a few years before releasing it. Most wineries don’t hold on to their wines any longer than is absolutely necessary once they’re bottled. It costs money to store it and it means that money is tied up until the wine

So, for example, when Eric works with clients, some of whom have collaborated with him for years, he tries to get them to take his advice. He feels that wine should be held for at least two years before being released to market, but not all of his clients see things his way—at least not at first.

He explains that “I actually have custom clients that I bottle for, that I make wine [for] here. We’re bottling the wine, and they’ll stand there and at the end of the bottling run, they’ll take cases off and throw them on the market, and I’m going, ‘Your call, I wouldn’t do that!’”

Over time, many of his collaborators come around to his way of thinking, or as he puts it, speaking of some of them: “Old Field is into my rhythm, Whisper’s into my rhythm, Harmony, they’re into my rhythm. This is a new client that we’ve just taken on, and I’m still trying to teach him my rhythm, to teach him my way of doing things, and so he had several wines that he was out of stock, and he was calling me up every day going ‘Oh, I need it, I need it.’ And I go like, ‘That means you didn’t plan ahead.’

“At the beginning he bristled and he got all upset and he was like, ‘You’re not cooperating with me.’ And I’m going, ‘I’ll do what you want, but if you want good wine, you should do what I want.’ So he’s coming around, he’s beginning to understand the concept, because I bottled a red wine for him and he wanted to release it right away and I said ‘It’s your wine, you can do whatever you want.’ And he goes and takes a sample and he goes ‘This doesn’t taste like it was before we bottled it.’ I’m going, ‘Well, hello? It needs some bottle age.’ And he’s going, ‘Oh, OK.’”

When he makes a Chardonnay, be sure that the wine is not just made from the Chardonnay grape, pressed, fermented in steel, and bottled—a simple, straightforward, and possibly excellent wine. That’s not Eric’s way. He seeks complexity, and a Chard may be, as he says, 5 % of the wine may be “keg fermented” in 15-year-old barrels, with perhaps a little M-L (malo-lactic) to add more character, but not so much that it makes the wine buttery, as a full M-L may do to a Chard. It imparts more complexity, but in the background. You can’t taste the oak, you can’t discern the M-L, but you can tell that the wine is complex.

But let’s talk about yeast. Eric is a “control-freak,” which means that he’s not someone who uses wild or indigenous yeast in his fermentation. He prefers to buy yeast that has been specifically modified for a particular set of characteristics. For example, for the Chardonnay just mentioned, he used EC1118, a workhorse yeast that brings out fruit flavors. In fact, as he explains, “I’ve been experimenting with yeasts for thirty years. Right after harvest, you go through and taste the barrels or taste the kegs; it’s like ‘Holy cow, this one tastes like this and this one tastes like this, and they’re so different and it’s amazing the yeast affect whatever like that.’ Six months later, you can’t tell them apart.”

He went on to say, “With different wines I use different yeasts on purpose and get different characters on purpose, but most of all the concept that I have is, if whatever yeast you’re using or whatever you’re doing, if the fermentation sticks you’re screwed. So what I do is I use yeasts that are dependable, that will not screw up, because if they screw up, everything’s out the window. All the wonderful nuances you’re looking for, they’re gone.

“The yeast does have a function and does make different flavors, but it’s overrated, it’s not a large factor.”

Eric is also something of a provocateur, so he asked me what I thought about the concept of terroir. I said that I considered the idea of terroir—as conceived by the French—to be something real and that affected the wine made from grapes grown in a particular place. To which he replied, “Terroir is BS, strictly a marketing gimmick. It’s all about marketing.” He then offered me a glass of wine of which he was very proud: the first botrytised dessert wine made at Lenz in the twenty-three years that he’d been winemaker there. Usually botrytis only produced gray rot, something to be avoided and which needed to be controlled with fungicide, but last year the conditions were unique, and the botrytis that settled on the Chardonnay grapes appeared when the grapes were very ripe, the early-morning humidity would burn off as warming sun rose in the East, and violà, a rich and delicious botrytised dessert wine at 73° Brix. When I pointed out that this happened in most years in the Sauternes region of Bordeaux, which surely was an expression of terroir, Eric was dismissive, “Well, whatever.”   Provocative, indeed. With respect to organic viticulture Eric feels, again, that it is mostly a matter of marketing rather than making a better wine.

Sam was a bit more philosophical about the matter of terroir, suggesting that its influence may be exaggerated but that it shouldn’t be entirely dismissed out of hand. And, after all, I would like to point out, it is what is done in the vineyard by human intervention, whether by using one kind of trellising over another, say single vs. double Guyot, or vertical shoot positioning or something else, how often the vines are green-harvested or not at all, the use of sustainable practices such as crop cover or biodegradable pesticides, and even the use of a recycling tunnel sprayer for pesticide agents, that are all part of terroir. This, of course, is a broad definition of the term; the traditional definition is more narrow and confines itself to geographical/geological/climatological issues of soil, climate, slope, drainage, aspect to the sun, etc.

Thus, both Lenz wines and the client wines benefit from the careful, practical, and highly professional care that is given to the grapes in the fields from which they are made. Then there is the thoughtful care that the wines get in the winery itself. These are crafted wines, not “natural” ones. The result can be tasted and Lenz wines have often been compared—favorably—to great European wines; for instance, the Lenz 2005 Old Vines Chardonnay held its own to a Domaine Leflaive 2005 Puligny-Montrachet “Les Folatieres,” while a Lenz 2002 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon tied with a 2002 Château Latour at a blind tasting held at the great Manhattan restaurant Le Bernardin in April 2011. These comparative tastings have been held every year since 1996 and always pit Lenz wines against French equivalents—not California ones, for the Lenz style is closer to that of France than the West Coast. The Lenz Website has a list of these blind tastings and the results.

I can attest to this personally with a blind tasting that I conducted with friends in 2012, comparing a 2007 Meursault-Charmes 1er Cru with a 2007 Lenz Old Vines Chardonnay–they all guessed that the Lenz was the Burgundy wine.

And to think that such results come from a Long Island vineyard . . .

Lenz logo38355 Route NY 25, Peconic, NY 11958    631.734.6010

office@lenzwine.com
Lenz Winery home page
Based on interviews with Sam McCullough & Eric Fry at the Lenz Winery in April 2011 and September 2014

For further reading, Fry and his wines were written about by Eileen Duffy in her book, Behind the Bottle (Cider Mill Press, 2015). Profiles on Sam McCullough and Eric Fry by John Ross can be found in his book, The Story of North Fork Wine: Historical Profiles and Wine Country Recipes (Maple Hill Press, 2009).  Jane Taylor Starwood, former editor-in-chief of Long Island Wine Press, featured Lenz Winery in Long Island Wine Country: Award-Winning Vineyards of the North Fork (Three Forks, 2009). Philip Palmedo and Edward Beltrami discussed Lenz in The Wines of Long Island (Amereon House, 2000).

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Macari Estate

Based on interviews with Alex and Joe Macari, Jr on 9 July 2009 & 17 June 2010; updated 21 November 2014

Macari sign, 2014, 0Macari Vineyards is on the North Fork of Eastern Long Island (aka the East End) in Mattituck, and owned and operated by the Macari Family.  Joseph Macari Jr., now runs the winery with his wife, Alexandra (called Alex by those who know her—but actually Alejandra, for she’s originally from Argentina).  Though Macari Vineyards was established in 1995, the Macari Family has owned the 500-acre estate—bounded by the south shore of Long Island Sound—for nearly 50 years [though in 2009 they sold 60 acres of non-vineyard land, so it is now down to 440 acres].  What were once potato fields and farmland now includes a vineyard of 200 acres of vines with additional fields of compost, farmland, and a home to long-horn cattle, goats, Sicilian donkeys and ducks.

Macari sees itself as on the cutting edge of viticulture and has long been committed to as natural an approach to winemaking as is possible. Since 2005 Joseph Macari, Jr. has been considered as a pioneer in the movement towards natural and sustainable farming on Long Island, employing principles of biodynamic farming beginning with the vineyard’s first crops.  By giving consideration to the health of the environment as a whole and moving away from the noxious effects of industrial pesticides towards a more natural and meticulous caretaking of the soil and plants, Macari believes that it has found a more promising way to yield premium wines (recalling the old French axiom, that wine begins in the vineyard).  This does not mean that Macari claims to be producing organic grapes, nor organic wines—that, in Joe’s view, is not possible for a vineyard of its size in Long Island, given the climate, with its high humidity and much rain during the growing season, both of which tend to encourage the ravages of fungal and bacterial infections of the vines, as well as attacks by a range of insects.

My first visit was in July of last year, and my follow-up visit was this June.  We started in the new and modern Tasting Room at the Winery.  Alex, as Joe’s wife is called) began with a tasting of a range of Macari wines, all of which were well-made and at the least, quite good, with some of very fine quality, well-balanced, with good acidity and fruit.  The winery produces both barrel-fermented and steel-fermented whites as well as barrel-fermented reds and a couple of cryo-ice wines (“fake” ice wine, as Alex teased, but Joe is an enthusiast, and the wine is actually delicious and has won awards).  In fact, the winery employs two winemakers, one of whom is Austrian and makes the steel-fermented whites as well as the ice wines.  (I’ll review the wines when I write about wine-making at Macari in a separate post.)

The vineyard tour in a 4-wheel-drive pickup truck began with an exploration of the composting area, where manure from the farm animals is gathered (cows—including long-horn steers—horses, and chickens) as well as the vine detritus (which is charred in order to render any infection or harmful residue neutral), and 35 tons of fish waste that is delivered once a week by a Fulton Fish Market purveyor (Joe says that the fish guts & bones provide excellent nitrogen & DNA for the compost, so it is highly nutritive for the vines).  At the time of my visit the compost heaps—some of which were from six to eight feet high—were covered in weeds, which will be removed before the compost is applied as fertilizer.

In order to save time and space—two valuable commodities in growing wine grapes—vineyards sometimes graft new vines onto a mature rootstock, rather than starting an entirely new plant.  According to the Macari Website, theirs is the first vineyard on Long Island to successfully grow over-grafted vines.  With over-grafting, a new variety can be grown from the rootstock of a different plant, which is a much faster way of growing vines than planting new ones.  The future of every vineyard depends on the carefully executed process of planting new vines.  Macari’s vision of the future is constantly evolving as the owners, vineyard manager and winemaker learn more about their vines, and the microclimates found in the fields.

The vineyard proper is very well-tended, the various varieties separated into blocks, using Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP), and in many parcels irrigation tubes were carefully aligned along the bottom wires of the rows to provide drip irrigation if necessary, though the high humidity and rainfall of the region reduces the likelihood of needing its use.  In fact, the 2009 season thus far has had such an excess of rainfall—often very heavy—that in many parts of the vineyard there was blossom damage and many of the developing bunches of grapes were, in effect, incomplete due to fruit loss.

Joe has been using, to the extent possible, both organic and Biodynamic® methods of viticulture, but due to the highly-humid conditions in the vineyard, he must still resort to conventional sprays from time to time, so he refuses to claim to be organic or biodynamic, though he finds that to the extent that it is possible to use these viticultural methods, it is worthwhile.  For one thing, Joe worships Mother Earth, and believes in the Rudolf Steiner principle that there ought to be a harmony between earth, sky, and water, and in consequence has resorted in the past to planting cow horns at the ends of rows, with the requisite composting “teas” that are recommended by the biodynamic movement.  He plans to return to this practice again in coming years.  Though Alex appears to be skeptical of the remedy, the special attention and care demanded by organic and biodynamic practice are evident in the vineyard, as can be seen in the picture above, which shows the cover crop extending from between the rows right into the vines themselves, weeds and all, in order to allow the greatest amount of vegetative variety and expand the quantity of beneficial insects and other fauna to find their natural habitat.

Another reason that Macari does not seek Organic Certification is economical.  It is one thing to apply expensive organic sprays on, say a 20-acre field, quite another to do so on 200.  The sprays cost twice as much as the industrial alternatives and the spraying would involve higher labor costs, as the number of times that the spray needs to be applied would be higher than for conventional applications.  Furthermore, the fact that you can practice organic and/or biodynamic farming without going for 100% organic—being pragmatic about using industrial sprays when absolutely needed, but otherwise being committed to organic ones when it is suitable—means that you can have a sustainable, healthy vineyard in almost all respects.

In other words, as Joe sees it, Organic Certification may be economically viable for a small vineyard, but is much less so for large ones.

One additional bit of evidence regarding the exceptional care given the Macari vineyards is the employment of a team of specialized grafters from California, who travel around the country—and the world—grafting new shoots to old roots, so that, for example, a field of Chardonnay can be quickly converted to Sauvignon Blanc.  The process is highly meticulous, requiring special knowledge of the condition of the roots.  For example, in the case of a root with splitting bark, one type of graft and wrapping may be applied as opposed to another for a root that doesn’t suffer from the problem.  This team of five men can graft about 500 roots a day at a cost of $2.00 per root—a highly efficient rate that is cost-effective for the vineyard.  (This team had earlier been working in Hawaii, and has also done grafting for Château Margaux—yes, that one in Bordeaux of 1855 Classification fame—and at the same time was working at Peconic Bay Vineyards nearby.)

As a further example of the globalization of viticultural practices, Joe also has a French specialist in tying vines to the trellising system come from Southern France with his own team in order to train his Guatemalan workers in how to properly tie vines to the wires, for it must be done properly if the vines are to be held to the wires for the duration of the growing season.

To the extent that one can achieve balance with nature in viticulture (or in agriculture as whole), Joe Macari has certainly shown that he in the vanguard of that search.  It is not for the sake of certification, either organic or biodynamic, that he does this, but out of respect for his vineyard’s terroir, which is to say, the land, the soil, the vines, the climate.  But all viticultural work involves experimentation, and Joe is always experimenting, as new ideas and information become available to him.  There is always a better way.  The pursuit is endless, and the story therefore never ends.

PS–For another recent appreciation of Joe Macari’s work, see the informed and thoughtful account by Louisa Hargrave in the January 14, 2010 issue of the Suffolk News at   https://www.macariwines.com/macari.ihtml?page=awards&awardid=184

B'klyn Uncorked, Kelly UrbanikLouisa also wrote a very nice profile of Kelly Urbanik Koch, Macari’s resident winemaker, in the Winter 2014 issue of Long Island Winepress:  Meet your winemaker Kelly Urbanik Koch of Macari Vineyards/

In fact, a favorite wine of ours offered at the New York Uncorked wine tasting was a really sublime 2013 Sauvignon Blanc by Kelly—deeply perfumed with floral aromas and the typical Sauvignon flavor profile beautifully tamed with a fine balance of citrus fruit and floral notes against a firm acidic backbone. The best American SB that I can remember, frankly. Kelly was so happy with the result that she said that she wished that she could “swim in it”–in a tank, to be sure.

In the summer of 2014, Macari was named New York State Winery of the Year at the NY Wine & Food Classic, a tasting competition of over 800 wines from across the state’s viticultural areas.  Macari’s 2010 Cabernet Franc was named by the competition’s judges as the Best Red Wine of the show.

Mattituck Winery

150 Bergen Avenue, Mattituck, NY 11952
(631) 298-0100

Cutchogue Tasting Room

24385 Route 25, Cutchogue, NY 11935
(631) 734-7070

http://www.macariwines.com/

This article was first published on June 30, 2010

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Jamesport Vineyards

Jamesport Vineyards board

 Interview with Ron Goerler, Jr.

 Walk into the tasting room, go up to the bar, and you are confronted not by a list of wines on the board in front of you, but instead an indication of the seriousness about wine that prevails at Jamesport Vineyards: a diagram of the vineyards and the varieties planted. Here the focus is clearly on what matters first: the vineyards where it all begins.

Right behind the winery and tasting room, are two lots planted with Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Further east, at Mattituck, are six lots planted with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Syrah. The largest vineyards are in Cutchogue, where there are fourteen lots in all. The Cabernet Sauvignon is there, as well as Merlot Block E, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Merlot; eight different varieties in all, in twenty-two separate lots on three plots. It all adds up to sixty acres that are cultivated sustainably.

Our conversation began, not with or about Long Island wines, winemaking, or winegrowing, but with the devastating effects of this past winter up North, in the Niagara Escarpment of both Canada and New York, and Michigan, where the temperatures dropped to minus forty below—so cold that the Great Lakes froze over. What that meant was that there was no moderating “lake effect” to protect the vines. It also meant that there was no heavy snowfall in Syracuse, for example, due to the freezing of Lake Erie. Most importantly, it meant that there was severe crop damage in the vineyards, with as much as 65 to 75% of the vines killed by the cold. Yet, in Long Island, thanks to the surrounding salt-water bodies of the Sound, Peconic Bay, and the Atlantic, the temperatures were effectively moderated by the “maritime effect”, which is to say that large, deep bodies of water that have not frozen over mitigate the cold that prevails in the region as a whole so that the vines—especially vinifera vines—can get through the winter unscathed by the cold, which, when severe, can cause the woody trunks to split open, causing the vines to die.  (It did happen in Long Island in 1984, which Ron called a “massacre” of the vines. The Sound was frozen, the Bay was too, resulting in no protection for the vines; it was the worst winter on record.)  This year was not as bad, but there was some creek freezing in January, when the lowest recorded temperature was minus five Fahrenheit.

In discussing terroir, that wonderfully untranslatable French word, Ron talked about the nature of Long Island’s climate in relation to the vintages. Climate and place are what pretty much define the kind of weather that will prevail in a particular region. Long Island enjoys a maritime climate, which along with the warmer waters that the Gulf Stream brings past, also is prey to some dramatic changes in weather. In 2005, ’07, and ’10, the summers were very warm and the grapes developed beautifully.  On the other hand, late rain in 2011 lead to a terrible vintage, which led Eric Fry, winemaker at Lenz, to say of the reds that they “were only good for blending.” Ron agreed and added that at Jamesport the fruit was so poor that they decided to cut down 85 tons rather than make bad wine that would sully the winery’s reputation.   It was a costly decision, but Jamesport’s reputation–as well as that of the Long Island wine industry–was at stake as well. After all, whereas California has had over 150 years to establish its reputation, and European regions have had centuries, Long Island, at barely forty years, still has to be careful about its good name. Ron did make the point that others that chose to make wine in that year may have enjoyed different circumstances in their vineyards.

Ron Goerler, JrRon is the second generation in the family to take over Jamesport Vineyards, which was founded by his father, Ron Goerler, Sr., in 1980. He had studied to be a soil scientist but realized that he loved working out-of-doors and decided to return to the winery to do exactly that. The challenge now will be for him to be able to pass the operation over to one or more of his four sons, the oldest of which is twenty. Will any of them be interested in making the commitment? After all, he has five brothers and one sister and none of them have any interest at all. With respect to the commitment, “It’s very much like having a head of cows—whether you’re raising them, feeding them, selling them–whether it’s retail or wholesale–and most important of all, growing them—you have to be there all the time.” Even in the wintertime, when things are quiet at the winery, the vineyard needs pruning and sixty acres of vines can take a long time.

The spacing in the vineyard varies. Originally the first vines were planted 9 by 8 feet thanks to the recommendations at the time by Cornell, but all that was later pulled out. Later vines were separated by 7 x 5 or 8 x 5; they just planted seven acres of Sauvignon Blanc 2 years ago at 7 x 5.  The winery is the biggest producer of Sauvignon Blanc in LI, which Ron considers his signature wine because the variety does so well here  Originally he and his father started Sauv Blanc with just a single clone: Clone 1. The problem with it was that it was a “big, fat clone” from California, very vigorous and wanting to produce big clusters, but it didn’t do that well in a maritime climate like Long Island’s, because it was too susceptible to rot. As Ron pointed out, Sauvignon means “savage.”  Now, with less vigorous rootstocks like 10114 or Perrier, they get smaller vines.  The new clones come from Bordeaux, such as 316, 317, and the Musqué clone, which was planted ten years ago and is very aromatic; and a clone from Italy; they all produce small clusters.  (For a comparison of clonal differences, see “How do Sauvignon Blanc Clones Differ?”— but this is only about the taste of wine made from the clones, not the vegetative differences.) This is similar in effect to the Dijon clones (76 and 95) that they put in to replace the original Chardonnay vines (Wente clones from UC Davis).

30 years ago, one didn’t think about all these clones and their differences—the knowledge wasn’t there and the technology wasn’t either. Many of these clones were only released to the public about 20 years ago, although they had been working on developing these back in the 70s and 80s. In fact, it was just over 30 years ago that Ron and his father, Ron Goerler, Sr., went on a trip to Germany and saw what they were doing in the vineyards there, then came to the realization that training vinifera to high-cordon trellises didn’t make any sense. Top wire, recommended by Cornell, was meant for droopy American and hybrid vines, and not only was unsuited for the vertical growth of the European vines, but it made the work of pruning and harvesting more difficult, given that one had to work at eye-level or above—very tiring on the worker’s arms. It was in 1985 that a very hard winter struck and the trunks of the vines split. It forced the issue of replanting the vines and training them vertically to what is called VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioning), on a trellis with a low cordon at about 35” high.

For Ron, the level of the low cordon is perfect for the vineyard workers, all of whom come from Latin America—they tend not to be as tall as Americans and are more comfortable with the height for pruning the vines and picking the grapes. The Latinos are prepared to do work that American workers disdain because it’s too hard. They have a strong family values—there’s a network of them—and a very sound work ethic. As Ron pointed out, one of the biggest issues this country faces is immigration. (The immigrants from south of the border are an important labor pool for American agriculture; stop them from coming and agriculture would face a huge crisis.)

Ron is not only the vineyard manager but also the winemaker—a hat he claimed when his last winemaker departed. I asked him how he’s been affected by being “chief cook and bottle washer” and his quick reply was, “I’ve lost a lot of weight.” While he was president of the LIWC (Long Island Wine Council) he was so busy with issues that he couldn’t effectively focus on his business at the winery, but now that he’s left the position he has the time he needs to really think about it.  He travels to in search of new blood and new ideas. In his opinion, if one doesn’t keep on the lookout, not just for ideas but also the people to implement them, one isn’t going to be successful.

He said, “For example, some years ago a vineyard specialist was here from California and he taught me one thing, it’s all about balance. The fruit will tell you when it’s exactly where it should be (i.e., sugars, acidity, phenolic ripeness), because that’s the kind of fruit that will then yield balanced wines. It’s the work done in the vineyard that does that.” That’s Ron’s philosophy—it’s “balance here and balance there.”

Ron tends to pick the grapes when they’re on the ripe side—something that Eric Fry taught him years ago. Back when they began in Long Island they all picked early because of the birds, no netting to protect the vines, the then-prevailing technology, and so on. Ron went on to say that, “It was Eric who watched us as we were picking in September instead of October, and he pointed out to me that it was better to wait for the acidity to come around, the fruit, the phenolic ripeness. Years ago most LI grapes were picked early and the wines were green. There was a joke then that one knew when the grapes had reached 18 Brix because Alex Hargrave would be picking and the birds would be eating. Alex didn’t believe in netting.”

With respect to sustainable winegrowing, while Jamesport has not yet joined the LI Sustainable Winegrowing Council, it will do so this year. Ron was unable to join when it was first established in 2010 given how busy he was as President of the LI Wine Council. Ron had worked with Alice Wise of the Cornell NYAES (New York Agriculture Extension Station) in Riverhead 15 years ago to help revise the NY State VineBalance guidelines for sustainable growing to more closely reflect viticulture in Long Island. At present Jamesport uses IPM (Integrated Pest Management), grows cover crops, does not employ herbicides, and has set up weather stations in the vineyard to better monitor issues like growing disease pressure, “anything that we can do to minimize impact in the field we do, to protect the quality of the product.”

“We never can be an organic-producing region here in LI, there’s too much humidity here,” he pointed out. Even though Rex Farr is growing certified organic produce, including wine grapes, the question remains, how consistently can organics be produced year after year? That’s the challenge, because the disease pressures are so high. In fact, Ron doesn’t even like the word “organic,” given how much it is abused and misused. “Sustainable is a great word because it means that you’re trying to be profitable, you’re trying to minimize the impacts in the field, having respect for the land. When we bought this land it had been orchards and row crops; the soil had to be replenished and that takes years to make the land [viable for sustainable production].”

Holding on to wine inventory is another serious issue for small wineries (every single winery in Long Island is small—even Pindar, which is the largest producer at about 70,000 cases (840,000 bottles). Ideally, a wine is released when it’s ready to be consumed, which is easy enough for whites, most of which aren’t destined for aging but are meant to be drunk young. Red wines are another matter. Again, most reds are also meant to be enjoyed early on after being bottled, but a small percentage are deliberately made for aging, which means that these wines age in oak barrels for a long time and then need further aging in bottle. It is best if such wines can stay on premises at the winery until they are ready for release, say in two or three years, when they are more ready to drink. The problem is that it ties up money because there is no income from wines in inventory. In other words, it costs the winery cash flow. What peeves Ron is that the average tasting room visitor cannot understand that, which can matter if the price has to be set at a point that returns that cost back to the winery’s coffers. So most aged wine has to be more costly to the consumer for that reason along with other important ones, such as highly-selected quality fruit, careful attention in the winery, and time in costly oak barrels. Given the costs involved and the resulting quality, the prices for fine red wines are well justified.

Among the challenges that LI wineries have to face is their relationship to the community. For example, while Ron was President of the LIWC, the council “has been doing battle with the town of Southold for three years; they’re trying to define what agriculture is out here, what a farm winery represents, by writing laws that [the State] already on the books which define what a farm winery is, what the [winery] license should be. It’s when you have a group of individuals and they have “power control” and they look out the window and they see the landscape change and it’s all changed and they don’t like it because they don’t see us as farmers but think of us as winery owners—they don’t even call us farmers—who don’t work the land and they think that we’re all rich. And all the old farmers that sit on the board there say ‘you’re never going to make it.’ It’s a known fact that you’re never going to make money growing grapes, that’s true all over the world now (unless you’re a Grand Cru that someone wants to pay a thousand dollars for a pound of grapes), the reality is that you have to turn it into wine. And that means developing infrastructure: tasting rooms, sell it wholesale, develop markets, and that’s basically what the last forty years have been—developing a market in Long Island. There are [State] laws that regulate what you can do as a grower, a producer, there are all kinds of laws. The problem is that the town wants to have its own laws.”

“We had a problem with Vineyard 48, which did something that really blew up and got the neighbors really upset. We have a next-door neighbor who used to work this land way back when, and he sits out on his veranda smoking his cigar and we do work here all the time and whenever I see him I go over and see him and ask him how things are and given him a bottle of wine, and he’s cool about [the work that we do in the vineyard or when people come to our tasting room].  But when his kids come home they’re not so cool about it because they just come up for the weekend. Unfortunately, when do we make money out here? On the weekends. The thing that the town wrestles with is the traffic. We have a single road for the traffic that comes in and out of here. So the question becomes, are they behind the region or not? And many of them want to keep it just the way it [was], just a Peyton Place, sleepy, quiet . . . .  The idea is to make it so difficult for us to conduct business that we’ll be forced out in the long run.”

The reality is that many of the small businesses in the towns are dependent on the tourist traffic that comes here. When it was just potato farms the season lasted from Memorial Day to Labor Day and that was it. Back in the 80s, when interest rates were up to 19% farmers couldn’t get the loans they needed to keep going and they turned belly up because they had already taken loans before this and couldn’t continue to make the payments. They’d been hoping that the next crop would get them back in the black. But it’s the same with grapes: you have to have a good crop, but you have a year like 2011 and suddenly you have a lot of empty bottles that you can’t fill.

Another reason the potato farmers went bust was that they couldn’t see how to convert potatoes to another more profitable product. (It’s only recently that one farmer, on the advice of his children, turned his spuds into chips—which are selling really well all over the Island—while others are having the potatoes turned into spirits at a new distillery, Long Island Spirits, as LiV Vodka. In fact, if a wine doesn’t turn out as it should, it can be taken there and made into a grape brandy.

Indeed, Ron has been experimenting with making brandy from his grapes and at present he has a barrel of 180 proof spirit—that’s 90% abv—which he’s thinking of making into schnapps, adding different kinds of different local fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, apple, and so on.

There are other issues of concern to Ron. Just a week before our interview, he had returned to LI from a trip to Champagne with Steve Bate, Executive Director of the LI Wine Council , and winemaker Jim Waters, under the auspices of Protect Place (see Edible East End), an organization founded in Napa with the signing of The Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin in 2005, which LIWC signed and joined in 2010. Protect Place, the signatories of which also include Rioja, Jerez/Xeres/Sherry, Oporto, Chianti Classico, Bordeaux, and Tokaj among others, is primarily devoted to ensuring that participants do not use terms like Sherry, Chablis, Port, Champagne, etc. as terms for wines not originating in those regions. In fact, Ron said, there remain a few producers on Long Island that still use terms like Champagne (or Méthode Champenoise) and Port. That has to change, but people are resistant to doing that, as they’ve been using such terms for many years. Another issue that is being addressed by Protect Place and many of its members is that of the new .vin and .wine domain names that have been proposed by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers). Protect Place is firmly opposed to their implementation, on the grounds that these new domains will confuse the public and allow widespread abuse. The 48 member wineries of the LIWC are united in that opposition.

Jamesport currently makes six reds and six whites, plus a rosé and a late harvest dessert wine. They offer two ranks of wine, the “crowd-pleasing” East End wines, which include Cinq (a blend of five red varieties) Cinq Blanc (a blend of five white varieties), Chardonnay, and Rosé. The Estate wines include four whites: a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling “Trocken” and Riesling Late Harvest; the Estate reds include Cabernet Franc, Mélange de Trois ( a blend of three varieties dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon), Jubilant Reserve (a blend that is primarily Cab Franc), Sidor Reserve (a Syrah-dominated blend), and a Petit Verdot Reserve. Plus a verjus—a non-alcoholic kind of vinegar here made with unripe Riesling grapes. (Old Jamesport Cab Sauvs may still be found, and some Pinot Noir is still around).

Cabernet Franc, which Jamestown makes in three styles, is its premier red wine, while Cab Sauv can only be made on warm years because it ripens late, such as in ‘05, ‘07, and ’10.  The earlier two vintages which are nearly all sold out, but the’10 is just now on the market.  However, Ron wants, in the end, to focus on just three wines: Sauv Blanc, Cab Franc, and Merlot—the most widely planted grape in the region.  (They pulled all their Pinot Noir because after twenty years of effort they just weren’t getting the return in quality fruit.   In fact, it was costing about $15,000 to work the plot of Pinot, but too often disease would ruin the crop; in the end there was no alternative.)  The reason that he currently produces twenty different wines at two different price ranges is to please the crowds that come to the tasting room as well as figure out what they want.

The Cab Franc Estate wine typically is aged for 18 months. The 2007 spent nearly two years in oak, and that was the one we tasted. It has about 5% Merlot in the blend. It made me think of a Right Bank Bordeaux—specifically, St. Emilion. The 2007 Jubillant blend was tasting beautifully, made of 68% Cab Franc, 18% Cab Sauv, 18% Merlot, 2.5% Syrah, and 2.5% Petit Verdot—a kind of Bordeaux blend in the 19th-Century style, with the addition of some Syrah. It was softer, with well-knit tannins—a very flavorful, well-balanced wine.

We also tasted a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from a cool vintage, which gave it a grassy flavor and herbal notes, with firm acidity; as Ron says, “a real crowd-pleaser.”  He likes to ferment his Sauv Blancs in puncheons so that they get some wood flavoring but not as much as would be imparted by barrels.  The 2012, however, was not done in puncheons because of the conditions of that year, so it was done in barrels.  The 2013 reserve is sitting in puncheons right now, and will take that classic fumé style that comes from the wood. Ron likes using the puncheons because they don’t impart so much oak, instead allowing the maturing wine to absorb the complexing tones of the wood.

A Riesling was poured, and it had a firm acid backbone, bone-dry with plenty of mineral and slate tones to it. This is a wine that is not traditionally seen in Long Island, but there are four acres of it in the vineyard. Ron sees the acidity as holding the wine together as well as balancing it to pair with food.  With respect to high-acid wines, Ron said that he’s experimenting with Albariño, of which he as an acre planted that will be ready for next year. This was inspired by Miguel Martín, who was the first to plant the variety in Long Island at Palmer Vineyards, where he’s now had several years of success with it.  Ron likes it because it also is an aromatic grape, somewhere between Riesling and Sauv Blanc.  A bonus of this variety is that if the crop doesn’t result in a quality varietal wine it can also be used for blending.

The point is clear.  Jamesport Vineyards is serious about making quality wine and, as a top-rated winery in Long Island it succeeds in doing exactly that.  The wines are as honest as the winemaker, Ron Goerler, Jr.  That’s very honest indeed.

Since the interview in April 2014 Ron has hired a new winemaker, Dean Barbiar, a very talented oenologist who earned his wine education at the University of Maryland and has experience making wine in many corners of the world.  Ron is now free to work in the vineyard more given that it’s his true passion.  He has also been succeeded as President of the LIWC by Sal Diliberto.  Now he can really focus on the business of running a winery.

Main Road (Route 25)
Jamesport, NY 11947
Ph: 631-722-5256

Jamesport Vineyards Website

 Interviewed on 17 April 2014

 

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.

_________________________

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: Bedell Cellars

Bedell Cellars was established by Kip Bedell in 1980, making it one of the oldest vineyards on the East End and only one of ten that have vines that are 30 years old or more.  Bedell was eventually sold in 2000 to Michael Lynne, executive producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a former head of New Line Cinema.  Lynne, who already had just purchased Corey Creek Vineyards, brought both great enthusiasm and deep pockets to Bedell, has turned the winery and its tasting room into an elegant and modern space to make and display some of the most distinctive wines on the North Fork, as well as a collection of fine Contemporary Art.

Rich Olsen-HarbichBedell’s winemaker, Richard Olsen-Harbich, is himself a 34-year veteran of the wine trade in Long Island, both as a vineyard manager and winemaker, first working at Mudd Vineyards, and then worked at Bridgehampton Winery in both capacities.  It was while he was at Bridgehampton that he drew up the applications for the Hamptons AVA and then one for the North Fork, and finally one for Long Island.   It was at there that Rich saw the effects of bad vineyard siting, when the vines collapsed during a hard winter, due to cold spots and poor drainage.   Nevertheless, he managed to produce a number of award-winning wines at Bridgehampton, in the end working with purchased fruit.  He then went on to work at Hargrave Vineyard—the pioneer vineyard that had started viticulture on the island—and later helped establish Raphael with Steve Mudd, a well-known grower and vineyard consultant.  He remained at Raphael until 2010, when he moved to Bedell.  With a degree in agronomy from Cornell and his years of experience in the business, Rich has among the strongest credentials of anyone in the East End wine business.

David Thompson is Bedell’s vineyard manager and is responsible for, among other things, helping to write the Long Island sustainability guidelines for Cornell University’s Vine Balance Initiative, a ‘best practices’ handbook for sustainable grape growing in New York State.  So it’s clear that Bedell has a very strong team in the two men.  I unfortunately did not an opportunity to meet David and so conducted my interview with Rich alone.

Rich has been with Bedell Cellars for three years, and he has a complete grasp of what goes on in Bedell’s vineyards.  As pointed out by Jay McInerney, wine writer for the Wall Stret Journal, in his wine column of Sept. 6, 2013, “The Other Bordeaux Lies Closer to Home,” “The arrival of Richard Olsen-Harbich in 2010 seems to have marked a turning point. . . . [and he] has taken Bedell Cellars to new heights since he arrived at the winery.”  

With respect to the vineyards and the cultivation of the vines, he says that:

“When we plant a new field we start a liming program early on; our aim is to bring the pH up to 6.2 to 6.4.  Thereafter we only need to replenish the soil with lime once or twice in every ten years. We use a water tank to irrigate new vines when there’s a dry spell.

“Our preferred vine spacing varies, according to the plot of vines: it can range from 9’ by 7’ or 8’, 8’ by 3’ for Syrah vines, and even 8’ by 4’.  I’d say that the average spacing works out to about 9’ by 5’. We typically harvest about two tons an acre and we prefer to pick the grapes manually.”

“Practicing sustainable agriculture means that you have to have a system that pays attention to both ecology and economy.  You need low-impact strategies because, after all, our vineyards are near towns and we have an obligation to be good neighbors.  So, we hire local people, do not foul our own nests, and we have social obligations as well.  For example, in order to preserve the vineyards as farmland forever, we have sold our development rights to the Peconic Land Trust. “We make our own compost, using the natural by-products of grape pressing and fermentation and returning these to the vineyard soil.  In my opinion, using fish fertilizer is not sustainable, as it means devastating wild fish populations, so I consider that to be ‘dirty’; it’s better and cleaner to use commercial nitrogen fertilizer made from peanut byproducts.” The Website adds that “We avoid or minimize the use of synthetic fertilizers, instead encouraging responsible natural stewardship of soil health, fertility, and stability.”

Bedell has long participated in the Cornell University VineBalance program, and both Dave and Rich sit on the advisory committee that provides recommendations for the ongoing research.  The winery is also a founding member of the North Fork Sustainable Winegrowing certification program, itself an outgrowth of VineBalance.

With respect to organic farming, Rich says that he believes that the science of organics is flawed and that much more work needs to be done before we can say that we really understand what organics add to sustainability.  In this respect he points out that both copper and sulfur of the kind that is used in farming are industrial products, so neither can be considered ‘natural’ or ‘organic,’ and copper, while highly toxic and with long persistence in the soil, is permitted in organic agriculture.  Both sulfur and copper are insuperable fungicides and are difficult to replace when humid conditions may prevail, as is often the case in Long Island.

Bedell’s excellent Website adds the following information:

There are several other ways we have worked for the public interest through a sustainability-minded vineyard program:

  • We participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentive Program and Conservation Security Program, which rewards good land stewardship through nutrient, pest and cropland management, natural windbreaks, and non-planted wildlife buffer areas.
  • We established a dense cover crop of grasses, fescues, and clovers between the rows of grapevines to maintain high biological species diversity in the vineyard.  These row-middle cover crops also reduce soil erosion and promote symbiotic relationships between plants and beneficial insects.
  • We minimize off-farm inputs such as agricultural chemicals to protect the farmer, the environment, and society at large.
  •  If we have to spray a fungicide to control a specific grapevine pathogen such as powdery mildew, we use one with the lowest possible environmental impact.
  • We avoid or minimize agricultural chemicals that do not biodegrade and might build-up in the soil over time.
  • We scout the vineyard for insects using Integrated Pest Management principles and economic threshold evaluation to eliminate or minimize insecticide use.
  • We encourage a natural flow of ecosystem elements through the presence of Bluebird houses, honey bee hives, and deer migration corridors. At Bedell, we employ sustainable, ecological viticulture to ensure the highest quality fruit without unnecessary, high-risk practices.  We grow grapes for our own unique environmental conditions – the first step toward a pure expression of local terroir in our wines.

Bedell’s conviction about terroir is found, vividly expressed, in the cave of the winery, Bedell Soil Cross-sectionwhere a plexiglass box hanging on the wall displays a cross-section of vineyard soil (though compressed vertically many times over) showing how loam, sand, clay, and gravel are layered.  (The image also holds the reflection of wine barrels, appropriately perhaps.)  It helps explain how stratification can account for such factors as drainage and/or retention of water in the soil—which is important in understanding how vines respond to the terroir in which they grow, along with the effects of slope, aspect to the sun, etc.  (See “Olson-Harbich’s Obsession with Soil . . . ” on the New York Cork Report blog, June 2, 2011.)

Furthermore, it goes on to say, “We maintain viticultural practices that produce the highest quality fruit possible, while also being sensitive to the environment and financially viable over time. . . . Each of our three unique vineyard sites is a holistic ecological system,” and together total approximately 80 planted acres: Bedell Home Vineyard on the Main Road in Cutchogue, behind the winery and tasting room; Corey Creek Vineyards on Main Road in Southold, adjacent to the Corey Creek tasting room; and Wells Road Vineyard on Main Road in Peconic.  According to Rich, there are five sections planted to Merlot, its most important variety, for a total of 32 acres in 50 separate plots, as can be seen on the maps below.  The other varieties planted at the sites include Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Bedell’s viticultural philosophy is presented very clearly on its Website (about the vineyards); indeed, I find it is the fullest, yet pithiest exposition of its viticultural practices of any of the Island vineyards, and the only one to offer plot maps.  Rich’s blog posts on the Website are especially worth reading-for example, his assessment of the 2013 vintage: Lucky 13.  (Shinn Estate discusses organic and Biodynamic viticulture (along with its harvest reports, wine releases, dinners, and so on) in its “Shinn Digs” blog, which is updated weekly with posts by both Barbara Shinn and her husband, David Page, and Channing Daughters, via its blog with posts by James Christopher Tracy, from his “Winemaker’s Wonderings” column in Edible East End, a quarterly journal devoted to food and wine of the region.)

As a vintner dedicated to making ‘natural’ or ‘minimalist’ wines, he points out, first of all, that “we try to stay away from late season fungicide applications in order to preserve the wild yeasts tBedell wild yeast brewhat are used for fermentation.”  Indeed, one of Bedell’s hallmark’s is its commitment to the use of indigenous yeasts, thanks to Rich, who, in fact has inaugurated what has become a new ritual at Bedell–the care and feeding of the  yeast in preparation for the fermentation of the new harvest.  It’s a bit of a witch’s brew, minus the eye of newt and leg of toad–perhaps it should be called a ‘fairies’ brew,’ given the addition of wildflowers, freshly-picked local fruit, including apple, pear, and a white peach.  (A post on Facebook about this provoked an article in October 2013 by Louisa Hargrave, The Yeasty Beasties, which is well-worth reading.)  In fact, Eric Fry has an amusing anecdote about Rich’s commitment to wild yeast:

That’s his thing and he does it… he’s been doing it for years and he seems to have it figured out, and cool, that’s good fine, yeah, good for him, good for him. It’s really funny because when Rich moved from Raphael to Bedell, he showed up at Bedell and he’s looking around, he’s rummaging around, and seeing what’s there and everything like that, and he came over [to see me at Lenz] and said “I’ve got like six or eight boxes of yeast here, do you want them?”

I said “OK, I’ll take them.” Because [Rich] says “I don’t want them.”

As with all of the top vineyards that I’ve visited on the East End, Bedell’s wines begin in the vineyard and the results are telling.  For example, it’s Bordeaux-style blend (with some Syrah), Musée, was awarded 91 points by Wine Spectator for the 2007 vintage—the highest score by that publication for a red wine yet attained by any East End winery.  The sample I tasted was already rich in flavor, with good acidity and tannins to give it backbone, but it was still a bit closed.  (Musée is also very expensive, but I bought two bottles that I plan to lay down for several years.)  Bedell claims that it can keep for up to 15-20 years.  Any wine that can develop for that long has to be exceptional, so to drink it now would be to commit infanticide.  I also bought a few bottles of Corey Creek’s Gewürztraminer, which I found to be among the best of that variety of any North American ones that I’ve tasted.  Irresistible. 

This is a vineyard and winery that commands high respect and praise.  I recommend visiting winery and its elegant tasting room, festooned with a collection of contemporary art including works by Barbara Kruger, Chuck Close, and others.  If you cannot get there soon, at least visit the Bedell Website.

Based on an interview with Richard Olsen-Harbich on 12 May 2011, with additions from the Bedell Website            updated 13 Sept. 2013 and 30 Dec 2014

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