Category Archives: Vineyards

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: Raphael Winery

Raphael Winery entrance, by Petrocelli Construction

Raphael Winery, in Peconic, on the North Fork of Long Island, was founded by John Petrocelli Sr. and his wife, Joan, and is family-owned.  Petrocelli is also the owner of J. Petrocelli Construction, which specializes in quality design and building, and the handsome, 28,000 sq. ft.  winery was designed by him, inspired by the architecture of the Neapolitan monasteries of his native Italy.  He named it after his father, Raphael, who was an avid home winemaker like his own father before him, so John Sr. came by his oenophilia perhaps genetically.  The venture was five years in planning and cost $6,000,000 to complete, with the intention of making the premium winery of Long Island, Italian-inspired but Bordeaux-oriented.

When the commitment to build the winery was made, it was clear that a vital component, the vineyard, needed to be tended to by expert viticulturalists.  The family then hired David and Steve Mudd—Mudd VMC is the premier vineyard management consulting firm on the Island—to help guide them in the development of a Bordeaux-type of winery.  Also hired as advisers were Paul Pontallier, managing director of Ch. Margaux—one of the five Premier Cru châteaux in Bordeaux— along with Richard Smart, a respected Australian viticulture consultant who had earned his Ph.D. at Cornell.   With their advice the cellar and equipment was developed along those lines, and built twelve feet below the ground in order to allow for the first gravity-fed fermentation tanks to be used in the region, using as models Opus One and Mondavi, of Napa Valley.   (Gravity feed is considered to be less stressful and damaging to the fruit and organic matter that constitutes the must than is mechanical pumping.)

One of Raphael’s vineyard plots

In 1996 the Mudds planted the first vineyard for Raphael with Merlot, and have been managing the vineyard, which has grown to 60 acres over the years, ever since, using sustainable practices, including what Steve Mudd calls “fussy viticulture”—green harvesting by hand—from the very beginning.  (In fact, the first wine made under the Raphael label came from Merlot vines grown at the Mudds’ own vineyard and were vinified at Pellegrini Vineyard.  The first wine produced at the new facility was the 1999 vintage.)  Other varieties have been planted since the Merlot, including Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

According to Steve Mudd, a nine-foot space between rows is supposed to provide room for equipment to move along the rows, but it’s a myth that that much space is necessary.  Pontallier, when asked his opinion about the row spacing and vine density, said, “it is not for me to say” what it should be, but back in 1994, when the vineyard was still in the planning stage, he had argued against close spacing, suggesting 3 meters (10 feet).  The density of the first planting at Raphael is just 820 vines per acre (9’x6’ spacing) as opposed to about 2,550 in Bordeaux.  Later plantings increased the density somewhat, and the rest of the vineyard is now spaced at 9’x5’, or 968 vines/acre.

The quality wines produced by Raphael simply would not be possible if it weren’t for the work done in the vineyard by Steve Mudd and his crew.  High-quality fruit is always there for the winemaker, even in a bad-harvest year like 2011.

For further insight into the viticultural practices at Raphael, the reader is referred to another post, on Mudd VMC, the contracted vineyard manager for the winery.

Richard Olsen-Harbich, who had been Raphael’s winemaker since its founding and helped define its style of wines—made reductively, using native yeasts, with minimal intervention, in order to allow the hand-picked grapes to more clearly express the terroir.  After he left in 2010 to work at Bedell Cellars  Leslie Howard became winemaker, but in 2012 Les moved on and Anthony Nappa, former winemaker at Shinn Estate, maker of Anthony Nappa Wines, and founder of the Winemaker’s Studio, took over as winemaker at Raphael.

I met Anthony several years ago, when he was winemaker at Shinn (2007 to 2011). When he first went to there it was with the understanding that he could use their facilities to make wine for his own label, which bears his name. His first wine under his label was 200 cases of LI Pinot Noir. After he left Shinn he focused more on his own wines and made them at Premium Wine Group, the custom crush facility in Mattituck.

Anthony-Nappa at RaphaelHe now has same arrangement with Raphael. As he explains, “We keep everything very separate. [Raphael’s] business is very separate from ours. We pay to make the wine here; it’s just like at Premium. We pay to store it; we pay everything just like we would if we were just a customer. A lot of times I’m working on my stuff, I’m working on their stuff or whatever, but I just try to keep everything very separate. They don’t sell our wine, we don’t sell their wine.”  (To read more about Anthony Nappa and his own wines, see Oenology in LI: Anthony Nappa Wines.)

For Anthony, who has certainly had plenty of experience on both coasts, Long Island is the place to make wine in the East. He told me that “I really think Long Island is the best wine region on the East Coast by far. It’s so diverse; we’ve so much potential. The wines that I’d tasted even ten years ago were better than anywhere else along the East Coast, and they’re even better now.”

To the question, “What have you done since you’ve been here to in any way define the wines of Raphael to a new standard, an Anthony Nappa standard?”

He replied that by “having standards, the first goal is to just figure out where we are and what’s going on with sales and production, and try to get the business side of things in line as far as what we’re making, cutting packaging costs, and streamlining the whole production side. Raphael wants to make money, so obviously the financial side of it is important. And then on the winemaking side, it was just looking at every product. The first thing is to only make as much as we sell. A lot of wineries just bring in the fruit, make it, bottle it, warehouse it. Our goal is to figure out what we’re selling, and any excess we sell off in bulk—any fruit or wine or whatever—and then figuring out each product and having a standard for it.

“We have a whole line of what we call ‘First Label.’  It’s all the Reserve wines, and those are all from our vineyard. We buy a lot of fruit too, but those are all from our vineyard. It’s just like with my own wines, we have very high standards for fruit and we have very high standards for the quality of each wine. I’ll just not make a wine. If the quality is not there, if the fruit doesn’t deliver, it gets downgraded to a lower level wine, and if the vineyard doesn’t deliver, we just don’t buy the fruit. That’s easy for me, because I’m the one buying the fruit.

“It’s easy to fuck things up. You’re taking grapes and from the moment you pick them, it’s all downhill. You’re just trying to protect it through the process, but it’s on a long, slow trail to becoming vinegar from the moment you pick it . . .”

I replied, “It seems to me every single winery should have a sign that says ‘First thing, don’t fuck it up.’”

He went on: “But we try to make everything.  I’m a non-interventionist. I want the grapes to express themselves. I want the Cab Franc to taste like Cab Franc and I don’t want to just make everything taste the same. So usually I just bring things in and let everything ferment wild and let things go. And then I intervene when I have to. When the fruit comes in we look at it and we make decisions sometimes on the fly based on what we’re going to do. Then I always err on the side of caution. If I’m not sure about something I do nothing, and I intervene when I have to.”

Anthony concluded with this remark: “I think a lot of wineries just go through the motions and just make the same wines every year and there’s a huge separation between upstairs and downstairs and outside and inside and there needs to be more synergy, there to have some more consistency. No one has done anything different ever in this business that hasn’t been done for the last thousands of years. It’s just about taking thousands of decisions and putting them in a different order and you get a different result. But there are no secrets, you know.”

Trying Raphael’s wines in the spacious and handsome tasting room proved to be very interesting, as there was a wide range of wine types and styles on offer, and he had plenty to say about them.  (Please note:  the wines identified as “First Label” are considered to be Reserve Wines; i.e., the best produced by the winery.)

The 2010 First Label Chardonnay ($39), which came out of Mudd Vineyards (there is no Chardonnay planted at Raphael) was pressed to yield 120 gallons per ton of grapes (clone CY3779), so out of 5 tons of this particular parcel 600 gallons, or about 3,000 bottles, were made.  It underwent a 100% malolactic fermentation, was kept on its lees, and spent eight months in oak barrels.  It was bottled unfiltered, with low sulfites.  The result was that in the glass the wine was clear, offering citrus, butterscotch flavors, and toasty notes.  It has the typicity of an oaked Chardonnay, somewhere between a Burgundy or California version.  2010 was perhaps the greatest wine vintage in Long Island—given its early budding, excellent weather, and early harvest—and the quality of the Chardonnay was also a reflection of this.  Made by Leslie Howard.

The 2013 First Label Sauvignon Blanc ($28)  The last months of the growing season had no precipitation and no notable disease pressure, so Raphael was able to harvest each grape variety at leisure and at each one’s peak. According to them all the wines from 2013 show exceptional natural balance and full ripeness, which is also promising for the future longevity of the wines of this vintage.  The Sauvignon Blanc was made from hand-selected grapes from their oldest vines to help produce balanced, structured wines. Made with partial skin contact and cold-fermented in stainless steel, this dry wine exhibits a bright nose of citrus and pineapple, along with flavors of pineapple, grapefruit and lemongrass, a full body and a long dry acidic finish.It’s a clear, pale-lemon colored wine with aromas of pineapple, white peach, and, citrus; clean, medium-bodied, with high acidity and a mineral finish.  An exceptionally enjoyable Sauvignon Blanc that matches well with seafood and spicy Indian and other Asian cuisines.  Made by Anthony Nappa.  13.1% ABV.

Raphael Riesling 2013The 2013 First Label Riesling  ($28) from the same excellent vintage as that of the Sauvignon Blanc described above.  The grapes were hand-harvested and pressed very gently after two days of skin contact in the tank. The juice was fermented using naturally-occurring indigenous yeasts from the  skins. Fermentation was carried out cold at 55F and lasted 5 weeks. The wine saw no wood, as befits a Riesling.  It was blended from several batches and then bentonite-fined for heat stability, cold-stabilized and sterile-filtered before bottling.  This is a limited-production, dry Riesling that offers a firm but balanced acidity matched by fruit concentration that produces a beguilingly aromatic and rather full-bodied—for a Riesling—with a dry, minerally finish.  This wine shows flavors of fresh apricot and ripe pear.  Excellent as an aperitif or to accompany seafood, chicken dishes, and spicy cuisines.  Anthony Nappa.  12.4% ABV.

The 2013 Cabernet Franc ($25) also benefited from the excellent conditions of the vintage.  The fruit was hand-harvested, de-stemmed, and crushed. The grapes from different lots were then fermented apart.  The fermentation was carried out at 75F to retain fruit flavors and took a month with pumpovers twice a day. The wine was aged with 50% in stainless steel and the rest in French oak barrels, where it underwent natural malolactic fermentation. The aging took ten months before the wine was blended and then bottled unfiltered and unfined.  The resulting wine has a firm acidity, full body, and offers a pronounced fruity aroma of ripe red berries with herbal notes and a hint of tobacco.  It is actually ready to drink now bout would certainly bear aging a few more years, given that it was so recently bottled.  A fine accompaniment to any variety of pork, beef, or lanb dishes.  It would be good with cheese or chocolate as well.  Anthony Nappa.  12.9% ABV.

In June 2015 the Wine Advocate blog posted a review of 200 Long Island Wines, of which 7 were from Raphael, earning scores of 86 to 92 points.  The top Raphael wine was the 2010 Merlot First Label, by Leslie Howard, with 92 points, followed by the 2014 Suvignon Blanc First Label, at 91 points, by Anthony Nappa, and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon by Howard at 90 points.  Quite a track record from Robert Parker’s Website.

Based on interviews with Anthony Nappa and Steve Mudd

13 June 2012; updated 22 June 2014

39390 Main Road/Route 25, Peconic, NY 11958; (631) 765.1100

Raphael Wine

tastingroom@raphaelwine.com

For further reading, Anthony Nappa and his own brand of wines were written about by Eileen Duffy in her book, Behind the Bottle (Cider Mill Press, 2015).

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

 

Interview with Tom Puyaubert of Bodegas Exopto, Rioja

Exopto logo

 

 

exopto1 | ,eksõptõ | verb [ with obj. ]

1 from the Latin exopto, are, avi, atum.
To desire eagerly, long for.

2 winery founded in 2003 by Tom Puyaubert in La Rioja.

It is fascinating that more often than one may care to count, a winemaker comes across a way to make a new wine quite by accident. Not all accidents in the vineyard or winery are happy ones, but in Tom’s case two such accidents led to very happy results.

The first such accident happened in the vineyard in 2005, when heavy rains threatened the crop. Fortunately, the Tempranillo was ready to be picked before the rains struck—it is, after all, an early ripener, as its name indicates (temprano means early). There was a significant crop of the variety and not very much of the shy and recalcitrant Graciano, which was then still rather green on the vine. Tom made the obvious and appropriate decision to pick the Tempranillo and leave the Graciano for later. Ten days later, in October, after the rains were over and he finally had time to take a look, he found the Graciano nearly raisined on the vines but chose to pick it nonetheless. The results amazed him, for Graciano is usually picked much earlier to escape the September rains. In this case the resulting wine was exception and this led to his flagship wine, Exopto. (More about Exopto below.)

The second accident occurred in the winery. Viura, the primary Rioja white grape, was already in cask and after a few months was ready to be bottled, but Tom’s wife was about to give birth, so of course the new baby took precedence over the fate of the Viura. By the time that Tom got back to the Viura in barrel, it had already developed further. Tom realized that the additional time in oak had evolved the wine into something much more interesting that he’d expected and decided to give it yet more time on wood. A full year of aging in barrel produced a wine of surprising and exceptional character. That wine became his Horizonte Blanco. (More about Horizonte Blanco below.)

Tom PuyaubertTom, born in Bordeaux, has now lived in Spain for fifteen years, even though his original intent was to complete his studies in international business within six months. In order to support himself while there he engaged with a French oak-barrel maker, Saury, to sell its products in Spain. However, he fell in love with the region and its wine-producing potential and decided to pursue his dream of making his own wine there. He had already had experience working for wineries in the United States and France. In fact, when he was but 20 years old Tom had decided not to go to California, as so many European hopefuls who wanted to become winemakers did, because he felt he’d gain more and learn more by working for a small, family-owned winery than for a California behemoth. He chose Virginia and worked for Rockbridge Vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley for four months where became adept in all aspects of winegrowing and winemaking, picking up Spanish while working in the vineyard with the Mexican workers.

It was while working at Rockbridge that he determined that this was what he wanted to do in life, and he will always remember with gratitude Shepard Rouse, the owner and winemaker, whom he considers his mentor. He learned everything that he needed to know in the vineyard, the winery, the office, and the tasting room. It was, Tom said, “A complete experience technically, culturally, and even linguistically.”

Bodegas Exopto is one of the many new wineries in Rioja that is breaking new ground with new ideas, new attitudes, and new technology. There are still many traditionalist die-hards (and long may they live) such as Marqués de Murrieta, López Herredia, and others that will continue to produce their wines using American oak, aging the wines—both red and white—for long periods, and then delaying their release in bottle until they are deemed ready to consume. Very deep pockets are needed in order to do this. This has long been a recipe for making great wine in Rioja, but it is slowly yielding to the global advances in technology and new ideas. Exopto, founded in 2003, is at the cutting edge of the new in all respects.

An important point to grasp about Rioja is rooted in its history as a wine region. Wine had been made there for many generations and its consumption was largely local. For the most part it was sold in cask and very little of it was bottled. This was radically changed by the arrival of many Bordelaise winemakers who fled to Spain when phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Bordeaux. The French purchased grapes from the growers, established many new wineries or worked for existing ones, and changed the nature of Rioja wine, but they also helped create a divide between the winegrowers and the winemakers. There are now 500 wineries and 15,000 vineyards.

Tom wanted to do things differently, which meant that he would lease his vineyards but also have a winery to make wine from his own fruit. In this way he could control everything. He is a genuine terroirist and garagiste, which is to say vineyard manager and winemaker, as well as part owner. Nonetheless, all of his wines conform to the regulations of the Rioja Consejo de Denominación de Origen Calificada (D.O.Ca.).

The following are Exopto’s vineyards with a full description of the terroir of each (this information comes from the winery’s Website):

Exopto vines, PeriquitaPeriquita

Location: Abalos, altitude of 200 meters.

Surface area: 1,5 Ha. (3.8 acres)

Soil: gravel with sandy subsoil.

Variety: Tempranillo.

Orientation: south.

Special features: due to its orientation and soils this vineyard produces some very mature and fruity Tempranillos.

Wine: Bozeto.

Exopto vines, PortilloEl Portillo

Location: Abalos, altitude of 600 meters.

Surface area: 0,5 Ha. (1.25 acres)

Soil: gravel with sand subsoil.

Variety: Tempranillo, Garnacha.

Orientation: north – south.

Special features: very old vines situated on land in part of the village. An air current often blows through this parcel lying at the foot of the Sierra Cantabria Mountains. However, its stony ground allows the heat of the day to be absorbed. This results in grapes that are well-balanced and complex with great freshness.

Wine: Exopto.

Exopto vines, las abejasLas Abejas

Location: Abalos, altitude of 400 meters.

Surface area: 1,5 Ha. (3.8 acres)

Soil: calcareous clay.

Variety: Tempranillo.

Orientation: south – east.

Special features: vineyard of very old vines (60 years old) with an extremely limited yield (1kg/per vine) producing some highly concentrated wines with excellent structure.

Wine: Horizonte.

Exopto vines, chulatoChulato

Location: Abalos, altitude of 200 meters.

Surface area: 2 Ha. (5 acres)

Soil: calcareous clay.

Variety: Tempranillo.

Orientation: south – west.

Special features: the particular feature of this slope with very good sun exposure is the presence of a subterranean river that borders the vineyard. This cool atmosphere ensures that some very well-balanced, complex grapes are obtained which always maintain very good acidity.

Wine: Horizonte, Exopto / Parte Alta.

Exopto vines, las balsillasLas Balsillas

Location: Alfaro – Monte Yerga, altitude of 500 meters.

Surface area: 0,2 Ha. (0.5 acre)

Soil: pebbles.

Variety: Graciano.

Orientation: east.

Special features: a Graciano “micro-parcel” with very good orientation that allows the grapes to ripen gradually. A river running in the subsoil regulates maturity in extremely hot conditions.

Wine: Exopto.

Exopto vines, el agudoEl Agudo

Location: Alfaro – Monte Yerga, altitude of 500 metres.

Surface area: 3 Ha. (7.6 acres)

Soil: gravel, sandy subsoil.

Variety: Garnacha.

Orientation: east.

Special features: an old Garnacha parcel (60 years old) that enjoys a Mediterranean influence especially favourable for perfect maturity. The altitude allows good acidity to be obtained and vigour on the palate.

Wine: Bozeto

As can be seen from the pictures above, all the vines are gobelet-trained (called en vaso in Spain, and also referred to as bush vines). The vines must be managed manually and hand-harvested.

There is something extremely satisfying about finding a winery Website that provides such complete information about its vineyards, for very few provide it.

Eighty percent of his production is exported abroad. It is difficult, as a newcomer, to break into the highly competitive markets for wine in countries like France, Germany, England, or Spain itself. He’s had much more success selling his wine in Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Singapore, and now in the United States, thanks to Patrick Mata and Olé Imports. In fact, Olé has been importing his wines to the U.S. since 2006, beginning with his 2004 Horizonte. He now sells about half of his total production here.

Etiqueta bozetoHis most popular and affordable wine is the Bozeto (formerly known as “Big Bang”), made of 50% Garnacha, 40% Tempranillo, and 10% Graciano, made from organically and sustainably-grown vines that were planted in 1980. The 2012 is still young but very approachable. It has a nearly opaque purple core in the glass with a very narrow meniscus, and its nose is of medium intensity, redolent of red and black berries, and briefly manifests notes of sardines when first opened, but that vanishes as it breathes and peppery notes come forward. (In fact, I’d give it an hour to air before serving it so that it can really open up.) In the mouth it shows a lifted acidity and medium to full body with nicely-balanced tannins; very fruit-forward—dominated the berry flavors—with notes of licorice, especially in the finish. It has gotten 90+ points from Robert Parker over several vintages. I’d call it a perfect barbecue wine and the price is also right at $15 retail.

Etiqueta horizonte tintoThe Horizonte Tinto is another wine that is exceptionally good and available at a very reasonable price, but there is so little of it that most of it can only be found in restaurants. Still, a wine that earns scores of 90 plus consistently is one to which we should all pay attention. This red wine stands out by being a blend that reflects Rioja tradition, while the growing and making of it is other than traditional.

As with his other wines, Tom’s approach is very rigorous, with an almost fanatical attention to details. When the grapes are brought into the tiny winery 70% are destemmed and the balance is lightly crushed. All are then macerated for four days at 5° Celsius (41° F.) before being transferred to concrete tanks for fermentation with the native yeasts that live on the skins. Post-fermentation the wine then spends another twenty days of maceration in contact with the skins, which impart yet more color, tannin, and flavor. The wine is then placed in highly-toasted barrels, 80% of which are made by Saury, a famous oak cooperage in France for which Tom is the representative in Spain. The other 20% are made of American oak—a nod to another tradition in Rioja, the use of American oak from the Appalachians However, beginning with the 2011 vintage, Tom only uses French oak, which in his opinion seems better suited to Rioja wines as what it imparts lends more elegance and subtlety to the wine. One third of all the barrels are new, another third are one year old, and the balance is two years old. The result is wine that after a year in toasted wood has acquired a smoky aroma and tobacco notes, while the fruit is expressed as black fruit—cherry and berry alike, and a hint of licorice in the finish. This is a wine that can be drunk now but should continue to evolve for a few years. Pretty remarkable for only $32.

For Tom, the use of new oak is akin to using salt to season food. Too much salt and the dish is ruined, too little and it lacks flavor. So it is with new oak; its use must be judicious and balanced. As a matter of fact, one could say that Tom is a master of oak usage, given that he also works for a cooperage.

Exopto 1,5L CUVÉE IBONThe Exopto is made of 60% Graciano, which is almost unique among the wines produced in Rioja. In the first place, there are only 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) planted in all of Rioja; his plot of Graciano is a mere half-acre. Furthermore, it is a wine that is only made in good years, as is the case with the 2010. Graciano is a difficult grape to grow and really needs ideal conditions in order to develop and mature properly with ample exposure to sunlight, else it will be far too acidic and green. As a result, given that most growers are looking for quantity more than quality, Graciano has been pulled and replaced with more productive vines like Tempranillo.

The thing about Graciano, as Tom discovered in 2005 quite by accident, is that it is the variety that must be picked last in the season, so that the acidity is brought more in balance, sugars have time to build up, and over-ripeness is the key. In years that are too cool, like 2008 and 2013, no wine is made as the fruit will not adequately mature in such a condition. In a year like 2010, when the conditions were just right, he bottled the Exopto, producing just a few dozen cases.

This is a very big wine, presenting itself with a purple opacity in the glass that cues you to what lies ahead. At four years this is still a young wine as is apparent from the color and nose, which is pungent with aromas of blackberry, graphite, black coffee, and minerals. In the mouth it feels huge, with its bracing acidity, firm tannins, and black fruit, along with a long, lingering finish. Still youthful, it needs about five years before it will ready to drink, and could be held in a proper cellar for decades more, thanks to its 60% Graciano, blended with 30% Tempranillo and 10% Garnacha. It earned 94 points in Wine Spectator. With only 342 cases produced it is indeed a very rare wine, yet its price for the quality is very reasonable at about $70 retail, but it is mostly sold in restaurants.

Mazuelo, a variety often used in Rioja red blends (usually with Tempranillo and Graciano), is the one traditional variety entirely absent in Tom’s wines.

Etiqueta horizonte blancoViura is another challenging variety. Usually, by itself, it produces a rather neutral and uninteresting wine. A handful of producers make some remarkable white wines dominated by Viura that have been aged in oak barrels for ten years, such as López Heredia’s Viña Tondonia White Grand Reserve 2009. These are very big and rather expensive wines, but then López Heredia is among the greatest and most traditional of wineries and one of the few to own its vineyards. For Tom, the discovery that Viura benefited from long contact with wood was a personal epiphany. One year in mostly neutral oak was all that it took for him to create a Viura-based white that was far from ordinary, though not at all like a Viña Tondonia either.

Tom makes the Horizonte Blanco with great care. Once the Viura is picked it is first fermented in stainless-steel vats so that the temperature can be controlled. As the fermentation begins to slow down the must is transferred to oak barrels to complete the fermentation. The barrels are not racked but rather the wine is kept on its lees, which at the beginning undergo battonage once a week, later every two weeks, and finally once a month. It is done using a system of special rollers that support the barrels and allow them to be rotated rather easily by hand. No baton is used for these lees. The same is done for all his wines.

The resulting wine is bright, with at first a nose offering stone fruit and citrus, but as it evolves in the glass it begins to yield a floral bouquet of considerable intensity. It offered a long, minerally finish that was refreshing and very satisfying. It is certainly ready to drink now but could continue to age in bottle for another several years. Only 1,800 bottles were made. All this for a mere $32.

These are wines that represent an interesting spectrum, from the quaffable, barbecue-friendly Bozeto, to the more refined character of the two Horizontes, to the powerful and elegant Exopto, all the product of a master crafter of wine from one of the great vinicultural and oenological regions of the world. It is not by accident.

Exopto wines come into the U.S. through Olé Imports, about which I wrote in a post back in October 2012 (Patrick Mata of Olé Imports). Their address and phone are:

Olé Imports USA:
Patrick Mata
56 Harrison St. Suite 405
New Rochelle, NY 10801
Ph.: 914-740-4724
Fax: 413-254-8923

Olé Imports Spain:
Alberto Orte
C/ Girasol, 4, Bq.1, 3ºB
11500 El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz
Ph.: +34-91-559-6659
Fax: +34-91-185-0945

Olé Imports

Bodegas Exopto

01.300 Laguardia, Álava, Spain / T +34 650 21 39 93 / info@exopto.net

Exopto Web page

The interview with Tom Puyaubert took place on 9 June 2014

 

Interview with Pablo del Villar, President of the Consejo Regulador of Rueda D.O.

image001

Villar in the vineyard I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Pablo del Villar, of Hermanos del Villar, owners of vineyards situated in the town of Rueda, Spain, in the Rueda DO, northwest of Madrid. He was in New York to help promote his wine, a Verdejo of the Oro de Castilla label, which is being brought to this country by Olé Imports.

Pablo was trained as a chemical engineer before he went into the wine business. Though born in Valladolid forty years ago, his family is from Rueda, the capital of the region and DO (Denominación de Origen) of the same name. At first he worked in the petroleum business, but as it happened, his father was a businessman who had long been involved in agriculture—crops like cereal, canola, sugar beets, and corn, as well as cattle—and in 1995 he and a brother purchased a winery. Four years later, Pablo was invited to come and run the winery, so he left the petroleum industry. Given his chemistry background, he found it easy to learn oenology. Not that, strictly speaking, he is the winemaker. On the other hand, he was recently elected as president of of the Consejo Regulador of the Rueda D.O. [the Regulatory Council of the Denomination of Origin of the Rueda wine district in the Community of Castile and León.  This was the first wine district in the Community to obtain DO status.]

The winery team with which he works numbers nine persons, of which one is a full-time winemaker—Alberto Martínez, who, though young, is trained and has ample experience. Most importantly for Pablo is that Alberto shares his intellectual curiosity. With respect to issues of blending, style, and so forth, Pablo is the final arbiter—he decides when the blending results in what he wants and then he instructs Alberto on how he wants it carried out.

To put the viniculture and winemaking in perspective one must bear in mind that Rueda is not like other winegrowing regions of Spain. For one thing, there are very few wineries—a mere seventy in all. They are all very professionally-run, large, and with fairly large production. Thus in Rueda the process of growing and making the wine is very efficient and well-paced. As Pablo says, “We are not traditional like so many wineries in other regions—that is, the business hasn’t been passed down from the great-grandfather, oak barrels aren’t much used, and so on. Our goals are to make affordable wines that are popular with consumers.”

Bear in mind that Rueda is almost exclusively a white-wine region. Its four principal varieties are Sauvignon Blanc—a French variety, Viura, Palomino (used in making fortified wines), and Rueda’s own autochthonous grape, Verdejo, which accounts for about 85% of total production as of 2013. (By comparison, Sauvignon Blanc is only 6%, Viura about 9%, and Palomino has declined from nearly 15% in 1999 to a mere .5% in 2013 and is due to be eliminated.) In fact, white-wine production in Rueda has grown from just over 20 million liters of wine to nearly 90 million in the last fifteen years. Red varieties had been grown in the region in the pre-phylloxera era, but were so devastated by the blight as to nearly disappear, but even today the production of the most-widely planted red grape, Tempranillo, represents barely 1.5% of overall wine production.

Rueda did not achieve official DO status until 1980, because until Marqués de Riscal invested heavily in a winery there in 1972 to produce Verdejo, the region had largely been making bulk wine. That it now enjoys DO status shows just how great a turnaround the region has accomplished.

Spanish wine regions, Rueda.

The Rueda D.O. is boxed in red. Click on the image to see an enlargement of the map.

Of all the producers of Verdejo wine, Hermanos del Villar has achieved something unique—acclaim for the Oro de Castilla as a “model” for the variety. Since 2007 it has consistently attained a 90-point rating from Steve Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar.

There is also an Oro de Castilla Sauvignon Blanc which, though similar to the Verdejo, is more mineral in character and also has tropical fruit notes.

For Pablo and the winery, “the entire point of making their wines is to extract everything that the grape offers without modifying it.”  Most of the work to make the wine is in the vineyard.

Villar vineyard, RuedaAt present there are 120 hectares (about 305 acres) with plans to plant another twelve or so, with 2,200 vines per hectare (or barely 900 per acre, which indicates fairly wide spacing). In the case of the Hermanos del Villar vineyards, the vines are trained on double-Guyot trellises; other vineyards in the region may plant using the vaso or goblet system, but at an even wider 1,100 vines per hectare (450 per acre). The reason for such wide spacing has to do with the terroir of the region, which is semi-arid, with high temperatures in the summer and very low ones in winter, along with a diurnal temperature range that is typical of high-altitude vineyards.

Consider, after all, that all the rain is concentrated in the fall and winter seasons, while the vines have to survive most of the spring and all summer with little or no rainfall at all. Another factor to consider is that the very stony soil doesn’t really hold on to moisture very well. Nevertheless, while there is vine irrigation in place, it is used primarily to help regulate the acidity of the soil rather than to raise production levels. Indeed, even though the Consejo Regulador of Rueda allows up to 10,000 kilos of fruit per hectare to be harvested (about 10,000 pounds or 5 tons per acre) Pablo says that they self-regulate the amount to be harvested to 7,500 kilos (about 3.5 tons). Pablo considers the 10,000 kilo limit as excessive for producing quality wine.

When harvesting the grapes, they aim not for a particular level of Brix in the fruit, but rather an aromatic ripeness, which usually leads to about a 12 to 12.5% of alcohol in the wine. (In other words, the focus is not on the sugar level, which may mislead the harvester to think that a level of 23 Brix will mean a phenolically mature grape, which may or may be the case.) The grapes are harvested by machine at night, when there are low temperatures and no sunlight to affect the fruit. The equipment is designed to bring the grapes to the winery clean of stems and leaves. One advantage, therefore, is that there is little need to chill the fruit before it goes into the fermentation tanks. Much of the fermentation takes place at 13°C. (56.6°F.) and some occurs at as low a temperature as 5°C or 41°F. The resulting wine is then aged on its lees in stainless-steel tanks. The lees are stirred for two reasons: one is to add complexity to the wine, and the other is to let it age better once in bottle, though of course it is meant to be drunk young.

The 2013 vintage was exceptional in Rueda, thanks to outstanding weather conditions with hot dry days and very cool nights as the harvest approached, resulting in elevated acidity and deep fruit flavors in the grapes.  The harvest took place on the night of September 28.

AF Etiqueta verdejo TI can speak to the quality of the 2013 Verdejo myself, having had the opportunity to taste it twice. The first time it was shared with friends over dinner, accompanying roast Cornish Game Hens. It was an elegant pairing, given the slight sweetness and subtle flavor of the birds which was offset by the bracing acidity, some minerality, and fresh citric aromas and flavors of the wine—along with a herbaceous character all of which is very much like a Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, the wine evolved in the glass to yield delicate notes of white peach. The second time I tasted it alone and then with my wife with arctic char served with dill—it was a superb accompaniment again and for the same reasons—it balanced the sweet and delicate taste of the fish as well as any white wine could hope to match.  The 2013 is a wine that will age gracefully for a few years to come.

It is these characteristics that make the Verdejo of Oro de Castilla a “best example” of the variety according to the Spanish Wine Academy; Josh Reynolds of Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar says that it is “a textbook Verdeho.” I myself would describe it as a “very model of a modern, major Verdejo.” (Thank you, Gilbert & Sullivan.)  Its retail price in wine shops will be around $17.

Oro de Castilla Website

The interview with Pablo del Villar took place on 21 April 2014

Oro de Castilla comes into the U.S. through Olé Imports, about which I wrote in a post back in October 2012 (Patrick Mata of Olé Imports). Their address and phone are:

Olé Imports USA:
Patrick Mata
56 Harrison St. Suite 405
New Rochelle, NY 10801
Ph.: 914-740-4724
Fax: 413-254-8923

Olé Imports Spain:
Alberto Orte
C/ Girasol, 4, Bq.1, 3ºB
11500 El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz
Ph.: +34-91-559-6659
Fax: +34-91-185-0945

Olé Imports Website 

 For a thoughtful assessment of the future of the Rueda DO, read this blog post on the Decanter Website.

 

Wölffer’s Trellis Sampler

I suspect that few people know of Wölffer’s trellis sampler, but I’m sure that it’s unique on the island, perhaps in all of New York State.  Located on the south side of the winery in the main building, it has examples of eight of the principle trellis systems used in vineyards around the world, only one of which is widely used in Long Island.  Viewing them is almost like taking a vineyard tour around the world with regard to the different ways that vines are trained.  There are compelling reasons for using one in preference to another, depending on the country, the climate, the prevailing laws of a region, and custom or tradition.

Needless to say, the trellis sampler inspired me to look into the trellis and training systems more deeply, because they are central to what a wine-grape vineyard is all about.

Regardless of the trellis used, the vines must be trained to it, and there are two kinds of training:  spur and cane.  Some trellises are more amenable to one or the other.  This will be indicated below.  The entire point of the training and trellis systems is that they significantly aid in helping the vines’ canes and shoot develop in a way such that the amount of light and air can be controlled.  In addition, trellises allow for effective canopy management.  Vines leaves need sunlight for photosynthesis and the grape clusters benefit from solar exposure as well, but not too much.  Typically, the vine rows will be oriented to catch the maximum sunlight early in the day (so facing east), in the afternoon (facing west), or for the fullest amount of sunlight, by facing south.  Much depends on matters of aspect and slope of the land and finding the optimum exposure.

The movement of air should be facilitated so as to avoid the development of different molds, fungi, and rot and to dry the grapes after a rain.  The amount of shade can further be controlled by pulling leaves if needed.  Finally, the trellis and training should provide a fruit zone for easy maintenance and harvesting.

Not to add to the confusion, but one must bear in mind that a spur-trained vine is cane-pruned, whereas a cane-trained vine is spur-pruned.  (Vine pruning deserves its own explanation, but not here.)

Alberate training: vine and oliveVine training, which is what trellises are for, has been around since the beginning of viticulture, and was employed by the Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, the Romans, and medieval monasteries.  Without trellising, grapevines will climb and cling onto anything that can be reached by their shoots, or tendrils.  Nevertheless, this is a kind of rudimentary spur training called Alberate.

The result can look like a mess, as in the case of this Sangiovese vine climbing into an olive tree, and it can be difficult to harvest the grapes or effectively treat the vines with chemicals to control pests and disease.  Nevertheless, it is very easy to maintain.  This example was found in a small vineyard-cum-olive-grove in Strada-in-Chianti, just outside Florence.

Wine produced from these grapes is, needless to say, no better than ordinary table wine at best.

Bushvine (viña en vaso)Another ancient and still widely-used untrellised vine training is called Gobelet (“goblet” or vase”), also known as bush vine (Australia). It’s history can be traced back to the ancient Romans and even the early Egyptians.  It was widely employed in California in the 19th Century and some vineyards there still carry on the practice.  It is especially popular in Spain, where it is called en vaso.  Gobelet-trained vines are head trained, which is to say spur-pruned close to the ground, as can be seen in the photo above of a 100-year-old Tempranillo vine in Rioja.  It can be either staked or allowed to grow free-standing.

One ought to bear in mind that the vine-training system does not necessarily follow the design of the trellis so much as the trellis should be selected for a given training system.  Often the training system takes the name of the trellis, but it doesn’t necessarily follow.

The trellis is merely the arrangement of the posts, stakes, and wires, while there can be multiple variations to how a given trellis is used for training.  The trellis, in other words, is merely a support for the training system.   The very simplest trellis is merely a stake in the ground to which a vine is tied with minimal training; the simplest training system is the Gobelet or vase, discussed above, which requires no trellis.

One more factor to be taken into consideration is the species and varieties that are to be trellised.  Native American vines (e.g., V. labrusca) and hybrids (vinifera x non-vinifera) tend to be down-growing, whereas V. vinifera varieties grown naturally upwards.  The training should therefore follow the natural inclinations of the vines and trellises should be chosen for their suitability to the variety.

Getting back to Wölffer’s, if one walks around the building from the patio, the first of the seven trellis samples encountered is the pergola, the origins of which are Italian, shown below:

Wolffer trellising sampler, 01The Pergola is largely found in Argentina, Italy, and Spain.  The sign tells us that its advantages are, “Shades ground in hot, arid climates to preserve moisture.  Shades fruit from direct sunlight.” (The word comes from the Late Latin pergula, or projecting eave, but comes into English usage via Italian.)  This kind of pergola (closed) is also called tendone.

It’s also good for picnics and as an ornamental device to provide shade, cover a walkway, or offer a processional path for a wedding.  Usually, for that kind of function it’s referred to as an “arbor”.

The pergola is designed for making the vines grow well in hot, arid climates, Pergola mechanical harvesterand the fruit grows directly overhead, awkward for harvesting by hand—imagine how tiring it would be—but if the fruit has been trained to hang down far enough, it is also amenable to machine harvesting, as can be seen in the diagram opposite:

 

Wolffer trellising sampler, 03Next is the Geneva Double Curtain / GDC (above), which, according to its sign, is found in “New York State [originally for] Concord grapes, and for table and juice grapes worldwide.”  Actually, the GDC can be used for wine grapes, but its special advantage is that grape bunches can hang free, which is desirable for table grapes.  Table grape clusters are also larger and heavier than vinifera ones, so the GDP makes more sense for those grapes.  (It is called Geneva because it was developed at the Geneva–New York–Agriculture Experimental Station in the 1960s.)

The system shown in Fig. 1 (below) utilizes a 4-foot cross arm on the trellis to double the amount of canopy per row and a single wire about 3 feet high to support the trunk. Vines are trained to alternVine training on Geneva 2-curtainate sides of the 6-foot high trellis.  Each vine has a 6-8 foot cordon (a permanent branch on either side of the main trunk, or trunks that are secured by two to four wraps around the support wire with a wire tie at its end. Each cordon has 10-12 short (4-6 bud) canes evenly spaced along its length. A renewal spur should be kept as next year’s replacement for each of the short canes.

Wolffer trellising sampler, 05The Lyre trellis is a variation on the Geneva Double Curtain and the Scott Henry (spur-training).  As the sign tells us, its use is rare (and confined to the New World), but it has the advantage of opening up the canopy.  It accommodates overly-vigorous vines that would have problems with respect to shade, by allowing good air circulation and sunlight penetration.  Vine vigor, by the way, refers to the growth of foliage or canopy.

Wolffer trellising sampler, 08The Hill Post/Mosel (or Mosel Arch) trellis is very simple.  As the sign says, “Found:  On the steep slopes in Germany and the Rhône Valley of France.  Advantage:  Supports vines on terrain that cannot be trellised [otherwise].”  Each vine has its own stake and two canes bent into a heart shape.  Cane training is used with this.

Wolffer trellises, Hi-wire cordonThe High-wire Cordon is a very simple stake-and-wire system in which the shoots are draped over the top wire to hang over and allow the fruit to hang pendulously.  It is fine for table and juice grapes and native American wine-grape varieties.  Its primary advantage is low cost and maintenance.

Wolffer trellising sampler, 13Pendelbogen (aka European Loop or Arch-Cane) is a training system that is used in Germany and Austria as well as the Northwest of the US.  It offers the advantages of easy tying and of condensing the number of shoots.  A variant of the Guyot Double system, it promotes better sap distribution with more fruit-bearing shoots consolidated on the center buds.

Wolffer trellising sampler, 12Scott Henry/Smart-Dyson are two variations on a training system that’s used most widely in Oregon and Australia.  Its advantage is that it “Opens up the canopy and improves fruit quality and yield from over-vigorous vines.”  The names are as interesting as the systems, which differ significantly from all the other trellises in the Wölffer sampler.  Smart-Dyson (S-D) is named after international viticulturist Richard Smart and John Dyson, a well-known grape grower with vineyards in New York (Millbrook) and California. Scott Henry is named for the Oregon grape grower and former aerospace engineer who developed it. Henry’s technology is basically a system of two vines in one location, one high, and one low. Smart-Dyson uses the same high-low approach, but with a single, spur-pruned cordon-trained vine.  The differences are shown in the diagrams below:

Vine trellis Smart-Dyson explained

 

 

 

Vine trellis Scott Henry diagram

 

 

 

Wolffer trellising sampler, 14

The three rows shown above represent the Meter by Meter trellis, which is found in “Bordeaux, Burgundy, and other regions of France.”  These are used for high-density (1 m. x 1 m.) plantings that are required by the AOC laws that define almost everything that is permitted in the vineyards of the various regions of France.  Such density would be highly problematic for machinery but works well for manually working the vines.

Umbrella Kniffin diagramBefore Long Island vineyards began to use Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP, discussed immediately below) most used the Umbrella Kniffin system to train the vine with a single or double trunk extending to the upper wire. After the second growing season, the vineyardist would select two or four canes growing from near the top of the trunk for arms and prune them to 10 to 20 buds. That was followed by cutting back two other canes to 2 or 3 buds for renewal spurs. The arms would be looped over the top wire, bringing them down obliquely to the bottom wire and tied. Each following winter the arms would be replaced by canes from the renewal spurs.  The system proved not to be good for harvesting the grapes, for the bunches would not be hanging at a uniform level.

The training system used in the Wölffer vineyards is called VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioning)  Virtually all the vineyards in Long Island use it.  It employs a Vertical Trellis, which is essentially three wires running the length of a row.  The bottom wire is called the cordon wire, to which the trunk cordons or arms of the vine are tied, and the upper two wires are used to tie the vertical shoots.  This is ideal for vinifera varieties as they tend to grow upwards.   In the picture below, the bare canes and shoots make it easy to see how the vines are trained, in this case a double cordon, with all the shoots rising vertically.  While the VSP can be either cane or spur-trained, the version we see here is spur trained.

Wolffer Estate, VSP vines

One can see that the cordon, or part of the trunk that is trained horizontally in two directions, is tied to the bottom wire, while the shoots are trained to go vertically up, tied to the send and third wires, the topmost having been set at a height of between 60” and 70” (150 to 175 cm.)  This makes it easier to pull leaves and thin the clusters, while the fruit zone will run along the cordon level, at a level that makes it easy to either hand-pick or machine-pick the clusters at harvest time.

Wolffer VSP fruit zone The picture above shows the fruit zone as it looks when the first buds appear.

VSP is used primarily in coastal regions like Long Island where the expected vigor of the vines is low to moderate.  However, it is widely used wherever vinifera is grown, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, Germany, and New Zealand.  Nevertheless, with a bit of effort many hybrids can be trained to VSP as happens in the Hudson River Region.

As shown in the diagram at right, the fruit zone can be shaped hVine trellis diagram, VSPorizontally just above the cordon wire, with the shoot growing straight up above them so that their leaves get the best exposure to the sun, while trimming back some of the leaves that might otherwise cover the bunches in the fruit zone so that the grapes get some solar exposure.

Mechanical harvesting is possible with VSP systems and special machines are designed for this.  They are virtually the direct opposite of the pergola harvesters, which fit beneath and within the pergola.  Harvesters of this kind require very taut wires to keep the fruit at an even level; there are even computerized wire tightener machines.  (These, of course, are very expensive in the aggregate, as there must be one for each row; only very large mechanized operations can afford them).

For VSP, the machine straddles the rows and can be adjusted for the height of the fruit zone (this machine illustrated below is not used at Wölffer’s, which only uses hand harvesting):

Palmer, Merlot harvest, 14The spacing between rows is critical for using machinery.  But it’s very important for a number of other reasons.  For optimum exposure to sunlight, the height of the vines will affect the amount of sun that falls on the rows behind.  Therefore the spacing should be such that the vines’ shadows never cover the canopy or fruit zone.  Another determinant for row spacing is the use of machinery.  Rows should be wide enough to accommodate a harvester, a tractor, or any other machinery that may be used in a vineyard.  The meter by meter system is scarcely amenable to machine work, whereas the VSP system clearly is.  (Note: in Europe and elsewhere, this is usually known as the vertical trellis.)

Wolffer Estate, views, endpostsAn important part of nearly all trellis systems is the end post, usually of wood, about 4 to 6” in diameter and about 6 to 7 feet tall for VSP.  As can be seen in the picture, the end post is put in the ground to a depth of about three feet and canted away from the row it ends.  This is one approach.  The post is given further rigidity by the use of a guy wire the terminus of which is staked deeply into the ground, the better to resist the very strong pull of a properly-taut series of shoot and cordon wires.  The posts are also used for identifying the variety planted in a given row, usually with just the initial letter or two, as in CH for Chardonnay, CB for Chenin Blanc, etc.

At Wölffer’s roses are planted at the ends of each row, not merely for the obvious aesthetic result, but for the very practical reason that roses attract not just bees but other insects that also prey on vineyard pests.

The wires running from post to post and to the stakes in between will slacken and need to be tightened from time to time—to the end posts, not the stakes.  There are even special tools for that.  The vines are then tied to the wires—trained vineyard workers are needed for that.

It should be apparent that the preparation and planting of a vineyard is very demanding of time, expense, and labor.  Preparing the ground first is a topic worth discussing separately, but it isn’t necessarily visible to the casual eye.  The trellis, laden with its vines and fruit, is the most visible component of the vineyard.  The maintenance of the vines is itself only visible when a visitor sees workers or machines in the rows, spraying, thinning, harvesting, and so on.  It is one of the most demanding forms of horticulture that there is, but the rewards, in the form of the wine made from the fruit grown in the vineyard and the money to be made from its sale make it all worth the effort.

It is for these reasons that a skilled and experienced vineyard manager is needed to obtain the best fruit possible from so elaborate a system.

While the trellis and training systems shown and discussed above include the most important and widely-used, there are far more than this.  Others are, for the most part, merely variations on the themes set out above.

References:

Cornell University Cooperative Extension Nassau County, “Home Grounds Fact Sheet-Grapes:  Culture and Pruning.”  January 2009.  This is a downloadable PDF that focuses on using the Four-Armed Kniffin and Umbrella Kniffin systems.

Cox, Jeff.  From Vines to Wines:  The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine.  North Adams, MA:  Storey Press, 1999.

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

Stevenson, Tom.  The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia:  The Classic Reference to the Wines of the World, 5th edition.  New York:  Dorling Kindersley, 2011.

See also my post on Wölffer Estate, published in July 2013.

 

Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing: The Road to Certification

The Challenge to be Sustainable

LISW logo“Green”  is a global movement to promote sustainable practices in all walks of life, from recycling waste to reducing one’s dependence on materials that cannot be reused, as well as improving automobile fuel economy, minimizing energy consumption (reducing one’s ‘carbon footprint’), and promoting safer, cleaner means of producing energy, primarily by the use of renewable sources such as wind and solar power.  It also means promoting and using sustainable practices in agriculture, whether in the raising of farm animals and produce, or in viticulture (the growing of table and wine grapes)—itself a type of agriculture.  Green—a synonym for “sustainable”—is now a mantra for the ecologically-aware and sensitive consumer and it demands to be taken seriously by those who produce food, wine, and care for the land on which it is raised.

A big push towards sustainable practices in viticulture in New York State recently has been made by Walmart, which joined the Sustainability Consortium in 2009, and wants to sell grape juice with an “ecolabel” displayed on the containers, showing that it has been sustainably produced. Given that Walmart is the world’s largest retailer, its demand has forced winegrowers throughout the state, whether producing juice grapes or wine grapes, to respond to it.  What follows is about the response to the challenge on the part of Long Island winegrowers.

In a presentation by Barbara Shinn, of Shinn Estate Vineyards, and Richard Olsen-Harbich, of Bedell Cellars, given at the 31st Annual Long Island Agricultural Forum, held on January 13, 2012, attended by most of the vineyard managers in the region—all were invited to attend—an outline of the process by which vineyards could become certified for practicing sustainable viticulture gave clear form to what is involved in achieving that goal, with the objective of minimizing environmental impact and as a means of responding to the needs of the community at large.

The VineBalance Program

What follows is a précis of the presentation along with relevant commentary by the participants who together form the Core Group in the certification project:  Barbara Shinn, Richard Olsen-Harbich (the presenters), Jim Thompson of Martha Clara Vineyards, and Larry Perrine of Channing Daughters.  In addition, Alice Wise, who is the Viticulturalist and Education Specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, at the Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center in Riverhead, provided some background for this article on the initial sustainable viticulture program for New York State, VineBalance:

“In 1992, I received a grant to create a Long Island sustainable viticulture program. Working with a group of growers, we created a set of vineyard management guidelines that emphasized good stewardship practices. Established programs such as Oregon LIVE, Lodi Rules, and AEM (Agricultural Environmental Management) were very helpful to us. A number of individuals associated with those programs provided guidance as well. Our efforts drew attention from both upstate wine growers and the upstate Concord industry. Starting in 2006, a group from Cornell and from the industry received a series of grants to create statewide guidelines, now called VineBalance.

“Growers participated in the process of creating the guidelines so additional review has not been necessary. That said, VineBalance was written to be inclusive of all grape industries in NY. There are certain things in it that do not apply to Long Island. Also, vineyard management is not a static thing, it evolves each season as we learn how to best manage our vineyards. Consequently, Long Island growers decided to further refine VineBalance to more closely reflect the current management of Long Island vineyards.

“VineBalance will continue to serve as the framework for any sustainable viticulture programs in NY. The creation of additional, region-specific guidelines is great, it shows that growers are analyzing their practices and are genuinely interested in the process. All regions should do this.”

Why Certification?

However, while VineBalance provides a pathway to self-certification, that does not carry the same weight as certification by a recognized third-party certification authority, and is therefore not really meaningful in the marketplace or wine industry.  Certification by an outside authority has many advantages, such as:

  • Validation of a claim of sustainable farming practices
  • Promotion of on-farm accountability
  • Provision of a pro-active response to local needs and concerns
  • Acting as another tool with which to respond to global competition
  • Improving the strength and viability of the Long Island wine brand

The concept of sustainability as laid out in virtually every certification program in the U.S. boils down to three concerns[1]:

  1. Environmental soundness
  2. Economic viability
  3. Worker & Community care

Certification Program Models

There are, already, a number of third-party certification authorities with national or global recognition, based on the strength of their guidelines and regulation, such as:

  • Certified California Sustainable Wine (CCSW)
  • Lodi Rules
  • Napa Green—Napa Valley Vineyards (NVV)
  • Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine (OCSW)
  • Oregon LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology)
  • Sustainability in Practice (SIP)

Serra presentation to LI Winegrowers

Each of these, as well as the internationally-recognized authority, Sustainable Wine New Zealand (SWNZ), is directed at specific ecological systems, which is why Long Island needs its own authority, but these at least provide models for the project to be known as Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers (LISW).  In December of 2011, Chris Serra, of Oregon’s LIVE certification program, was invited to give a presentation to the East End vineyard managers.  The expenses for his trip were paid for by Martha Clara, Bedell, Shinn Estate, and Channing Daughters, the four vineyards whose managers form the Core Group.[2]

Whatever certification authority Long Island wine growers create must have credibility and address not only agricultural standards of sustainability but must also deal with ethical issues; for example, a certifier representative must not be involved with the vineyards being visited in the capacity of consultant or have any other ties to them.

How Certification Works

Certification is a seasonal program that would involve:

  • Use of the VineBalance Workbook (the full title is The New York Guide to Sustainable Viticulture Practices Grower Self-assessment Workbook)
  • Core Criteria based on the Workbook
  • Winegrower’s Pledge that is signed in the spring prior to the growing season.

One of the challenges regarding sustainability and certification is the issue of participation.  The larger the body of participants, the more viable and reputable the certifying authority will be.  Jim Thompson, a thoughtful Midwesterner with long experience in agriculture, says that “sustainability [in Long Island] is achievable.”  Furthermore, a Sustainable Certification will help the local industry survive by giving it stronger bona fides.  Thus, he believes that certification should be made accessible to all vineyard managers.  However, as Olsen-Harbich pointed out, “One of the issues that the certification project needs to address is that of offering ‘inclusivity’ versus ‘teeth.’  In other words, the lower the bar for certification, the more people will join, but once standards for certification have real ‘teeth’ and make real demands on those who want certification, the likelihood is that fewer will seek it.”[3]

Participation in a third-party certification program means that:

  • Members get a visit from a certifier representative in the first and second years of the track to certification and every third year thereafter.
  • A visit means a walk through the vineyard and a view of the records kept by the vineyard
  • A review of practices in the VineBalance Workbook
  • A review of vineyard inputs (i.e., chemicals used to control disease and fertilizers applied to the fields)
  • The report by the representative is then sent to the Core Group of the certification authority

For example, Shinn Estate is currently seeking to be certified by both Demeter (the Biodynamic® Certification body) as well as the National Organic Program (N.O.P.), each of which applies standards for general agriculture, but not specifically viticulture.  As is the case with all certification agencies, the record keeping is fully standardized though the standards are not particular to viticulture.  For Shinn, there is one visit per year every year, which comes at the end of the season, often right after harvest.  It involves a two-to-three hour visit consisting of a walk through the vineyard followed by a sit-down session in which the vineyard records are reviewed.  The advantage of a late-season visit is that it allows the certifier to see the condition of the vineyard after a full season’s farming, such as the ground cover, and allows for a full review of the entire season’s inputs.  For Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers, after the first two years, there is one visit every three years.  “It isn’t very demanding,” says Shinn, “provided you’ve kept good records.”

Scouting the Vineyard

Let us consider one aspect—a very important one—of a vineyard manager’s responsibilities, for it bears directly on the issue of sustainable practices.  It begins with the concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM).  An authoritative viticultural specialist and qualified soil scientist, Larry Perrine explains:  “IPM originally and primarily has to do with the control of insects.  It requires knowledge of the life-cycle of each of the insect pests, thus to know when they are most vulnerable to pest-control applications.  Insect infestations don’t behave like fungal ones—fungal control requires foliar application before an infestation develops, whereas insect pests can be tolerated up to a certain level of insect damage.  Therefore, scouting in the vineyard is necessary to determine when or if the insects are reaching the point at which insecticide application is necessary.  Scouting means that the vineyard manager needs to check a block of vines and calculate the density of pests present on, say, 50 leaves.  For example, Grape Berry Moths overwinter in trees that may border a vineyard.  Vineyard rows bordering those trees are most vulnerable to GBM attack.  They can best be controlled by strategic use of insecticides, after scouting—for minimum environmental impact.  The use of pheromone lures on twist ties, which confuse the moths during their mating season, can be helpful.”

Shinn Estate, 08Barbara Shinn, who has long been deeply committed to certification, elaborates, “I might go out to a particular block of vines and check the vine leaves for the presence of mites.  If, say, I find that out of forty rows of vines, ten of the middle rows of vines have significant mite populations whereas the rest only had one or two mites, then I would have to consider applying the appropriate insecticide for the mites in the infected rows only—the more specific the target that the insecticide is designed for the better, as there is less collateral damage.  Of course, each grower has to set his or her own limits—there is no set number.  All growers have a list of acceptable inputs for sustainable, or organic, or Biodynamic practices.  One selects from the list starting with the inputs with the lowest impact to the environment to those with the highest.”

What Certification Means

There are real potential benefits that come with sustainability and certification, and Long Island’s third-party certification will be carefully watched by wineries elsewhere in the Eastern United States, including Virginia, South Carolina, and New Jersey.  What LISW does will certainly influence them in the development of certification authorities for their regions.

The Web site for LISW will include:

  • The VineBalance Workbook
  • Downloadable forms
  • Weather Data
  • A list of participants in the Certification Program

Olsen-Harbich, an articulate, acknowledged expert in both the vineyard and the winery, pointed out that, “Sustainability is a pathway which is ongoing and is not an ideology.  It must be, and is, based on peer-reviewed science.  It is the most viable form of safe agriculture.”  Nevertheless, vineyard managers and all other farmers, whether sustainably farming or not, often use three products that are not naturally-made:

  • Stylet oil, a highly-effective, biologically-degradable foliar input used to control fungal diseases such as Downy mildew, but which is itself a highly-refined petroleum product
  • Sulfur, while a natural element, is another highly-effective foliar input used to control diseases and is usually a by-product of petroleum refining
  • Copper sulfate is also a widely-used industrial product that is used in agriculture primarily as a fungicide.

In addition, he points out, “Chemical companies have their ears open to what is going on in agriculture, and as a major player in the production of agricultural inputs (herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, etc.), they are always ready to come up with new products.  These, in turn, often push the boundaries between natural/sustainable/synthetic inputs.  They need to be considered, but with great care, when addressing the issue of sustainability.”  Perrine cautions that, “There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ pesticide.  Both traditional materials such as copper or sulfur, as well as the most recently developed hydrocarbon-based pesticides need to be considered for environmental impact, therefore sustainability.”

Olsen-Harbich goes on to say, “There is also the matter of synthetic nitrogen vs. compost nitrogen—which is the preferred product to use in a sustainable program?  Fish products, which are natural, are often used in the form of compost and fertilization material, but the very practice of commercial fishing is itself not sustainable.”  To which Perrine adds, “Synthetic nitrogen accounts for more than 50% of the nitrogen used to grow plants around the world.  To maintain a food production to feed the world, requires more than the organic sources of nitrogen that are available.  The 100,000,000 tons of synthetic nitrogen produced around the world consumes only 1.5% of the world’s annual fossil fuel consumption.  Indeed fish fertilizer is not sustainable, while synthetic N is

Weighing in on the nitrogen issue, Barbara Shinn has this to say:

“Here is where even amongst a group of ecologically-based farmers opinion differs. I prefer to take a byproduct from the fishing industry and make it useful by regenerating my soil with it – along with seaweed, whey (from the cheese making industry) and compost (made on-farm with our winemaking musts, bedding from the local horse-boarding industry and wood chips from the local tree trimming industry). The reuse and recycling of materials helps close a cycle that otherwise could be viewed as unhealthy for our planet and does not originate from a fossil fuel. I prefer to use materials on my soil that are connected to an originally living material. This type of soil work has been proven in peer reviewed papers to produce more minerally complexed food, and of course wine is an agricultural product so wine is food. In my opinion synthetic nitrogen dumbs down the soil, skipping over the all-important step of feeding the microbial life and in essence ignoring the natural lifecycle of our soil. In this respect, synthetic nitrogen is not sustainable. This difference in opinion is what makes our LISW group dynamic and, in the end, a viable springboard for fascinating discussions.”

Furthermore, “As ecologically practicing farmers it is important to retain our brotherhood. Whether we practice Sustainable, Organic, Permaculturalist, Biodynamic, or any other restorative-based farming, our  root issues are the same. As a whole group banded together our concerns for the future of this planet have a huge voice, much louder than if we were separated by difference of opinions.”[4]

For the LISW, there are potential partnerships with environmental entities such as:

  • The CCE (Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment), which is committed to encouraging citizens’ involvement in promoting strong environmental policy at the state and local levels
  • Sustainable Long Island, which promotes community revitalization
  • Peconic Land Trust, “which is dedicated to conserving Long Island’s working farms and natural lands.”

According to the CCE, “Long Island has been designated as a sole-source aquifer region by the U.S. EPA. This means that 100% of our drinking water supply comes from underground. The almost 3 million residents on our island are completely dependent on groundwater as our fresh water supply. The Lloyd aquifer is the deepest and cleanest source of drinking water on Long Island.”  Larry Perrine says, quite bluntly, that with respect to agriculture, “there is, of course, the question of where the line gets drawn, especially with respect to a community’s sole-source water supply—as is the case in Long Island—the protection of which is of pre-eminent concern.”

Further to that, Perrine pointed out, “The Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing program will include on its Web site materials to help the public better understand what sustainable farming is and how it helps protect the community and its drinking water.  The reason this must be done is that too many people come to conclusions based on the easiest and most available informational sources, which often are not reliable, fact-checked, or accurate, but often sensationalize the news.  Such sources include TV, the Web, and newspapers.  We wish to provide science-based and factual information that can be readily understood by the concerned public.”

Sustainability and the Community

To the question of how a vineyard relates to its community, Barbara Shinn, made the following points:

  1. “Farming practices, as mentioned above, such that they should not have a negative effect on the community at large; choice of sustainable inputs is an important part of this.
  2. “Land conservation, which means how the vineyard property seeks to maintain and protect animal and plant species and their variety that naturally appear and exist on the property, apart from pests that need to be controlled
  3. “Public education about vineyard practices and objectives, particular to both viticulture and to farming practices generally.  This can include information offered to visitors to the winery as well as the publication of books and articles for the general public (such as this one).”

Jim Thompson, 02Jim Thompson, observed that the issue of sustainability carries with it legal, environmental, and personal concerns.  On a legal basis, certification would mean that a vineyard’s neighbors—often private homes or other, non-farm businesses, could rest assured that nothing dangerous is going into the ground or being wafted into the air that could affect a person’s health or neighborhood.  On an environmental level, it would mean, for instance, that ground water would be protected, hence the community drinking water would be safe.  “On a personal level,” he went on to say, “it means a safer environment in which to work, with the satisfaction of knowing that vineyard workers would be not exposed to the potential toxicity that is present in many of the [possible] input applications used in the vineyard.”

Larry Perrine summarized the situation well when he said:  “It should be kept in mind that the natural world is in most cases self-healing over time.  Farming itself is not natural, for it represents a massive intervention in nature.  The goal of sustainability is to mitigate the impact of that intervention.  The farmer is therefore in a compromised position, for in agriculture there is no perfection—he is always striving for something at which we can never arrive.  Still, we want to leave a proper legacy for our children.”

3 Spheres of Sustainability

The Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers program became a reality in April 2012.  With its debut, Long Island is be the Eastern US leader in Sustainable Certification.  (It has 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status.)

 According to Perrine:  “LISW expects about 10 wineries to sign up initially.  Others are taking a wait-and-see attitude.  It may take a few years for them to join.  Not all of the initial members will effect a complete change-over to the sustainable practices advocated by LISW in the first year.  It is, after all, only a pathway and not in itself the goal.”  [One of the first to join apart from the core group was Wölffer Estate.]

Trent Pressler, CEO of Bedell Cellars, addressing the LISW audience.

On 6 June 2013 Bedell Cellars hosted the First Anniversary celebration of the founding of the LISW.  As of September 2015 the LISW now has nineteen members, with sixteen of them already having achieved full certification:

  1. Bedell Cellars (founding member)
  2. Channing Daughters (founding member)
  3. Corwith Vineyards (certified)
  4. Duckwalk Vineyards (in transition)
  5. Harbes Family Farm & Vineyard (certified)
  6. Kontokosta Winery (in transition)
  7. Martha Clara (founding member)
  8. Mattebella Vineyards (certified)
  9. McCall Wines (certified)
  10. Mudd Vineyards
  11. One Woman Vineyards (certified)
  12. Palmer Vineyards (certified)
  13. Paumanok Vineyards (certified)
  14. Pindar Vineyards (in transition)
  15. Roanoke Vineyards (certified)
  16. Sannino Bella Vita Vineyards (certified)
  17. Shinn Estate (founding member)
  18. Sparkling Pointe (certified)
  19. Surrey Lane Vineyards
  20. Wölffer Estate (certified)

Paumanok Vineyards and Sparkling Pointe are  the latest to achieve certification as of November 2015, bringing the total to 20 members.  So the majority are already certified, each having put nearly 200 elements of sustainable practice into operation for a year or longer with two left in transition to certification.  This represents very fast growth for a new certification authority, as it already has nearly a third of all the vineyards on the island.  Such rapid growth can be explained in part by the fact that many of the vineyards already were practicing the guidelines of Cornell’s VineBalance program, which is the underpinning of LISW approach.  There are still some that are taking a wait-and-see position, such as Osprey’s Dominion (“we’re already farming sustainably, but we need to be sure of the benefits of joining”) and Lenz (Sam McCullough told Wine Spectator [May 2012 issue]:

“The number one reason we’re not participating is that I typically buy my pesticides for the coming season at the end of the year [to save money], so I had already committed to purchase things that they don’t allow in the program,” said Sam McCullough, vineyard manager for the Lenz Winery. While he cited fungus control as his big concern in Long Island’s humid climate, he felt the sustainability program provides enough options to deal with any problems that might arise and didn’t think the required changes would be onerous.”  Still, McCullough has yet to decide about participating next year. “I think it’s a fine idea, but I don’t know that there are really that many genuinely harmful practices out here. We’re all pretty responsible. I see it mainly as a perception issue and a public relations act rather than changing the way we take care of the environment, but anything that helps market our product is a good thing.”

Furthermore, the Spectator pointed out that “smaller wineries are concerned about the cost and whether consumers are willing to spend more to offset the extra expenses. Right now, [Roz] Baiz [of The Old Field Vineyard] said, she’d rather use the combined $800 in membership and inspection fees to purchase some new needed equipment.”

But twenty have joined so far, such as Mudd’s Vineyard, which says that “It’s the right thing to do.”

For wineries that are certified, the LISW logo can be included on the wine labels, thus showing that the wines are made from grapes raised with a conscience.  This, it is hoped, will also help promote Long Island wines among those consumers who care about this, and the number who do are steadily growing.

Certification is accomplished by the expertise of LISW’s independent third-party inspector:  Allan Connell, the former District Conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), using the New York VineBalance Grower Workbook as a roadmap for evaluation of the sustainable viticultural practices of Long Island vineyards.

More information about sustainable farming is available upon request from LISW at lisustainablewine.org, facebook.com/sustainablewinegrowing, and twitter.com/liswinegrowing.

As of Feb. 27, 2014, a new post was published on the Bedell blog by Richard Olsen-Harbich: “Seal of Approval,” pursuant to a visit last December by one of the world’s leading experts in the field of sustainable viticulture – Dr. Cliff Ohmart.  Pursuant to that visit, on March 17, 2014, Wine Spectator published a blog post by its Managing Editor, Dana Nigro:  How Serious Is Long Island About Sustainable Wine? with the subtitle, “Region’s new program gets green thumbs-up from outside expert.”

From Lodi, we have this interesting piece in :  Sustainable Winegrowing Certification: Why Do Growers Participate?  The most recent article, as of September 2014, is available online at the Wine Industry Advisor Website:  “Demand for Sustainability Resonates . . .

Further to that, a February 6, 2016 NY Times article, “Cover Crops: A Farming Revolution with Roots in the Past” finds that all kinds of agriculturalists all over the country are finding out that cover crops are good for their crops!

NOTES:

[1] Interview with Larry Perrine, 10 February 2012, at Channing Daughters

[2] Interview with Jim Thompson, 4 February 2012, at Martha Clara

[3] For example, Oregon LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology), which was established as a sustainable viticulture certification program in 1997, has about an 80% participation rate.

[4] E-mail from Barbara Shinn, 1 March 2012.

Correspondence by e-mail with Alice Wise was from January 29 to February 7, 2012.


Viniculture in the Hudson River Region–background

Introduction

The entirety of the Northeast, including New York State, was once covered by Laurentide ice sheets up to nearly two miles thick during the Late Wisconsin Glacial Period, which receded about 11,000 years ago.[1]  As the ice sheet melted it reshaped the landscape beneath it that was to take on the features  that we know today, and it helped create the Hudson River Valley,  leaving behind a complex and varied topography, soil, and climate–the terroir–, much of it appropriate for vine cultivation or other fruit.

NY Wine Regions Map 11. Map from the Uncorked New York Web site.

The Hudson River Region AVA is the oldest continually-productive wine region in the United States.  Though most people refer to this wine region as the Hudson River Valley or the Hudson Valley, on July 6, 1982 the BATF—in its wisdom—granted the AVA but chose to call it by another name in order to avoid confusion with a winery that already bore the name, Hudson River Valley Winery (no longer in production).  If one were to look at different maps that depict the region, its geographical boundaries would not entirely clear, as the maps don’t all agree.  (The best one is shown above.)  Unfortunately, there is no official AVA map of the region, much less a map for its varied soils and climates.  However, it is clearly described verbally in print: its western boundary is the Shawangunk Ridge (a northerly extension of the Appalachians) in Orange and Ulster Counties.  It then follows the Delaware River to the New Jersey State line, from which it goes roughly east to its eastern boundary at the state lines with Connecticut and Massachusetts. It then extends north along those borders to the northeast corner of Columbia County, New York.  From there it extends west to the juncture of Columbia and Greene Counties in the Hudson River.[2]  It includes all or some of several counties:  Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester.

HV Watershed land useIt doesn’t quite encompass all of the Hudson River Watershed, which extends even further north and includes the Mohawk River (see map at left).  From this it can be seen, by comparing it to the first map, that while it is primarily geographic, most of its boundaries are political, which is not unusual for AVAs all over the country; however, it also is not strictly based on a homogenous climate or soil types—the terroir—though many of the vineyards are planted on or near the slopes on either side of the Hudson River.

However, even today the true boundaries of the Valley are still in dispute, and the definition of the area of the AVA Region is questionable.  Carlo DeVito, a wine writer and winery owner, commented that “The AVA is old and obsolete….it only covered the existing wineries that were around at the time of the filing, and makes no sense. More than half the valley’s wineries in the region are not covered by it. Here’s my take on it:”  Where is the Hudson Valley?

Soil and Terroir

NY Soil Map

As can be made out from the soil map above, there is a range of soil that include “acid soils with neutral to acid frangipans” (pink color) that runs the length of the river valley, shifting to “medium to moderately coarse-textured acid soils with strongly acidic frangipans on glacial till from gray slate, sandstone, [and] slate” (red color).  Contiguous to this is also “deep and shallow soils associated with hilly areas” (dark red).  Along the mid to upper-length of the river we see “moderate to fine-textured soils on glacial lake or marine sediments” (pale blue).  At the southern limits we see “muck” (dark blue, highly fertile) and “moderately coarse textured, very strongly acid soils from glacial till from granite” (brown color).  As grapevines are not fond of acidic soils, this means that many if not most vineyards need alkaline additions such as lime to bring up the soil pH.

The most complete and accessible description of the soils and terrains of the Region may be that of the “New York Wine Course and Reference”, which is worth quoting at length:

This region crosses five [of the nine New York State] physiographic provinces and is composed of more distinct soil types than any other region. Moving north from Manhattan, the first province encountered is that of the Gneissic Highland Province, a hilly, complex region of highly metamorphosed ancient gneiss. This region encompasses the northern end of Manhattan Island and southern Rockland County, where it forms the Ramapo Mountains. The region continues across the Hudson, and the structure underlies Westchester, Putnam and a small part of southern Dutchess County. The hardness of the bedrock in this area and glacial action have resulted in shallow, rocky soils largely unsuitable for agriculture. Bordering the Gneiss Highland Province to the north is the Taconic Province, an area of lower elevation that extends from Orange County northward through southeastern Ulster County and across the Hudson River, encompassing Dutchess, Columbia, Rensselaer and Washington counties. The rocks in this province are largely shales, slates, schists and limestones, although the northern and eastern areas of Dutchess, Columbia and Rensselaer are underlain with hard metamorphic quartzite and gneiss. The topography of this province varies widely, starting as a valley in southern Orange County and progressing to rolling hills and valleys in the western portions of those counties on the east side of the Hudson, finally culminating the rugged highlands of the Berkshire Mountains in the easternmost section of the province. Given the wide variety of parent material and topography in this province, soil types and suitability to viticulture are extremely varied. Soils in the western portion of this province generally tend to have moisture problems and be low in fertility, although many good sites of limited acreage are under cultivation as orchards and vineyards. Soil conditions improve on the western side of the Hudson, with eastern Dutchess and Columbia Counties possessing the finest sites and consequently the greatest acreage of vineyards. Deep, well-drained soils with adequate moisture holding capacity and low to moderate fertility are present and available in large tracts of land, and offer the opportunity for the expansion of viticulture in the Hudson Valley.  Two other physiographic provinces can be included in the Hudson River Region: the Catskill Province which borders the Taconic Province along the dramatic Shawangunk Ridge; and the Mohawk Valley Province which enters the region north of Albany.  Neither has significant acreage in grapes, and discussion of the soils of these areas is not relevant to this subject.[3]

A further explanation makes even more clear just how complex the soil profiles of the Region comes from the USDA soil series page:

The Hudson series consists of very deep, moderately well drained soils formed in clayey and silty lacustrine sediments. They are nearly level through very steep soils on convex lake plains, on rolling through hilly moraines and on dissected lower valley side slopes. Saturated hydraulic conductivity is moderately high or high in the mineral surface and subsurface layers and low through moderately high in the lower part of the subsoil and substratum. Slope ranges from 0 through 60 percent. Mean annual temperature is 49 degrees F. and mean annual precipitation is 39 inches.[4]

The Region’s geographic setting is described as follows:

Hudson soils are nearly level to very steep on lake plains and lacustrine capped uplands and valley sides. Slope ranges from 0 through 60 percent. More sloping and dissected areas show evidence of slumping or mass slipping. Mean annual air temperature ranges from 46 degrees to 50 degrees F., mean annual precipitation ranges from 30 through 45 inches, and mean annual frost-free season ranges from 120 through 180 days. The elevation ranges from 50 through 800 feet above sea level.[5]

The Hudson River is one of the great waterways of North America, but it only runs 315 miles (507 km.) from its source, Lake Tear in the Clouds, located in Adirondack Park (elevation 1814 ft. (553 m.).  It is what is called a ‘drowned river’ in that the waters of the Atlantic Ocean flow upstream with the tide as far as Troy, NY (north of Albany) which means that it is a very long tidal estuary–in other words, a fjord.  For this reason it was known to the Lenape tribe that lived along its banks as Muhheakantuck (“river that flows two ways”).[6]

Hudson River panorama from_walkway_looking_northIndeed, it is the Hudson , with its moderating effect on climate, thanks to the tidal flow and winds that sweep upriver from the Atlantic as well as the so-called “lake effect” (or “river effect” in this case–except in the winter, if the river freezes and is covered with ice) of its wide, deep, flowing stream, that make it possible to grow grapes at all, as it would otherwise be too frigid for most varieties other than the native ones.  Its growing season is short:  180 to 195 days.  (By comparison, Long Island’s season lasts from 215 to 230 days, while the Niagara Escarpment enjoys 205 days, and the Finger Lakes AVA has 190 to 205 growing days.)  Its production is also small, at 585 tons a year (about 2.5 tons an acre), whereas the Niagara Escarpment, with only 6 vineyards and 883 acres produces 4,648 tons (about 5 tons an acre), though some of this is for table grapes, which have much higher yields than do wine grapes.[7]

The AVA covers an area that extends roughly within the confines of the river valley proper, encompassing as it does 224,000 acres (90,650 ha), but it has only 430 acres planted to wine grapes among 49 bonded wineries[8]—some with, some without, vineyards—some of which buy fruit from the Finger Lakes or Long Island to make wine from varieties that do not thrive here, and in some cases from California.  Many of the wineries produce fruit wine, such as raspberry, apple, strawberry, blueberry, and so on, along with grape wine.  After all, the Hudson Valley is famous for its fruit production, and once was one of the largest producers of apples in the world.[9]  However, as pointed out in an article by Carlo DeVito, “Where is the Hudson Valley?” on his blog, HudsonRiverWine, the boundaries of the AVA as currently drawn lead to confusion and are no longer relevant, given that they were drawn when there were far fewer wineries, and the number of wineries and vineyards in the Valley has not only grown exponentially, but many new ones are being established within the Valley but outside the AVA.

 Some History

Tradition has it that the first vinifera vines were planted by French Huguenots in 1677, at the time that they first settled New Paltz.  However, this is unlikely, because these Huguenots had come from Belgium and were more inclined to drink hard cider, brandy, and brews.  However, the earliest record of vinifera planting goes back to 1642, when the New Amsterdam patroon, Kiliean Van Rennselaer sent cuttings to his commisary in Fort Orange (Albany), which of course didn’t survive the winter.  Settlers then resorted to American varieties, but the wines made from these were likely not pleasing at all to the French or Dutch palates, but at least it was alcoholic.  The first commercially-successful vineyard was planted with Isabella and Catawba in 1827 by Robert Underhill at Croton Point, just above Tarrytown.  The oldest continuously-operated winery in the nation is Brotherhood Winery, originally established as Jaques Brothers’ Winery in 1839 at Little York (now Washingtonville, in Orange County) to make wine that was mostly sold to churches.  When the last of the Jaques family died in 1885, it was taken over by Jesse and Emerson, who promptly renamed it Brotherhood.  The earliest-planted continuously-used vineyard, going back to 1845, was planted by William Cornell in Ulster County.  His brother-in-law, Andrew Caywood became involved and began developing hybrid varieties that could better grow in the demanding climate; one of his efforts led to the Dutchess grape, still widely grown in the Northeast today.  That vineyard is today part of Benmarl Winery, in Marlboro.[10]

Farm Winery Act of 1976

Before Governor Hugh Carey signed the Farm Winery Act into law, there were only nineteen bonded wineries in all of New York State.  Thanks to the tireless work and advocacy of people like Benmarl Winery’s Mark Miller, the new Commissioner of Agriculture, John Dyson (owner of Millbrook Vineyards and Winery), and the support of wine writers like Frank Prial of the New York Times, the restrictive post-Prohibition laws that then prevailed were replaced by a new set of laws that made it much easier for farms (i.e., vineyards) to establish new wineries for a small fee.  The result was an explosion of winery growth in the State, and by 2008 there were about 255 across the State.[11]

Vineyards

The vineyards and wineries with vineyards in the Hudson River Region AVA (excluding cideries, meaderies, distilleries, and producers of fruit wine only), as of 2014, number thirty-one by my own count, and these are highlighted in bold type. Vine acreage is not always certain and in some cases little or no information is given  The Websites are rarely of any use in this regard.

A number of wineries purchase some or all of their grapes from other growers, both from within the Hudson River AVA as well as the Finger Lakes and Long Island.  There are any number of perfectly good reasons for this.  A winemaker may want to produce wine from a variety that he doesn’t grow.  Some vineyards are too new to produce commerciable fruit.  With a few exceptions, most of the wineries and/or vineyards are very small in scale–most are, after all, “farm wineries.”   In no case does this reflect on the quality of any of the wines so made.  The gamut of quality is there to be had.

(NOTE:  this article and the series on wineries that follow are only interested in wineries and vineyards that grow and/or produce grape wine.  This is not a prejudice, it is simply that the focus is on sustainable viniculture, or the growing of wine grapes, as well as on winemaking.  Wineries that have been reviewed on this blog are shown with a link):

Adair Vineyards*, New Paltz (West Bank, Ulster County; 37 acres, all hybrid)

Altamont Winery, Altamont (West Bank, Albany County; no information on acreage or planting)

Applewood Winery*, Warwick (West Bank, Orange County; ? acreage, both hybrid & vinifera)

Baldwin Vineyards*, Pine Bush (West Bank, Ulster County, 35 acres, both)

Basha Kill Vineyards*, Wurstboro (West Bank, Sullivan County, 1.5 acres, hybrid)

Benmarl Winery*, Marlboro (West Bank, Ulster County; 37 acres; both)

Brimstone Hill Vineyards, Pine Bush (West Bank, Ulster County; 13 acres, both)

Brookview Station Winery* [no vineyard, purchased grapes]

Brotherhood Winery*, Washingtonville (West Bank, Orange County; 40 acres, all vinifera?)

Capoccia Vineyards and Winery, Niskayuna (West Bank, Schenectady County, not AVA; no information)

Cascade Mountain Winery*,  [no vineyard, purchased grapes]

Cerghino Smith Winery, [no vineyard, purchased grapes]

Clearview Vineyard*, Warwick (West Bank, Orange County; 2 acres, both)

Clinton Vineyards*, Clinton Corners (East Bank, Dutchess County; 100? acres, hybrid)

Demarest Hill Vineyards, Warwick (West Bank, Orange County; 15 acres, hybrid)

El Paso Winery, [unused vineyard, purchased grapes]

Glorie Farm Winery*, Marlboro (West Bank, Ulster County; 7 acres, hybrid & vinifera)

Hudson-Chatham Winery*, Ghent (East Bank, Dutchess County; 5 acres, hybrid)

Magnanini Winery*, Wallkill (West Bank, Ulster County)

Millbrook Vineyards and Winery*, Millbrook (East Bank, Dutchess County;  all vinifera)

Oak Summit Vineyard*, Millbrook (East Bank, Dutchess County; 6 acres, all vinifera)

Palaia Vineyards,* Highland Mills (West Bank, Orange County; 10 acres, both)

Pazdar Winery [purchased grapes]

Prospero Winery [purchased grapes]

Robibero Family Winery*, Gardiner (West Bank, Ulster County; 1 acre, both)

Royal Kedem Winery*, Marlboro (West Bank, Ulster County; no information)

Stoutridge Vineyards*, Marlboro (West Bank, Ulster County; 11 acres, both)

The Winery at St. George [purchased wines]

Torne Valley Vineyards, Hillburn (West Bank, Rockland County; ? acres, both?)

Tousey Winery*, Germantown (East Bank, Dutchess County;15 acres, all vinifera)

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery*, Warwick (West Bank, Ulster County)

Whitecliff Vineyard*, Gardiner (West Bank, Ulster County; 26 acres, both)

Windham Vineyard and Winery, Windham (West Bank, Greene County; no information)

*Twenty-two of the wineries are members of the Hudson Valley Wine & Grape Assoc., and owners and/or winemakers meet from time to time to compare notes and discuss issues that are common to the region.  The mission of the Assoc. is “to conduct educational programs to advance grape growing and winemaking in the Hudson Valley AVA.”

NOTE:  Winery Websites will not always tell about the varieties in the vineyards, nor will they necessarily indicate what varieties go into their blended wines, as they may use generic or invented names for their blends.  This doesn’t mean that one can’t ask in the tasting room.  The only dependable clue as to whether the wines are made from grapes blended from more than one AVA (e.g., Finger Lakes & Hudson River) will be found on the label:  if it says Hudson River Region, it may or may not be estate bottled but is from the Region; if it says New York State the wine is made from grapes from more than one region.  Caveat emptor, but only if these issues matters to the buyer.

Wine-grape Varieties

The varieties that do thrive in the AVA are mostly hybrids as well as some cool-climate V. viniferas (hybrid variety information is from Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, et al., Wine Grapes—listed alphabetically, so page number are not needed); Hudson AVA acreage information comes from the “NY Wine Course”, pp. 75-61 passim; data is for 2013):

Aurore or Aurora, aka Seibel 5279 (White, French-American hybrid; less than 10 acres)

Baco Noir (R, French-American hybrid, Folle Blanche x Grand Glabre [V. riparia]; <10 acres)

Cabernet Franc (R, vinifera; 7 acres)

Cabernet Sauvignon (R, vinifera; <20 acres)

Catawba (R, either V. labrusca or a natural hybrid, in any case American; <10 acres, in decline)

Cayuga White (complex American hybrid created in Geneva, NY; <10, decreased from 38 acres in 1996)

Chambourcin (Red, French-American hybrid; acreage not reported)

Chancellor, aka Seibel 7053 (R, French-American hybrid; acreage for the AVA not reported)

Chardonnay (W, vinifera; 32 acres)

Chelois (R, French-American hybrid; acreage for the AVA not reported)[12]

Concord (R, V. labrusca x unknown vinifera?, decidedly American; 168 acres)

De Chaunac or Dechaunac (R, French-Canadian hybrid, by Albert Seibel; named for the Canadian enologist, Adhemar DeChaunac; <15 acres)[13]

Delaware (V. labrusca x aestivalis var. bouriquiana x vinifera?, American hybrid; <10 acres)

Diamond, aka Moore’s Diamond (labrusca x vinifera American hybrid; acreage unreported)

Dutchess (complex hybrid by A. J. Caywood of Poughkeepsie, V. labrusca x aestivalis x vinifera; <10 acres)[14]

Elvira (complex American hybrid, V. labrusca x riparia x vinifera; <10 acres)[15]

Frontenac, aka MN 1047 (complex American hybrid from Minnesota; )[16]

Gamay Noir (R, vinifera, a specialty of Whitecliff Vineyards)

Gewürztraminer (W, vinifera; <10 acres)

Golden Muscat (W, American hybrid ex-Cornell, labrusca x vinifera; acreage unreported)

Lemberger, aka Blaufränkisch (R, vinifera; acreage unreported)

Léon Millot (R, complex French hybrid from Alsace; acreage unreported)

Marechal Foch (complex French-American hybrid from Alsace; <20 acres)

Marquette (American hybrid from Minnesota; acreage unreported)

Merlot (R, vinifera; <10 acres)

Niagara (American labrusca hybrid; <25 acres)[17]

Noiret (R, complex American hybrid created in Geneva, NY)

Pinot Blanc (W, vinifera, Alsace clone planted only at Stoutridge)

Pinot Gris (W, vinifera)

Pinot Noir (R, vinifera, almost unique to Oak Summit in the region; about 30 acres)

Refosco (vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)

Riesling (W, vinifera; <10 acres)

St Pepin (complex American hybrid by Elmer Swenson in Wisconsin)[18]

Sangiovese (R, vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)

Seyval Blanc/Seyve-Villard 5-276 (W, French hybrid, vinifera x rupestris x lincecumii; 73 acres)

Teroldego (vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)

Tocai Friulano (W, vinifera, planted only at Millbrook Vineyards)

Traminette (W, complex American hybrid based on Gewürztraminer)[19]

Vidal Blanc/Vidal 256 (W, French hybrid, Ugni Blanc x Seibel 4986; <10 acres)[20]

Vignoles/Ravat 51 (W, complex French hybrid, Pinot Noir? x Subéreux?; <10 acres)

As can be seen from the list, most of the wine varieties are hybrids, developed specifically for traits that would enable the vines to survive the extreme cold, humidity, and diseases.  The French hybrids were often developed to produce vines based on V. vinifera that were resistant to phylloxera, as the original intention was to plant them in European vineyards.  Once it was realized that grafting American rootstock to vinifera shoots would adequately protect against phylloxera, interest in hybrids dropped in Europe, but many of the hybrids have been successfully introduced to the United States.   American (esp. New York hybrids) were often developed to thrive in American vineyards with their attendant cold-climate challenges and the diseases that are endemic to the region.

Bibliography and other References

Unfortunately, there is a serious paucity of books devoted exclusively to the entire Hudson River Region AVA.  The only one still available, by Martell and Long, is out of print but can still be ordered.

De Vito, Carlo.  East Coast Wineries:  A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia.  Rutgers U. Press:  New Brunswick, NJ, 2004.  An excellent guide to the wineries of the region, though having been published ten years ago, it doesn’t even include the author’s own winery:  Hudson-Chatham.

Figiel, Richard.  Circle of Vines:  The Story of New York State Wine.  Excelsior Editions, Albany, NY, 2014. Written by the once-owner of a Finger Lakes winery, this is a well-written account of the story of New York wine, with a chapter devoted to the Hudson Valley and additional related material in two others.  The entire book, a sweep of history going back to the Ice Ages and up to the present day, is a worthwhile read and the chapter on the Valley is especially complete and valuable.

Martell, Alan R. and Alton Long.  The Wines and Wineries of the Hudson River Valley.  The Countryman Press:  Woodstock, VT, 1993.  Given that it was published 21 years ago, it is seriously out of date, and at a scarce 48 amply-illustrated pages, it covers but 20 wineries and a meadery.  It is clearly meant for the general public.

New York Wine & Grape Foundation (text by James Tresize), “The New York Wine Course and Reference.pdf.”  2014. Available as an online download, it is an excellent and very complete research source, although it has a promotional slant.  It also includes very useful regional maps on the soils, temperatures, growing degree days, etc.  (Note:  It is curious that the AVA map in the Wine Course document  does not match the one on the Website: Fact and Figures, which is the version that I use at the beginning of this article; it is the one that I consider the most accurate.)  The Website is listed below.  In citations, it will be referred to as “NY Wine Course.”

A handful of others touch on the region here and there, but superficially.  For example:

Berger, Dan and Tony Aspler.  North American Wine Routes:  A Travel Guide to Wines & Vines from Napa to Nova Scotia.  Reader’s Digest Press:  Pleasantville, NY, 2010.  Very superficial, with no useful background and only four wineries listed on the two amply-illustrated pages about the Region.

Castell, Hudson.  Wines of Eastern North American:  From Prohibition to the Present:  From Prohibition to the Present – A History and Desk Reference.  Cornell U. Press, Ithaca, NY, 2014.  Its subject is rather broad so that the Hudson Valley is only touched upon here and there, but it is a fine work of scholarship and an important reference.

Morton, Lucie T.  Winegrowing in Eastern America:  An Illustrated Guide to Viniculture East of the Rockies.  Cornell U. Press: Ithaca, NY, 1985.  An important book but it only offers a very cursory coverage of the Valley.

Robinson, Jancis and Linda Murphy.  American Wine:  The Ultimate Companion to the Wines & Wineries of the US.  U. California Press:  Berkeley, 2013.  For an ‘ultimate guide’ there are only two pages, mostly covered by illustrations and no useful map.  It counts 33 wineries, mentions Millbrook Vineyards and Winery as the ‘Superstar’ and shows three wine labels.

Thomas, Marguerite.  Touring East Coast Wine Country:  A Guide to the Finest Wineries.  Berkshire House Publishers, Lee, MA, 2002.  Mentions only two wineries and is out of date.

For grape varieties:

Casscles, J. Stephen .  Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada,  Flint Mine Press, Coxsackie, NY, 2015.  An important an indispensable guide to the varieties of the region.  (See my review of the book at Grapes of the Hudson Valley.)

Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, & José Vouillamoz.  Wine Grapes:  A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours.  HarperCollins: New York, 2012.  Simply the best and most complete reference to all varieties available in the English language.

For history:

Benjamin, Vernon.  The History of the Hudson River Valley from Wilderness to the Civil War.  Overlook Press, New York, 2014.  Using up-to-date scholarship, this is a serious and significant contribution to the literature of the Hudson Valley but, alas, there’s very little about wine.  Nevertheless, a very worthwhile book to own.

 Online Sources

Be aware that most of these sites may not be up-to-date or may contain misleading or incorrect information.

AmericanWineryGuide.com: Hudson River Region AVA  Listing 30 wineries, it omits Windham Winery, but then its count doesn’t include cideries or meaderies

AppellationAmerican.com: Hudson River Region  Last updated before Robibero Winery was opened, so probably prior to 2009.  It lists 32 wineries in the region.

DutchessWineTrail.com  Website for the Dutchess County Wine Trail.

HudsonBerkshireExperience.com  Website for the Hudson-Berkshire Beverage Trail in Columbia County.  It’s not only about wine.

HudsonRiverWine.com  Blog by Carlo DeVito, author of East Coast Wineries.  He is the owner of the Hudson-Chatham Winery and also maintains another blog, EastCoastWineries.com, which covers wineries from Maine to Virginia.

HudsonValleyWine&GrapeAssoc.com  Website of the Hudson Valley Wine and Grape Association.  It lists 22 wineries and vineyards as members.

HudsonValleyWineCountry.org  It includes links to 3 of the 4 wine trails in the region.

HVNet.com: Wineries  The Hudson Valley Network is more about tourism in the Hudson Valley than it is about the Hudson River Region AVA, and includes at least two wineries that do not belong in the AVA.  It is also out of date.

HVWineGoddess.com  A light-hearted but informative romp through the Valley.  It is currently maintained with fresh material, but it isn’t clear if it updates old posts.

HVWineMag.com  The Hudson Valley Wine Magazine is probably the source with the most up-to-date information about what is going on regarding wine in the Valley.

NYSAES (Cornell U.)*  The academic/scientific go-to Website for all matters agricultural and horticultural, which means viticulture as well, in the 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.

NewYorkWines.org  New York Wine & Grape Foundation, aka Uncork New York, covers all the wine regions of the state.  Though it states that there are 41 wineries in the Hudson region, but that includes 3 cideries, 2 distilleries, and 1 glögg producer, so strictly speaking there are really only 35 wineries in the region.  “The New York Wine Course and Reference.pdf.” can be downloaded from here.

ShawangunkWineTrail.com  Website for the Shawangunk Wine Trail in Ulster County.

UpperHudsonValleyWineTrail.com  Website for the newest wine trail in the Hudson River Region:  Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail.

Wikipedia.org: Hudson River Region AVA  This is only a stub, so is not useful at present.

WinesNY.com: Hudson Valley Wines  An unofficial wine blog with much to offer, and its coverage of the Hudson Region is interesting and informative.  However, it has not been updated since 2009.

*NYAES stands for New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, in Geneva, NY, which is run by Cornell University.

Endnotes

[1] Wikipedia.org: /Wisconsin glaciation

[2] It’s actually even more complicated than that.  For a full description of the boundaries, see Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, sect. 9.47.

[3] NY Wine Course, pp. 92-3.  (An excellent introduction to New York State soils can be found on the Web page of the Hunter College Dept. of Geology:  Soils of NY (a downloadable PDF.)

[4] USDA Soil Series:  Hudson Series

 [5] Ibid.

[7] All the figures come from Uncork New York, Regions pages.

[8] Uncork New York

[9] See also the excellent article on the geology and terroir of the region in WinesNY.com: Hudson Valley Wines Geology.

 [10] HudsonRiver.com Wineries History; also Richard Figiel, Circle of Vines, pp. 14-28 passim.

 [11] Hudson Catell, Wines of Eastern North America, p. 96.

 [12] NY Wine Course, p. 77.

 [13] Wine Grapes, p. 290-1.  NY Wine Course, p. 75.

 [14] Wine Grapes, p. 318.

 [15] Wine Grapes, p. 327.

 [16] Wine Grapes, p. 369.

 [17] NY Wine Course, p. 41.

 [18] Wine Grapes, p. 1011

 [19] Wine Grapes, p. 1073.

 [20] NY Wine Course, p. 47.

New York State Wine Maps

There are maps and there are maps.  Good ones, useful ones, silly ones, and barely useful ones.  This is a brief survey of the best downloadable full maps dealing with agriculture and viticulture in New York State along with a handful that aren’t so functional.

One pretty obvious point is that there is no single map that convey all the information that one wants.  Ideally, there could be a comprehensive, high-resolution layered map, all to the same scale, that overlay a base map, preferably topographical.  Then one could add or remove the transparent layers as needed.  But such a map does not exist, leaving researchers to search on the Web, often fruitlessly and with much frustration, as shall be seen below:

NY Soil MapPerhaps the major and most important source of information and knowledge about viticulture in New York State is the Cornell University Agricultural Extension Program, which runs the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station based in Geneva, NY.  As a land-grant school, Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences was founded in 1874, and it is the 3rd-largest such school in the country.  Over the years it has mapped nearly all aspects of agriculture in the state, including viticulture.  The map above is a small-scale representation of the dominant soil types in the state.

NY Wine Regions Map 1

Map by the New York Wine and Grapes Foundation

NY AVA Map

Map by Quentin Sadler of the UK for his Web blog. Copyright 2010.

The two maps above are representations of the NY State American Viticultural Areas or AVAs, but neither accurately depict the Long Island AVA, which covers the entire island–what is shown actually represent a combination of the North Fork and Hamptons AVAs.  Furthermore, the two maps don’t even agree on the boundaries of the Hudson River Region AVA.  The top map (NewYorkWines.org) is the more accurate one.  It actually follows the contours of the AVA described in the TTB Code of Federal Regulation (GPO Title 27, Part 9, Subpart C:  Approved AVAs-Hudson River Region).  However, while the top map shows the Lake Champlain Region, the bottom one does not, and there is no indication that Lake Champlain is now a proposed AVA with approval pending from the TTB (short for Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Taxation Bureau, an agency of the U.S. Treasury Department).

NY Site Evaluation maps NY State Vineyard Site Evaluation

The map above is taken from the NY State Vineyard Site Evaluation Website.  It is just one of perhaps hundreds of different types of views of all the regions of the state that may be considered appropriate for siting a vineyard.  According to the Website, it is “A collaborative project of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University and the Institute for the Application of Geospatial Technologies with funding from the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. As the grape and wine industry in New York has grown, there is a need to make wise decisions about sites for vineyards.”

The Wines & Vines review offers a good explanation of what the site evaluation maps are and how they can be used: Wines & Vines Review of NY State Vineyard Site Evaluation Website.  Also read this critical piece about it from the New York Cork Report.

There are also maps that, though not focused on viticulture in the state, offer other kinds of useful information, though at a scale that encompasses the entire state it is difficult to be more than very general.  For example, a state map depicting precipitation:

Precipitation Map of NYS

 

A problem with this particular precipitation map is that there are large areas depicted in yellow, such as most of Long Island, but the legend does not depict the rainfall amount for that color at all.  A strange lacuna.

The following map depicts the distribution of different kinds of bedrock thoughout the State:

Map of NY State bedrock

The information of the above map could be overlaid with the one below (if we only had the means), by the State Geological Survey, which is physiographic:

NY Physiographic map

From the map above we learn that the Finger Lakes belong in the Allegheny Plateau Geological Province, while all of Long Island is uniquely the Atlantic Coastal Plain.  The Hudson Valley includes two Provinces:  The Highlands and Lowlands, both of which extend southward into New Jersey–but off the map boundaries.

The physiography shown in the map above leads one, ineluctably, to a map showing the movement of the ice-age glaciers that helped shape it over 10,000 years ago:

Map of NY State glcial movement

from Circle of Vines by Richard Figiel, 2014

Which leads to a map of the State’s major water basins, which were themselves created by the one-mile thick ice sheets during their advances and retreats:

Map of NY State basinsAnother useful map, by the USDA, depicts the boundaries of extreme low temperatures, which define the kind of plants, including vines, can grow within certain temperature ranges known as zone:

NY map of Low-temp extremes

The one following, also by the USDA, is a variant on the one above, although the data don’t seem to entirely agree (note Long Island) nor does it show the temperature range for each zone:

NY map of Hardiness Zones

The next map was devised for the 2002 Census of Agriculture of the Soil Regions of NY State:

NY map of Soil Regions

At this small a scale, a great deal of information for specific regions is not visible at all.  For example, the map shows a pattern of deep acid and limy soils running from the southeastern part of the state to the border with New Jersey.  Were this to extend the soil region into New Jersey it would show its origin in Bergen County.  More than that, at a larger scale it would show that there is a run of alluvial soil stretching from Bergen County on a northeasterly direction that is associated with the Wallkill River, which eventually debouches into the Hudson River.

Of course, more detailed maps are available at much larger scales.  For example, an excellent “general soil map” by the USDA Soil Conservation Service, in collaboration with Cornell’s Agricultural Experiment Station, produced at a scale of 1:253440, renders the following, along with a list of the major different soil associations of Suffolk County (the East End of Long Island):

East End, General Soil MapHowever, as detailed as this map may appear to be, there is a caveat as to its use in the lower left corner:  “Each area outlined on this map consists of more than one kind of soil.  The map is thus meant for general planning rather than a basis for decision on the use of specific tracts.”  This particular map is used by the author in his post:  Viniculture in LI:  the Background.

The great frustration for anyone seeking an equivalent large-scale map of other wine regions of the State is the difficulty of finding them online.  In fact, the map above was scanned from a printed version and posted on line independent of the entities that produced it.  Apparently these maps can only be purchased from the USDA, but a Google search yields nothing to that effect.

Occasionally someone will come up with a whimsical version of a wine terroir map, though it may well be too clever by half; in other words, is it truly useful?  It is certainly decorative:

NY Terroir & Growing Regions Map