Category Archives: Viticulture

What goes on in the vineyard

The Three Indispensable Wine Books

In my view, were one to be forced to choose the three most indispensable reference wine books published in English, they would be these:

  • The Oxford Companion to Wine, 5th ed., edited by Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding, with Tara Q. Thomas. Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2023.
  • Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson. The World Atlas of Wine: A Complete Guide to the Wines of the World, 8th ed. London:  Mitchell-Beazley, 2019.
  • Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, & José Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours.  NY: Harper Collins, 2013.

Some may quibble that The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia: The Classic Reference to the Wines of the World, 6th ed., 2020, by Tom Stevenson and edited by Orsi Szentkiralyi, would be preferable to the Wine Companion, but I feel that the Wine Companion together with the World Atlas make for a more comprehensive exploration of the world of wine.

NOTE:  None of these books are for the wine neophyte, for that, I’d recommend Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course, 35th Edition. NY: Union Square, 2020.   One of the great advantages of Zraly’s approach is that he explains how to taste wine in some depth with a unique approach. It has been described in the NY Times as “One of the best start-from-scratch books ever written.”

As one can see, all three books are by British writers, with the exception of Vouillamoz, who is Swiss, and a highly respected ampelographer and vine geneticist.

One reason for the very high standards of style and scholarship has to do with the fact that Robinson, Johnson, and Harding are all Oxbridge stuff.  The other reason the standards are so high is because it’s the Brits who have been writing about wine almost longer than anyone, certainly in English.  It helps, as well, that they are not given to hyperbole or chest-thumping, just really good writing and scholarship.  It is also a fact that Robinson and Johnson are perhaps the two most-widely read authors in the wine world, certainly in our language.

I chose these three books because I consider them to be comprehensive and complete, with top-of-the-class expertise, quality layout and printing, and very high levels of scholarship.  For example, the Washington Post, in its review of the first edition of the Wine Companion, referred to it as the “definitive guide to the world of wine.”  This remains true today, with the 5th edition just published in 2023.  The new edition is substantially revised and updated.

I do not propose to review here the Oxford Wine Companion or The World Atlas of Wine, which was newly published in an 8th edition in October 2013.  I’ve already said something about each in my post, Wine Books that I Recommend.  Suffice it to say that both books are widely recognized as indispensable and essential wine references.

This is particularly true of Wine Grapes, published as a hardcover edition with a slipcover and a beautiful layout, with scholarship galore to support one of the most difficult subjects in wine.  It is expensive:  on Amazon .com it can be found for $111, a substantial discount from its list price of $199.  However, if one is truly serious about wine, as a wine-lover, wine writer, or a professional in the trade, it behooves one to get this book.  It’s entirely worth the price.

Review of Wine Grapes

Robinson had already ventured into the subject of wine grapes with two earlier books, both for the “popular” press rather than for specialists:  the first was Vines, Grapes, & Wines: The wine drinker’s guide to grape varieties, published in 1986, followed by her compact Jancis Robinson’s Guide to Wine Grapes, in 1996, based on the grape entries in the first edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine (1996).  Her only serious competition in English was Oz Clarke, who published Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Grapes: A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties & Flavors with Margaret Rand in 2001, which was later updated as Grapes & Wines:  A comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours in 2010.  All of these books primarily were aimed at the sophisticated wine consumer, and though all are highly informative, amply illustrated, and enjoyable to browse or do basic research, none was suitable for a professional audience nor offered the level of intellectual insight that Wines Grapes does.

The definitive reference for professionals, until now, was the great  magnum opus in seven volumes, published in French, by Pierre Viala and Victor Vermorel:  Ampélographie, between 1901 and 1910.  It covered 5200 wine and table grape varieties, with focus on the 627 most important one, accompanied by over 500 paintings depicting the grapes as bunches with their foliage.  A selection of those paintings was incorporated into this volume under review.

This book discusses the 1,368 varieties that are still in commercial production, however small the plantings or the production.  For every single variety, it lists its 1) principle synonyms, 2) varieties commonly mistaken for said variety, 3) its origins and parentage, 4) other hypotheses [if any exist], 5) viticultural characteristics, and 6) where it’s grown and what its wine tastes like.  I’ll take, as an example, the entry for Baco Noir:

“Dark-skinned French hybrid faring better across the Atlantic than at home.”

Berry Colour: [black]

“Principal synonyms:  Baco 1, Baco 24-23, Bacoi, Bako Speiskii, Bakon

Origins and Parentage

“Hybrid obtained in 1902 by François Baco in Bélus in the Landes, south-west France, by crossing Folle Blanche (under the name Piquepoul du Gers) with Vitis riparia Grand Glabre.  It is therefore a half-sibling of Baco Blanc.  However, as noted by Galet (1988), since V. riparia Grand Glabre has female-only flowers with sterile pollen, Darrigan considered this hybrid to be Folle Blanche x V. riparia Grand Glabre + V. riparia ordinaire, which suggests that Baco used a mix of V. riparia pollen taken from two distinct varieties. . . . .

Viticultural Characteristics

“Early budding and therefore at risk from spring frosts.  Best suited to heavy soils.  Vigorous and early ripening.  Good resistance to downy and powdery mildew but highly susceptible to black rot and crown gall. Small to medium bunches of small berries that are high in acids but low in tannins.

Where It’s Grown and What Its Wine Tastes Like

“Baco Noir was at one time planted in France, in regions as diverse as Burgundy, Anjou, and its home in the Landes, but the area has dwindled considerably, down to around 11 ha (27 acres) in 2008 . . . .

“The variety has fared better in cooler parts of North America since its introduction in the 1950s.  New York crushed 820 tons in 2009 (almost double the amount for 2008) in both the Hudson River and Finger Lakes regions and in southern Oregon . . .”

But even before one gets to the profiles of those 1,368 varieties, there is the excellent Introduction, with subject headings such as:

  • The Importance of Grapes Varieties, which covers the background of how varieties came to take such a prominent place in a wine world that had once only paid attention to regions, such that the French, with their AOC system would identify a wine as from Pauillac, and the knowledgeable imbiber would know that this was a claret or red wine from Bordeaux—varieties be damned; in the USA wines were made that were identified merely as Claret or Burgundy, though the varieties could be anything but those from Bordeaux or Burgundy.  There is even a box that clarifies the difference between variety (the grape) and varietal (the wine).  There is also a chart showing the climate-maturity groupings of varieties.
  • The Vine Family, discussing some (but not all) of the vine species used to make wine, with emphasis on V. vinifera and its two subspecies, sativa (the cultivated vine) and silvestris, the wild or forest vine.
  • Grape Variety, Mutation and Clone, a fascinating discussion that explains how a vinifera variety comes into being, as well as explaining the differences between mutations and clones.  One of the most interesting observation is the discovery that Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc are all genetically identical according to standard DNA profiling, and are only distinguished by a single gene that changes the amount of anthocyanin that imparts color to the grape skins.   This section also dispels some myths about varieties and there tendency to mutate.
  • Vine Breeding, which explains how the domesticated vine has been deliberately bred for particular characteristics, often by selected intraspecific crossing (vinifera with vinifera) or by interspecies crossing (e.g., vinifera with riparia).  It also discusses successful vs. unsuccessful results, as in the case of the effect of the German Wine Law of 1971, which caused breeders to aim for varieties that would produce high sugar levels regardless of the overall effect on the quality of the resulting wines.
  • Pests and Diseases, an important category in any discussion of vines and vineyards, provides a background of how certain diseases and infestations were spread thanks to the intervention of human activity in the transportation of unwanted guests that often accompanied vines transferred from America to Europe for experimental plantings in order to see how American vines would do in European soil.  Perhaps it would improve them.  Alas, along came downy and powdery mildews and the charmless, almost invisibly tiny, parasitical mite that came to be called Phylloxera devastatrix, which nearly devastated the vineyards of France, Germany, and Italy.
  • Rootstocks, Grafting, and Fashion, a brief account of the significance of rootstocks—which could deserve an entire book in their own right—grafting, and how fashions in taste can be mollified for a time (remember the days of ABC—Anything But Cabernet/Chardonnay) by the simple expedient of top-grafting, rather than uprooting the entire vine and waiting three years for it to begin to bear fruit.
  • Vine Age, an explanation of how older vines offer the vineyardist a two-edged sword: higher-quality grapes at reduced production levels.
  • Changes in Vineyard Composition, discusses how vineyards are moving away from field blends (multiple varieties in a vineyard plot) to monovarietal cultivation as well as the resurrection of nearly extinct varieties that are still of interest for winemaking.
  • Labelling and Naming bears primarily on the marketing of wine. Where once Europeans rarely mentioned varietal names on the label and emphasized regional origin instead, the success of varietal emphasis in the New World eventually was accepted as the standard for all but the most traditional, expensive wines offered—say a Château d’Yquem (Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle anyone?) or La Tâche (Pinot Noir, period).
  • DNA Profiling, is about the shift from ampelography (the identification of a vine by its leaf and bunch characteristics) to the use of DNA to establish parentage and sibling relationships.  Throughout the book there are family vines (trees) to show the relationship of, say Pinot to Syrah (!), no matter at how many generations removed.  DNA profiling can’t answer all these questions, since a parent variety that is now extinct or unknown cannot be linked to its supposed progeny, so question marks abound in the charts.

The next chapter, four pages of text and three of charts, is Historical Perspective, with the following headings:

  • Grapevine Domestication: Why, Where and When?   This covers the various theories that have been put forth by various scholars.  The first one, the ‘Paleolithic Hypothesis,’ holds that sometime in pre-history spontaneously-fermented wine was tried and produced the proverbial euphoria we all know so very well.  This oeno-archeologist, Patrick McGovern, was a bit of a wag, referring to this drink as “Stone-Age Beaujolais Nouveau.”  It had to be consumed immediately upon release lest it turn into vinegar.  This is followed by the “Hermaphroditic Hypothesis” which argues that in the Early Neolithic, when societies began to settle down, early attempts to cultivate wine grapes quickly eliminated the planting of male vines, because they could never reproduce; female plants could only reproduce if there were male vines nearby; hermaphroditic vines, which today comprise the vast majority of cultivated vines, needed only themselves, and reproduction was virtually guaranteed.    Then there is the issue of where the domesticated wine vine was first cultivated, and while the answer is not entirely certain, there are various ideas as to where, and it largely centers on the regions near Anatolia, Georgia, the northern Fertile Crescent, and so on.  The when actually depends on actual archeological finds in that general region, which suggest as early as ca. 8000 bce, with other proposals holding that it may not have been until ca. 3400-3000, again depending on which evidence is most generally accepted.
  • Western Expansion of Viniculture covers the general peregrinations of the wine vine from its ancestral home to Mesopotamia, then Egypt, and then Greece, Italy, France and on into Germany, Spain, and Portugal.  Eventually, first with Spanish missionaries and later with immigrants to what would become the United States, cuttings and seeds were brought to the Western Hemisphere.  Chloroplast DNA studies are cited as evidence of a possible secondary domestication of V. vinifera silvestris, but even this is in dispute.
  • Ampelographic Groups is a really interesting section that deals with what is referred to in the book as the “eco-geographical groups” or proles, first proposed by A.M. Negrul in 1938 and again in 1946.  Although some of the proles varieties may, thanks to DNA fingerprinting, belong to another group than that originally proposed, for the most part it seems to hold up, with three groups proposed:  Proles occidentalis Negr., Proles pontica Negr., and Proles orientalis Negr.  All wine-grape varieties emanate from one of these three groups, with Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay in the western group, Rkatsiteli and Furmint in the bridging group, and Chasselas and Muscat Alexandria, for example, in the eastern group.  An accompanying map shows the geographical distribution of these eco-geogroups in France, along with a table listing the ‘sorto-types’ of the different varieties in the larger classification.  Complex, isn’t it?

This is followed by a list of the Varieties by Country of Origin, and here we learn that the single largest group belongs to Italy, with 377 varieties, followed by France with 204 varieties; the USA has 76 native varieties, and the UK has a single one, Muscat of Hamburg.

Thence, the alphabetical listing of all 1,368 wine varieties still in production at whatever scale.  The example of Baco Noir has already been given.  Pinot, with its great clonal diversity, includes 156 varieties in its family (shown as a 3-page chart), which includes Teroldego, Savagnin, Gouais Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and so on.  All this is based on DNA analysis, which, given the many lost or extinct varieties that belong in the tree, leaves open questions of parentage or sibling relationships.  For example, If Pinot is one parent of Teroldego, which variety is the other parent?  With the various members of the Pinot family that includes Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Teinteurier, and Pinot Noir Précoce, the entries for the Pinot family go on for 17 pages.

So it goes for all the varieties described, running 1177 pages, followed by a Glossary and an extensive Bibliography of 20 pages in length.  References go from Acerbi, G., Dele viti italiane ossia materiali per servire alla classificazione mongrafia e sinonima of 1825 to Zúñiga, V C M de, 1905, on Tempranillo.  The bibliography is  up-to-date to 2012. Every variety under discussion has its citations from the bibliography.

Occasionally it passes up a nice nugget of information, such as the fact that in 1982 it was discovered that vines identified as Pinot Chardonnay were actually Pinot Blanc, but it took a few years for the newly-planted vines to produce fully-developed leaves, which allowed Lucy Morton—a viticulturalist who translated Pierre Galet’s book, A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification, from French to English—to correctly identify the vines as Pinot Blanc by the shape of the vine leaves.  (Incidentally, what was called Pinot Chardonnay—on the assumption that Chardonnay is a member of the Pinot family—is now called just Chardonnay).  This little nugget could have been found under either the entry for Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc, but is in neither.  Also omitted is any mention of the red vinifera variety Morenillo, which although “extinct” is actually still producing small quantities of wine in the Terra Alta DO.  These are rare lacunae for such a thorough book.

This is not only a supreme work of scholarship, scientific research, and historiography, it is a remarkable accomplishment and an essential addition to the English world’s library of wine books.  If you can afford it, buy it.  You can’t afford not to.

 

 

 

Wine Books I Recommend

Following is a highly selective list of books that I’ve read or consulted that I consider particularly worthwhile.  If I haven’t read or consulted a book, I do not recommend it.  Alas, there are more that I’ve not read than have—I’ve only 140 books on wine in my library, and some are still waiting to be read, though nearly all have served as references.

Grapes, Wine, Wineries, and Vineyards

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

1.  Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, 5th ed. (2023), is just indispensable, with a comprehensive coverage of just about every topic bearing on wine that one can think of, a true Abbocatto to Zymase encyclopedia.  All articles are signed, all cited references noted.  Robinson was both the editor and a contributor.  The 5th edition updates the prior edition of 2015 and  adds 270 new terms, with over 100 new contributors. Many will only be of interest to wine professionals.  For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.

2.  Equally indispensable is Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson’s The World Atlas of Wine, 8th ed. (2019).  How else could one find the way around the vinicultural regions of the world, including NY State?  The maps are in full color, ranging in scale from street-level for the Champagne towns and the lodges in Oporto, to 1:45,000 and larger for wine regions.  The text for the many regions is the very model of pithy, clear writing.  For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.

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

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

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

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

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

7.  If one wanted to carry as much information about wine in a portable package, there’s one that I cannot live without:  Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2020.  It is pithy, witty, thicker than ever, and claims to be the Number One Bestselling Wine Guide, which it deserves to be.  I’ve bought every edition since the very first one, published in 1977 (it was rather slim then).  Also available as a Kindle Book from Amazon.

8. A book not to be overlooked is Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, Revised, Updated & Expanded Edition (2018). Zraly is a truly gifted instructor and virtually anyone can benefit from his guidance. His approach is original and his book is the most popular wine book of its kind, with over three million copies sold worldwide.

New York and East Coast Wine

Long Island Wine Country:  Award-Winning Vineyards of the North Fork and the Hamptons, is an useful guide to visiting Long Island vineyards and wineries.  Written by Jane Taylor Starwood, editor-in-chief of Long Island Wine Press, she gives us an insider’s track on the owners, the winemakers, and the wineries themselves.  In a conversational tone (and amply illustrated), the book leads the reader from East to West on the North Fork, and then down to the Hamptons, as though it would be followed geographically. It’s a bit frustrating an approach if one wants to do research and would prefer an alphabetical organization, but it’s a quibble given the overall quality and usefulness of the book, although it’s now rather out-of-date, given that it was published in 2009.

Louisa Thomas Hargrave wrote a gracious memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery. One cannot begin to understand what was involved in creating the Long Island wine industry without reading this charming and touching account of the establishment of Long Island’s first winery, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973, when there were only small farms and potato fields. It is charming in its modesty, touching in its honesty, and a remarkable tale of what it takes to start a vineyard from scratch when you don’t even know what you’re doing! And look at what it started–a whole industry that is one of the dominant features of the East End of Long Island, begun with passion, commitment, and hard work, but ultimately at the cost of heartbreak and renewal.  Now out of print, it may be available, used, on Amazon or AbeBooks.

In Marguerite Thomas’s Touring East Coast Wine Country:  A Guide to the Finest Wineries (1996) we have the first important guide to the wines and wineries of the East Coast, from Maine to Virginia, replete with useful insights and a good background on the history of the viniculture of each state. It also provides biography capsules of some of the most important or interesting winemakers. Given that the book was first published in 1996, a good deal of its information is now more of historical interest, and it needs, and deserves, a new edition.
More recent is Carlo DeVito’s East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia, published in 2004. Still, even this needs to be brought up-to-date, but its value lies in its own take on East Coast wineries, with listings of the wines offered by each estate with brief descriptions, recommendations and excerpted tasting reviews of the wines. Let’s hope that, like Thomas’s guide, DeVito’s will also receive a new, updated edition soon. For the serious wine tourist, one guide complements the other, so why not buy both?

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

Vital–thanks to its clear, lucid writing and very useful history of LI viticulture and winemaking–is the excellent Wines of Long Island, 3rd edition (2019) by José Moreno-Lacalle, based on the 2nd edition by Edward Beltrami & Philip E. Palmedo.  It includes profiles of the most important personalities in the LI wine world as well as all the producers, with descriptions and reviews of wineries and their wines–both past and present–and a generally judicious insight into the trends and achievements of the region. Definitely worthwhile owning, if you love LI wines. (Is this called self-promotion?)

Organic and Biodynamic Viniculture

Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course: The Birth of the Biodynamic Method, is the foundation text of the biodynamic movement. A compilation of eight lectures delivered in Germany in 1924 provides, in Steiner’s own words, the basis for what he called a new science based on the natural rhythms of the world and the cosmos, as recovered from the traditional practices of the peasant farmers of yore. It is meant as a healthy antidote to the rise of farming methods based on industrial chemicals and fertilizers. Many leading vineyards are farmed by this method, from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy to Shinn Estate in Long Island. You owe it to yourself to read the lectures if you wish to really understand what Biodynamics is about.
Nicolas Joly is a leading proponent of Biodynamic viticulture, and he practices his preaching at one of the greatest vineyards of the Loire, the Coulée de Serrant. Joly’s Wine from Sky to Earth: Growing and Appreciating Biodynamic Wine, is a true believer’s panegyric to Biodynamics.  His ideas and those of the founder of Biodynamics®, Rudolf Steiner, are put into practice at two vineyards that I know of:  Macari Vineyards and Shinn Estate.
Lon Rombough’s The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture, is an excellent introduction to how to grow grapes organically. It’s also very practical, as the guide is really intended for the novice who wants to start a backyard vineyard or even a commercial one. It takes the reader step-by-step on establishing an organic vineyard, imparting along the way a good deal of knowledge and savvy advice.

Other Wine Books of More than Passing Interest (or Not)

  • Tyler Colman, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink (UCal Press, 2008).  I highly recommend this book for its clarity and scholarship.  The subject of politics in the wine world proves to be fascinating, and the author chose to approach it by comparing, for example, the AOC laws of France (and by extension, much of the EU) with the AVA regulations promulgated by the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau).  There are surprising insights  into how and why wine is grown and made in different countries, why labels look the way they do on each side of the Atlantic, and the effects of custom, religion, crime, regionalism, nationalism, and so forth on the wine trade.  Eminently worthwhile for the serious wine-lover.
  • John Hailman, Thomas Jefferson on Wine (UMiss Press, 2006).  Another book that is based on sound scholarship and research, also well-written, but one may wish to skip all the tables and lists, which are difficult to grasp at times simply because the wines of Jefferson’s period (1743-1826) varied so much in name, currency, weights and volumes, that clear comparisons with our own period are so difficult to make.  Still, if one has the patience, there is reward in seeing how all-encompassing were the interests and tastes of the first great oenophile of the United States of America.
  • Thomas Pellechia, Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade (Thunder’s Mouth Press, NY, 2006)  A work with great potential written by someone who has long been in the wine trade but whose sense of history is lacking in scholarship and critical acuity.  Some of what he writes is couched in such vague or confused historical terms as to be virtually useless, especially when dealing with antiquity and the Middle Ages.  The writing style is breezy and casual, but it lacks polish and lucidity.  Such a shame.
  • A far better foray into wine history would be the classic Gods, Men, and Wine, (1966) by William Younger, or the more recent Story of Wine (1989)—or the New Illustrated Edition (2004)—by Hugh Johnson, both of which are better-written and historically more reliable.  Neither of the latter books is available in Kindle versions, but they do enjoy the virtue of been on real, durable paper bound in hardcover.
  • A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage (2005), is more than just about wine.  It tells its story by means of six beverages: beer (Mesopotamia & Egypt), wine (Ancient Greece & Rome), spirits (Colonial America), Coffee (Europe in the Age of Enlightenment), Tea (the British Empire), and Coca-Cola (Modern America and the Age of Globalization).  It’s both amusing and informative, but I’d put the emphasis on the amusement.  Unless you’ve utterly uninformed about wine or the other beverages, this is really History 001, rather lightweight.
  • Questions of Taste:  The Philosophy of Wine, edited by Barry C. Smith (2007), with essays by experts such as Paul Draper, Jamie Goode, Andrew Jefford, and others, with an enthusiastic Foreword by Jancis Robinson.  The contributors also include a couple of philosophers and a linguist.  The language of wine as presented in this book is clearly academic. A worthwhile but challenging book, well worth the time to read.
  • Wine Wars, by Mike Veseth (2011), which, with chapter headings like “The Curse of the Blue Nun,” “The Miracle of Two-Buck Chuck,” and “The Revenge of the Terroirists,”  is an interesting and amusing way of treating the effects of globalization on the modern world of wine.  It is also rather informative, and occasionally provides some surprising nuggets of information (such as the fact that Trader Joe’s is actually a German company).

 

 

Book Review: Grapes of the Hudson Valley, by J. Stephen Casscles

With the publication of Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada, in 2015, Stephen Casscles joined a small group of writers who have concentrated on winegrowing in the Eastern United States, including such august figures as Lucie Morton and Hudson Cattell as well as, most recently, Richard Fiegel.  This book is a significant contribution to that literature and in important ways it is unique. The 2nd Edition, of 2023, has been revised and updated to include New England grapes and their breeders. The New England material is all new and, in effect, appended to the original text of the 1st edition, starting at page 236.

This review recaps the original one for the first edition, then covers the added New England material.

First of all, the book is organized in an unusual but sensible way.  It begins as it should by providing his interesting, thoughtful, and excellent “A Short History of Viticulture in the Hudson Valley,” starting with the early settlers, early nurseries and viticulturists, first commercial vineyards, and advances in grape growing and breeding.  He makes a case study of John Burroughs and his vineyard at Riverby, then tells the reader about the grape industry and its revitalization after World War I, touching on the effects of Prohibition, and covers the growth of local wineries starting with High Tor, Benmarl, followed by the many others that would come after the Farm Winery Act of 1976.

The book then proceeds to discuss the benefits of wine-grape hybridization and then explores the basics of cool-climate viniculture.  There is some excellent information and advice to be found in Chapter Three:  “Basic Principles of Cool Climate Pruning and Vineyard Management,” including “10 Points to Consider When Cold-Weather Pruning,” an illustrated section on pruning methods and training systems, controlling disease in the vineyard, and a concluding section, “Additional Thoughts on Vineyard Management,” bearing on sod and sod management, mowing, under-canopy management, fertilizers, and earthworms.  It pretty well covers the field.

It is in Chapter Six, “Selected American Grape Species Used for Breeding,” that the organization then differs from all other such books of which I am aware.  The following chapter is about Labrusca hybrids, followed by chapters on the Hudson Valley hybridizers, then the Early French hybridizers, the Late French ones, Geneva hybrids, Minnesota hybrids, Central European Vinifera, and hybrid varieties, and closes with a chapter devoted to selected classic Vinifera varieties suitable for growing in the Hudson Region.  Within each such chapter is a brief historical background followed by short biographies of each of the important hybridizers and then a detailed description of each significant grape of the related developer.

“Selected American Grape Species” is an important contribution as it describes the leading native vines used for wine production (six species out of more than 70 that grow here):  Vitis aestivalis and some of its vinous varieties; V. berlandieri (Texas and northern Mexico), V. cinerea (which favors rich soil along streams), V. labrusca (its varieties are among the best know, including Concord, Catawba, Niagara, and Delaware), and V. riparia (sometimes called River, Riverside, or Riverbank).  Also included, partly by way of comparison, partly because it is now so widely planted in America, is the European species, V. vinifera. It then compares and explains the differences between the species, including their dominant habitats, geographical range, winter hardiness, and wine quality.  This section is especially useful in helping understand the different varieties and hybrids that emanate from these species.

For each variety of whatever provenance, the author provides a capsule statement, identifies the parentage, and the typical harvest date (a range), and then displays five symbols: one for winter hardiness, another for disease resistance, a third for vine vigor, yet another for productivity, and the fifth for wine quality.  Each is grade A to D.  For example, Concord has parentage of labrusca, should be harvested “mid-season to early late season” and its hardiness is A+, resistance is A, vigor is B, productivity is A+, and quality is rated B-.  He does this for most of the 171 varieties listed in the index, though clones may be given more cursory treatment.  Interestingly, Pinot Noir, that elusive Holy Grail of a variety, gets these ratings:  hardiness is C-, resistance is D, vigor is C, productivity is C+, and wine quality is A+.  But then, Concord is a Northeast native and Pinot Noir is from Burgundy, France.

All this is explained in a section of the Introduction, How to Use This Book (pp. xviii-xix), which defines just what the capsule descriptions mean, as in the case of Concord:

  • for Harvest Dates in the Hudson Valley “mid-season” means (Sept. 20 to 30);
  • for Winter Hardiness “medium hardy” describes a variety that “Will sustain some cold damage in harsh winters . . . .” (a grade of B);
  • for Fungal Disease Resistance, “Slightly susceptible” is a grade of A;
  • for Vigorousness, “Moderately vigorous means a grade of C;
  • for Productivity, “Very productive” is represented as an A+;
  • for Wine Quality, “Medium” is B, so Concord’s B- means less than medium quality.

Discussion of the various grapes can be as long as two whole pages for Concord, as an example, though most get a far briefer treatment of a few hundred words.  The vinifera grapes like Pinot Noir are extensively discussed.  These variety notes focus largely on the viability of the vines in a region like that of the Hudson River and similar ones in Canada and the Northeast of the United States, including New England, and other cool-climate states like Wisconsin and Minnesota.  For Casscles, winter hardiness and disease resistance are primary concerns, along with wine quality.

Another very important subject of the book is the history and biographies of the major hybridizers, beginning with those of the Hudson Valley in the 19th Century.  A.J. Downing and his brother Charles feature, along with Andrew Jackson Caywood (1819-89), who developed Dutchess, Nectar, Poughkeepsie, Ulster, and Walter, with capsule mentions of his minor varieties.  Dr. William A.M. Culbert (1822-90) is also given respectful space, as is Dr. Charles William Grant (1810-81), who bequeathed Eumelan, the important Iona, and other minor varieties.   James H. Ricketts (1818 or 1830-1915) gave growers Clinton, Bacchus, Downing, Empire State, and Jefferson, and many minor varieties.  And so it goes for other Hudson Valley breeders.  Each biography is followed by careful descriptions of the respective varieties that each one bred.  (It turns out that there are two different varieties named Bacchus:  the Hudson Valley riparia/labrusca hybrid given to Ricketts as the breeder, and the German Bacchus (GF 33-29-133), an all-vinifera crossing of (Sylvaner × Riesling) × Müller-Thurgau.)

Then the author explores the Early French Hybridizers (1875-1925) in a following chapter, including Bertille Seyve, Jr. (1895-1959) who created Seyval Blanc.  Yet another chapter is given over to the Later French Hybridizers (1925-1955), of whom Ravat gave us the now widely-planted Vignoles and Jean-Louis Vidal provided Vidal Blanc, a mainstay of the East Coast wine industry.  Next are the Geneva (NY) hybrids from the NY Agricultural Experiment Station located there, which bred Chardonel, Melody, and Traminette (one of this reviewer’s favorites).  After that come the Minnesota hybrids, with Elmer Swenson (1913-2004) featured, along with his interspecific crossings such as the excellent La Crescent, La Crosse, and St. Pepin.  Casscles remarks on the attitude of Swenson, who had “a very generous policy of sharing breeding material and grape variety selections . . . to anyone who requested them.”  This generosity is seen as a great benefit to growers, and in Casscles view, “This should be a lesson to many of our current university-based grape-breeding programs, which seem to want to control the products developed, but in doing so they limit the scope of the field research that can be done by not widely disseminating their plant material for comment.”  An important point and one well-taken.

In his thoroughness, Casscles also cover Central European Vinifera and Hybrid Grapes on pages 207-217, listing the German, Austrian, and Hungarian varieties that are suitable for planting in cold-climate regions.  The final chapter is devoted to the leading vinifera varieties that can, despite disease pressure and severe winters, more or less thrive in the climates of the Hudson Valley and similar regions, including Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Gamay Noir, and Pinot Noir, including the latter’s many clones.

Thus Casscles approaches his main theme, which is about hybrid grapes and the how and why of their development over two centuries in both the United States and Europe.  The book is also about a personal voyage by the author and members of his extended family, the history of which goes back to the Eighteenth Century in the Hudson Valley.

This reviewer does have a grape of contention over a statement by the author that seems a bit misleading:  “Running counter to the generally held belief of the Viniferists—especially those purists who would like limit production to a few ‘pure’ classic vinifera grape varieties, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, or Pinot Noir—all grapes are hybrids.  Even the mighty purebred vinifera Chardonnay is a naturally occurring hybrid of Pinot Noir and the bulk grape Gouais Blanc.”  -p.20.

However, this insistence that even intra-specific genetic mixing, whether occurring in nature or manmade, runs counter to the widely-accepted definition of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc is a cross, not a hybrid.  Karen McNeil’s The Wine Bible defines a cross as “A grape created by fertilizing one variety with another variety of the same species.  While a cross may result from breeding, most crosses occur spontaneously in nature. . . .  A cross is not the same as a hybrid.”  To wit, “As distinguished from a cross, a hybrid is a new grape variety developed by breeding two or more varieties from different species or subgenera.  The most common hybrids are part European species (Vitis vinifera) and part any one of several American species.”  However, Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd edition) does cut Casscles some slack:  “cross or crossing, the result of breeding a new variety by crossing two vine varieties of the same species, usually the European vinifera species.  Thus Müller-Thurgau, for example, is a cross.  Crosses are different from hybrids, sometimes called interspecific crosses, which contain the genes of more than one species of the Vitis species.” –p. 197.

On the other hand, Casscles finds a couple of entries in Jancis Robinson, et al., Wine Grapes, regarding hybrid varieties, are at times a tad off the mark.  In his very extensive endnotes to each chapter he frequently cites Wine Grapes and where needed carefully provides corrections to what is in that book.

Chapters Fifteen and Sixteen cover the grape breeders of New England. Probably the single most important of these is Edward Staniford Rogers (1826-1899), of Massachusetts. He was one of the first Americans to successfully breed labrusca and vinifera hybrids and was an inspiration to many who followed in his footsteps. Especially interesting to this reader was the important rôle played by two vinifera varieties in his breeding program: Black Hamburg and White Chasselas. Black Hamburg is listed in Wine Grapes as Schiava Grossa, from the Italian region of Tirol, and is planted in Germany as Trollinger. It is an ancestor of Müller-Thurgau. But we digress. The important point is that it was crossed with the labrusca grape, Carter, leading to several hybrids, including Herbert, which has been used at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva. White Chasselas is a synonym for Chasselas, a white Swiss variety with an interesting and complex history. It is not especially well-regarded outside of Switzerland, but it was crossed with the Carter hybrid, to produce Lindley, one of Rogers’ most successful red varieties.

I should point out that Casscles did update information in the first-edition text regarding new insights into the DNA of several varieties, such as Concord, which has recently been shown to have Sémillon genes. In other words, Concord is itself a labrusca/vinifera hybrid.

Casscles’ book is well-illustrated with many black-and-white photos, drawings, and diagrams as well as a set of color plates of 27 different varieties.  It has three maps: one of the fruit-growing areas of the Hudson Valley, another of the hardiness zones of NY State, and the third shows the wine-growing areas of New England, highlighting the locations of its breeders. The hardiness zones map outlines the zones from 3a to 6b but without an explanation of what the zones actually mean.  The map is based on the USDA Agriculture Research Service NY Plant Hardiness Zone Map, but if one were to go online to the USDA Website a far more detailed Zone map shows the entire range of the zone system, which is based on the minimum temperature range for each zone.  Thus, zone 3b has a minimum range of -35 to -30° F., while zone 6b ranges down to -5 to 0° F.  Indeed, the online map doesn’t even refer to zone 3a, which would have a range below -35° F.

But these are mere quibbles when one considers the overall quality and detail of the information provided in Casscles’ book.  It is a real accomplishment and deserves respectful attention, particularly from growers, winemakers, and anyone who is determined to cultivate cold-weather varieties and make wine from them, not to speak of serious oenophiles of any persuasion.  Apart from the excellent and extensive endnotes to each chapter, there is also a substantial bibliography as well as an index to the individual varieties covered in the text as well as a general index.

J. Stephen Casscles, Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada. Forward by Kevin Zraly, Preface by Eric Miller. Coxsackie, NY: Flint Mine Press, 2015. 266 pages, including the Introduction and Indices. Paperback, $29.99.

Casscles has retired as a government attorney for the NY State Senate, and while there drafted at least 22 laws bearing on the wine and spirits industry, working with six State Senators over that period.  He has been growing wine grapes at his farm in Athens, NY, since 1990.  He was also the winemaker for the Hudson-Chatham Winery and is now at Milea Estate, where he now directs the Hudson Valley Heritage Wine Project.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I believe it belongs on the shelf alongside books by Lucy Morton and Jancis Robinson, among others. It is relevant far beyond the Hudson Valley and even other cool-climate regions.

 

 

 

 

Viniculture in LI, Part III: RGNY Vineyard (formerly Martha Clara)

In 1978 Robert Entenmann—of the Entenmann’s Bakery family—purchased a potato farm in Riverhead and transformed it into a Thoroughbred horse farm, once breeding up to two hundred mares.  Apparently he was eager to do something new and different after a time, so he converted the farm into what became Martha Clara Vineyards—named after his mother—in 1995.  The vineyard, comprising 113 contiguous acres out of a total of 205 that compose the Big E farm, is now planted with fourteen varieties of grapes, including Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Semillon, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Malbec.  Because so much was invested in creating a first-class vineyard with its equipment and facilities, a planned winery was never built.

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

The Rivero-González family said in a release that it owns an eponymous winery and vineyard in Parras, Coahuila, Mexico. It has “15 years [of] experience in the Mexican wine industry and is excited about this acquisition, which will help the members of this family expand their interests beyond Mexico.” María Rivero will run the family’s wine operations at Martha Clara, which has been renamed RGNY. The Vineyard Website says that “the Riveros are willing to work with the local community in order to encourage and enhance the legacy of the former owners of Martha Clara Winery in a successful way.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For many years all the wines were made at Premium Wine Group, but RGNY has now built a fully-equipped winery and has a full-time winemaker, Lilia Jiménez, who is from Mexico. Lilia has now proven herself beyond a shadow of doubt with her 2017 Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon blend, which won 95 points and Gold at the annual Decanter Awards of 2021. This is a remarkable accomplishment, especially given the very high prestige of the Decanter Awards, which are recognized worldwide.

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

https://www.rgnywine.com/

6025 sound avenue
riverhead, ny 11901

phone 631.298.0075
fax 631 298 5502

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Paumanok Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further IPM control is managed by:

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

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

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

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

Kareem has one last thought:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paumanok was named NY Winery of the Year 2015 by the NY Wine and Food Classic held in August at Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes.  This is the second time that the winery has been so honored.  Its 2014 Medium-Sweet Riesling was declared best white wine in the competition.  See Edible East End’s article. More recently, Paumanok was selected as Winery of the Year 2021 by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.

It should also be noted that in July 2018 Paumanok purchased Palmer Vineyards, another North Fork producer, and Kareem is now winemaker for both.

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

Paumanok GPS Coordinates

40°56’54.38″ N
72°36’12.18″ W

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

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

Buy my book, The Wines of LI, 3rd ed.

 

The Wines of Long Island was originally published in 1987 and a second, revised edition was issued in 2000.  19 years later, it remained the best and most complete single volume on the history, geography, viniculture, winemaking, and the wineries of Long Island.  It was carefully researched and very well-written.  It was also seriously out of date.

In the 19 intervening years, a very great deal of change has taken place in the wine industry of the region. In 2000 there were 25 wineries and vineyards, about half of which are no longer in business; in 2019 there are 62, including several wine brands that have no winery or vineyard as such and use a crush facility.  A handful of the wineries are not even in the East End, but elsewhere in Suffolk County, with two in Brooklyn.

19 years ago the issue of sustainability was scarcely on the radar. Today, sustainable wine growing is a major issue worldwide, and a new entity, the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers association, is providing independent certification for members.

The new edition of The Wines of Long Island provides all this new information as well as updates to the history of the region in a new edition.  Every wine producer on Long Island is described in the book, some extensively, often with anecdotes. This edition is intended as the principal reference and guide for the wines of Long Island.  It has 274 pages, a foreword by Louisa Hargrave, and an expanded section on terroir, varieties, and vintages.  Most of the more than 130 illustrations are in color and were taken by the author.

Mark Squires of The Wine Advocate says, “This book’s greatest virtue is its ability to appeal to both geeks and average consumers. It tells you where we are and how we got there.”

Kevin Zraly, wine instructor and author of the popular Windows on the World Wine Course, writes that the book is “a must-read for anyone visiting the wineries of Long Island.”

Carlo DeVito, author, of East Coast Wineries, writes: “Though I taste in the region annually, Mr. Moreno-Lacalle’s book is the best tour of Long Island wine I’ve had in years. Thorough, complete, and definitive. The author has done a superlative job.” He also wrote a review of the book on his own blog Website, East Coast Wineries.

Louisa Hargrave, a founder of the Long Island wine trade, wrote in the foreword of the book: “Palmedo and Beltrami revised their own book in 2000. Now, the time is ripe again for revision. How appropriate it is that they handed their project over to José Moreno Lacalle, a man who, like themselves, views the wine business from the perspective of his own successful career outside the industry. With worldliness and sophistication, he brings his profound interest in the topic—twinkle in the eye, and glass in hand.”

In November 2019 Lenn Thompson published a very positive review in the North Forker of my book: The Next Great Book for Long Island Wine Lovers. I couldn’t have asked for more. Please do read it!

In the September 2021 issue of Hudson Valley Wine, Linda Pierro published a belated review (thanks to Covid), So You Want to Visit Long Island Wine Country?   of the book. It was very thorough and thoughtful as well as very positive. I couldn’t have asked for more.

My favorite review by a non-wine person is from the editor of the Gardiner Gazette (Winter 2020), which starts: “The mark of good writing, I believe, is writing that makes us interested in something we’re not interested in.” She went on to say that she expected to “skim a few pages and write something brief. . . I’m interested in wine only to the extent necessary to get a glass in my hand on a Friday night. . . By page five I realized that I was actually reading. By page 19, I was getting impatient to start skimming. By page 30 I surrendered and settled in for a long read.” The review then goes on for several paragraphs, but you get the picture! (Disclosure: I write for the Gazette, but the editor does no favors.)

The book has been published under my own imprint, Rivers Run By Press, since late August 2019, and is already in four bookstores on Long Island: Southampton Books in Sag Harbor, Canios Books, also in Sag Harbor, Burton’s Books in Greenport, and Book Hampton, in East Hampton. Kitchen Arts & Letters in Manhattan is also selling the book. As of October, eleven wineries also carry the book: Baiting Hollow Vineyards, Bedell Cellars, Castello di Borghese, Channing Daughters, Laurel Lake Vineyards, Osprey’s Dominion, Raphael, Roanoke Vineyards, Sannino Vineyards, Sparkling Pointe, and Wölffer’s. It is also available at the wine shop, Wines By Nature, in Wading River. Copies can also be ordered directly from me on this Website (see the top of the page),  and soon from Amazon.

NOTE: For errata and updates to the book, see the post below.

I have been writing about winemaking and viniculture in Long Island for my blog, Wine, Seriously, since 2010, when I earned the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Diploma in Wine (a professional certification). I also have an MA in Art History as well, which gave me the foundation to use a scholar’s approach to writing book.

 

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Peconic Bay Winery has reopened

Peconic Bay Winery (now Peconic Bay Vineyards), which derives its name from the eponymous body of water by which it is located, was established in 1979 by Ray Blum, making it one of the oldest wineries in Long Island.  Next owned by Paul and Ursula Lowerre, who live and work in New York City, the winery closed its doors in October of 2013, because, according to Paul, as quoted in the North Fork Patch of October 28, “Our decision to stop production at Peconic Bay Winery was based on simple economics. . . .  I’m not going to say we’re finished producing wine – but we’re most likely finished making wine for ourselves.”

In fact, in 2017 an attempt was made to use the winery tasting room to sell a variety of wine, beer, and spirits from producers in New York State, somewhat along the lines of Empire State Cellar, albeit on a small scale. The experiment lasted about a year, but in the end it was shut down. However, in October 2019, Peconic Bay Winery was sold to Stefan Soloviev, a real estate investor who owns other agricultural properties in Long Island. His former wife, Stacey Soloviev, will run the estate once it reopens in late Spring or early Summer. It is probable that the vineyards will be tended by Bill Ackerman, who looks after the vineyards of other wineries on the North Fork. More details about this story are to be found in this Newsday article: Soloviev buys Peconic Bay Winery

When it was in full operation under the ownership of Paul and Ursula Lowerre, the day-to-day running of the winery was by a very capable team that included Jim Silver, the General Manager, Greg Gove, the winemaker (who now makes wine under his own label, Race Wines), Zander Hargrave, the assistant winemaker (and now winemaker at Pellegrini), and Charlie Hargrave, Peconic Bay’s vineyard manager (now retired).

The varieties grown at the vineyards included Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Chardonnay, which produced some of their best wines.  For example, on the parcel called Sandy Hill the grapes are more subject to drought than elsewhere in the vineyard.  Its terroir, however, also grows grapes with sugars that are higher and more concentrated, ultimately resulting in the best Chardonnay grapes of the property.

Until the purchase of Peconic Bay by Stefan Soloviev, the Oregon Road vineyard parcels had been taken over by Premium Wine Acquisitions, and under the supervision of Russell Hearn was being managed by Bill Ackerman, of North Fork Viticultural Services. Now, however, Peconic Bay is open for business again as Peconic Bay Vineyards and Stacey Soloviev is now the owner and manager. Greg Gove, the former winemaker, is back and working as both oenologist and also vineyard manager. They intend to plant new varieties, such as Pinot Blanc and Grenache and expand the vineyard.

Already, Greg has produced Viognier, Riesling, and Chardonnay, which are available to taste and purchase in the tasting room. We have a great deal to look forward to with this renewed operation.

Updated 28 October 2014, 10 November 2019, 16 October 2021.

Updates to Wines of Long Island, 3rd ed.

Updates to Wines of Long Island, 3rd ed., since it was published.

The book was published on August 19, 2019; since then, significant changes have taken place in the wineries of Long Island. This, of course, is no surprise. I knew that my book would be out-of-date the day it was published. But I’m not planning to write yet another edition. I haven’t even sold all the copies that I had printed so am still out of pocket. However, it’s now possible to update a book online, so I urge all the purchasers of my book to read this and even download it for reference when using the book.

First, the really good news: not a single winery in Long Island went out of business due to the Covid outbreak. In fact, the wineries thrived in 2020, partly because people couldn’t travel abroad, so locals and people from the City made their way to Long Island Wine Country.

Indeed, the Long Island Wine Council has changed its name to Long Island Wine Country, and as of May 2021 has 30 members, up from 24 at the time of publication.

Recently, three wineries have changed their names. Most notably, Shinn Estate, which was sold by Barbara Shinn and her husband, David Page in 2017, is now Rose Hill, according to an article in the Northforker by Grant Parpan (April 15, 2021). The owners, Randy and Barbara Frankel, felt that enough time had passed and they wanted a name that resonated for them. Rose Hill is a neighborhood in Manhattan where they first lived, and though the terrain of the vineyard is flat as a pancake, they chose the name Rose Hill for apparently sentimental reasons.

The second winery to change its name is Laurel Lake, which changed hands this winter when it was sold by the Chilean consortium that had owned it. The new owner, Dan Abrams of ABC News, also chose a personal name of great sentimental meaning, taking the names of his two young children, Everett and Emily, and deriving from them the logo EV&EM. For now, Juan Sepúlveda continues as the winemaker. While Rose Hill is now an official and registered name, EV&EM will not be official until this summer. Sentimental names are not unusual, by the way. Consider Channing Daughters, named in honor of the late Walter Channing’s two daughters when that winery was established, or Martha Clara, named for the mother of Robert Entemann, who purchased the property 1978, initially as a horse farm, but eventually it became a 100-acre vineyard, which was recently bought by a Mexican winemaking family, Ribero-González, which renamed it RGNY.

Then, Sal Diliberto, now 75, decided that it was time to sell his eponymous winery and vineyard, given that none of his children was interested in continuing the business, and it was purchased in February 2021 by a young couple from Riverhead, Jacqui and Greg Goodale. They have renamed it Terra Vite Winery & Vineyard. They hired Kelly Koch, formerly of Macari, as their winemaker, which means that they’ll be making very good wine in the future. The tasting room and winery have been renovated and opened again for business on Memorial Day.  diliberto-long-island-wine-country

Another name change since publication is that of Chronicle Wine at Peconic Cellar Door. This needs some explanation. Originally, Alie Shaper and Robin Epperson-McCarthy were independent winemakers. A few years ago they decided to offer their labels from a tasting room on Peconic Lane that they called Peconic Cellar Door. That is now Chronicle Wines at Peconic Cellar Door, but their individual labels remain. In the book Alie’s main brand, BOE, has its own entry, though she has other labels of her own, including Shindig, As If, and Haywater Cove. So too does Robin have her own entry under Saltbird Cellars. Today they would be written of as a single entry, which by no means would diminish their individual accomplishments. In fact, it’s a real and very successful partnership.

In December of 2020 Juan E. Micieli-Martinez, the former winemaker of Martha Clara Vineyards, and his sommelier wife Bridget Quinn Micieli-Martinez, proudly unveil Montauk Daisy Wines in collaboration with Theresa Dilworth and her husband Mineo Shimura of Comtesse Therese Vineyard. Collectively, the group shares 80 years of experience within the Long Island Wine industry. Juan and Bridget, after multiple years of making wine and running operations for many noteworthy producers including Pellegrini Vineyards, Shinn Estate Vineyards, Martha Clara Vineyards, Palmer Vineyards, Clovis Point, and Premium Wine Group, decided it was time they produce wine for themselves. So now there is a new winery, formed taking the fruit of the Comtesse Therese vineyard and Juan making the wines at PWG. This deserves a blog post of its own, which should be forthcoming this summer.

Most remarkable may be the resurrection of the Peconic Bay Winery, now Peconic Bay Vineyard, purchased by Stefan Soloviev, with Stacey Lynne (formerly Mrs. Stefan Soloviev) listed as the owner, and Ken Cereola is the General Manager. Happily, winemaker Greg Gove has returned to his old haunt to resume his work and continue producing excellent and distinctive wines. Furthermore, Evan Ducz, who was at Sparkling Pointe, is the tasting room manager, which means that the room will be very well-managed and run. The winery had been closed for eight years and the vines had been tended by other wineries, so they’re in very good shape. There are now 125 acres planted to grapevines. The winery and its tasting room officially opened in May. As the winery had been closed when the book was published, it was not included, but it will have a new blog post dedicated to it pending an interview with Stacey, which we hope we can do this coming November.

In the meantime, a few wineries are currently for sale: Osprey’s Dominion and Bedell are now on the market and Castello di Borghese has sold a parcel of acres along with the family house, but not the tasting room. Meanwhile, they continue producing wine as they always have.

If you haven’t yet bought my book, please do so here, and download this page to insert it in the book when you receive it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Viniculture in the Hudson Valley–Hudson-Chatham Winery

Hudson-Chatham logo

In a press release of May 8, 2020, Hudson-Chatham Winery, one of the notable New York State and Hudson Valley quality wine producers, announced that it has been sold to Steven Rosario and Justen Nickell of Boston, MA. The press release goes on to say:

“We are thrilled to have Justen and Steven assume stewardship of this historic farm that is now the winery,” said Carlo. “They have the desire and the know-how to take the winery to the next level. Both are successful food professionals and have a true passion for great wine and fine food.”

“When you can turn your dream over to people who share your passion,” Dominique added, “everyone wins. Steven and Justen love what Hudson-Chatham is about – the wines, of course, but also the experience.”

Steven and Justen are both graduates of the Culinary Institute of America. Both have been executives at the high-end, Boston-based baker and purveyor, Tatte. For Steven, former General Manager at Tatte Pier 4, who was born in the Hudson Valley, this is a return home to his roots. He will be taking over day-to-day responsibilities. Justen will maintain his fulltime position with Tatte. Both have extensive experience in fine food and retail.

Nickell and Rosario will take over the day-to-day operations of the winery in Ghent and the two satellite locations in Tannersville and Troy, NY. Bryan VanDeusen will remain as General Manager and winemaker, and celebrated grape historian Stephen Casscles (author of Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions) will remain as a grower and advising winemaker, as well.

Hudson-Chatham Winery, in Ghent, NY (in Columbia County, to the east of the Hudson River) was established in 2007, soon after Carlo de Vito and Dominique, his wife, purchased the property—the last fifteen acres of what was once a 500-acre dairy farm—that had been left fallow for more than twenty years.  The couple had been in search of a property with which they could realize the dream of having a winery and vineyard, and after a long and extended tour of parts of the East Coast, they had found what they wanted.  One of Carlo’s criteria for the location was that it be in what was already an established winegrowing community.  As he pointed out, in the wine trade, at least in the East, people aren’t cutthroat competitors but rather cooperative and helpful ones.  After all, virtually all of the wineries in the Hudson River Region are very small operations.  They all need one another.  That mattered a great deal to Carlo.

Hudson-Chatham farmhouseSo, in early 2007 they planted a small vineyard, then barely three acres in size.  They also started the renovation of a 1780 farmhouse that had a long history, had character, and was in considerable disrepair.  They had never owned a farm before, much less planted a vineyard or run a winery.  Despite repeated warnings about the problems and difficulties of running such an establishment, Carlo persisted and Dominique, despite considerable doubts, joined him as a partner in crime.  Actually, Carlo was doubting his own sanity all along, but this, after all, had been an obsession of his for all of his adult life.  (That obsession may well have been what was behind his writing his book on East Coast wineries, published three years before they bought the property.)

Carlo already knew that there were certain varieties that he want to plant and grow.  They included Seyval Blanc, Baco Noir, and Chambourcin—all French-American hybrids.  The long-term plan was to first plant the hybrid varieties and over time introduce some vinifera as well.  The first thousand stalks that they purchased were Seyval, DeChaunac, Chancellor, and Golden Muscat.  In order to plant them they first had to rip the soil to a depth of about two to three feet in order to break up the hardpan.  The soil was analyzed by both the Cornell-run Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, and by Rutgers, in New Jersey.  Both recommended adding lime to the soil to bring the soil to a pH that was good for the vines.  The hybrids were vines that had good resistance to the harsh winters of the region, as well as tolerance for the high summer humidity.  In the end, as Carlo said, “the vines even weathered us and all our mistakes.”  (Sadly, that wasn’t true of the Muscats that were planted—they wanted warmer climes.)

Soon after they’d started the vineyard, he had the great good fortune to meet Steve Casscles, who has two vineyard of his own and grows some obscure heirloom varieties.  Chatham-Hudson presently buys the entire production of Steve’s vineyards for its table-wine grapes.  As a result, Hudson-Chatham has also helped bring back Chelois—Steve is the winemaker, after all—along with Léon Millot and Dutchess—hybrids all.  Another vineyard, managed by the winery, in Kinderhook grows grapes to go into its Port and Sherry-style fortified wines.  Yet another plot in Central New York provides most of the old-vine Baco Noir for the winery.

Meanwhile, Carlo planted his vineyard to Seyval Blanc, Chelois, and Baco Noir with the idea that eventually most if not all of the wines will be estate-produced.  This is being phased in over time as production increases.  By the end of Spring 2014 there will be 5 ½ to 6 acres planted to vines, with Baco Noir making up a third of that, and Chelois another third.  In time some vinifera varieties will be grown as well, such as Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and even Gamay.

In fact, the winery buys its Cabernet Franc from Long Island, and it makes a “Burgundy-style” wine—actually a lighter kind of red wine than is usual for the variety.  Indeed, Carlo preferred the lighter Burgundy style for all his reds, regardless of the variety.  So Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, and other varieties that make heavier, bigger wines will not be part of the winery portfolio.

The predominant spacing in the vineyard is 8 ½ feet across by 6 between the vines; with vinifera it will be 8 feet by 4.  Lucie Morton and others have demonstrated great success with the closer spacing of the vines—more vines per acre but less fruit on each vine by means of green harvesting.  The resultant fruit is really fantastic.  For now, all the trellising in the vineyard is VSP, though Greg Esch, the new vineyard manager, has some ideas about using different trellises for the newer varieties that will be planted.  In fact, according to Carlo, there are issues with some of the hybrids.  For example, Baco Noir “has some riparia in it so that it tends to grow kind of wild pretty quickly,” whereas Seyval Blanc has more vinifera in its genes and grows straight up and develops a nice fruiting zone.  Baco grows in every possible direction so that it needs a good deal of hands-on attention.  Clearly, the Baco is a candidate for another kind of trellis than VSP, whereas Seyval works very well with it.  The same will be true of the Chelois.

According to Carlo, shale and river rock predominate in the schisty soil of the property.

With respect to sustainable practices in the vineyard, Carlo pointed out that this is a family farm, which is to say that his wife, his children, his pets, and he liked to walk the property, including in the vines.  Furthermore, there’s a pond nearby with brook trout; “If I leach, there are a lot of dead fish across the street.”  He therefore uses inputs in the field as lightly as possible, including copper and sulfur.  He wants his family to stay healthy, the trout to live, and the vines to thrive, so he is very careful with what he uses.  He is not seeking to become organic, it’s too difficult to do successfully where he is.  Just as close to it as possible.

Since Greg has come on board there’s been a great deal more leaf-pulling, hedging than before, resulting in a much better crop without requiring additional inputs.  That wasn’t just because of the weather, as it also had to do with using netting for the first time (to protect the grapes from birds), and employing a number of other “best practices.”  It was really a matter of not having the hands available to do that kind of work before this, and what Greg has done has yielded immediate results.  Still, there are pest pressures all the time, if not from birds then from deer and groundhogs.  Dogs and cats are useful here.  We discussed chickens as a possible means of controlling insects, but for a long time there were too many foxes.  Now the foxes seem to have disappeared and the groundhog population has exploded.  At least now chickens are again a possibility.

It should be noted that for such a new micro-winery as Hudson-Chatham the results that it achieves in competitions is remarkable.  In last year’s (2013) Hudson Valley Wine and Spirits Competition, its 2010 Merlot Reserve won both a Double Gold and Best in Show.  That wine and the 2007 Merlot were both made from Long Island fruit (Merlot grows very well there), and the 2007 won the highest score of any Hudson Valley-made red:  85 points.  That certainly reflects the outstanding winemaking skills of Steve Casscles.  Other wines include Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, also made from Long Island grapes, and a Riesling the fruit of which was sourced from the Finger Lakes.  The Hudson RIver vineyards that provide fruit to the winery include Casscles Vineyard in Athens (14 acres across the river), Casscles MIddlehope, near Marlboro (4 acres, also across the river), Kinderhook AC Vineyard (1 acre in Columbia County), Masson Place Vineyard at Pultney Farm, near Hammondsport (5 acres, Lake Keuka in the Finger Lakes), and the estate vineyard, North Creek, located at the winery.

More recently, the March 2017 issue of Wine Enthusiast Magazine rated the 2014 Middlehope Casscles Vineyard Baco Noir (Hudson River Region) at 91 points, referring to its “surprising depth and complexity.” It awarded 90 points to the 2014 Columbia County Pinot Noir (Hudson River Region) for its “complexity . . . and neatly balanced yet silken palate.” The 2014 Old Vines Masson Place Vineyard Pulteney Farm Baco Noir won 88 points as did the 2014 Reserve Casscles Vineyard Baco Noir. The 2014 Casscles Chelois got 87 points–all highly respectable to excellent ratings for the outstanding 2014 vintage.

Hudson Valley grapes are used for all the hybrid-based wines.  Two different Seyval Hudson-Chatham, 3 hybrid bottlingsBlancs—one of which is estate-bottled; one called Salmagundi, a blush wine made from Vidal Blanc and DeChaunac; a Baco Noir Reserve Casscles Vineyards and a Baco Noir made from 60-year-old vines from Mason Place Vineyards at Putney Farms; and a Casscels Vineyards Chelois. One wine, the Empire, is what the winery calls a New York State super-blend, which claims to be the first wine made from grapes from all three AVAs of the Empire State:  Merlot from LI, Cab Franc from the Finger Lakes, and Hudson Valley Baco Noir.  Many of these have also won awards, including gold medals from the NY State Fair, Hudson Valley Wine & Grape Association, NY Food & Wine Classic, and the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition, among others. It has been positively reviewed by Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Edible Manhattan, Hudson Valley Wine magazine, Hudson Valley Magazine, Hudson Valley Table, Rural Intelligence, and All Over Albany.

It should be pointed out that the Merlot and Empire wines are the only ones that have the body and weight of Bordeaux reds, the others are all done with the heft of Burgundies, which is to say, lighter in body.

Hudson-Chatham Winery, 1The tasting room is a cozy, attractive space where interesting events can happen, such as a vertical tasting of Chelois.  On a Saturday in March they served a 2013 out of the barrel, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2000, and 1987. I’d no idea about Chelois, but I certainly do now, and in fact I bought a couple of bottles of the 2010. A fascinating range of aromas, flavors, color, and structure, and who would have believed that Chelois could age and last as well as it did?  Vertical tastings of the Empire blend and the Merlot are planned as well.  For only $25, a reservation to one of these events is well worth while, for they are both instructive and very enjoyable.  Not too many wineries offer verticals, to my knowledge.

In July 2015 Hudson-Chatham opened a satellite tasting room across the Hudson River in Tannersville, which is in Greene County.  It’s NNW of Kingston and accessible from the NY State Thruway, taking the Saugerties exit:  6036 Main Street, phone (518) 589-4193.  It’s a tribute to the success of the winery that a satellite was even possible. In 2017 a new tasting room was opened in Troy, at 203 River St. It’s open Tuesdays through Sundays. Such is the success of Hudson Chatham’s wines. Perhaps, in the near future, they’ll open one in Kingston. (One can only hope.)

can pursue other interests and we shall trust that the wines will continue to be outstanding, given that both Bryan and Stephen will remain on board, and we may well see some innovations in the tasting room and perhaps the vineyard as well. Always go forward!

Hudson-Chatham Web banner

Hudson-ChathamWinery.com

Based on an interview with Carlo DeVito, 26 January 2014

 

 

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Baiting Hollow Farm and Vineyard

Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard

According to the winery’s Website, it was sometime in the 1980s that Sam Rubin ventured to eastern Long Island and acquired what has since become Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard (BHFV). A lifelong farmer and naturalist, he began to till the soil, the basis for all great wines, using only organic compost and other natural inputs.

On his first 3.5 acres, Sam planted fine French vines and more were added after he purchased 13.5 adjoining acres. By then, his son Richard, a successful business entrepreneur, saw that his father needed help, so he stepped in with a sound business plan and a talented team to oversee and supervise wine production and vineyard management. Their approach has been successful in the context of the rather temperate and conducive climate of the region. The aforementioned, along with their hard work and high standards, remain the foundation for BHFV’s wines. The fact that they use no chemical fertilizers or herbicides (they merely turn weeds right back into the soil to enrich it) are key ingredients in their not-so-secret estate grape-growing recipe.

Sam died in 2014 at the age of 87, but the family has continued on with Richard at the helm. Steve Levine, who married Sam’s daughter Sharon, is the General Manager.

Tom Drozd, the winemaker, is a Riverhead native. Farming is in his blood, for as a child he would visit his grandfather’s farm in Jamesport and help with the picking of vegetables that grew there. Years later that farm was sold and is now part of Jamesport Vineyards. He has had long experience making wine in the region, going back to 1998, starting at Palmer Vineyards, where he worked until 2006 and then at Pellegrini Vineyards until 2014. Tom has been the consulting winemaker for Baiting Hollow since 2003. Richard Rubin and he work together on the blending of the wines, which are made at PWG. Bill Ackermann is the vineyard manager.

BHFV consists of 17 acres with 11 acres that are planted. Their estate fruit is supplemented with grapes from quality growers when needed to fill the demand for their wine offerings. They purchase Chardonnay grapes locally and until 2015, bought Riesling exclusively from the Finger Lakes. A more recently planted three-acre block of Riesling in their own vineyard allows them to claim that this varietal is from their own harvested fruit.

Tom is a firm believer in the idea that “it all starts in the vineyard.” For him, knowing the vineyard means walking it and carefully observing how the fruit is developing, for that tells him the direction that he’ll take once the actual winemaking commences. He sees himself as a caretaker of the fruit, working along with Bill Ackerman. What makes it particularly interesting is that Tom is still able to accomplish this even after having moved to Florida a couple of years ago. He communicates by phone and over the Internet (a method that permits him to view the crop between trips back to Long Island). He flies up regularly to be more hands-on, especially as harvest approaches. He makes the wines at Premium Wine Group’s custom crush facilities in Mattituck.

BHFV had, since 2007, maintained a horse-rescue sanctuary, which got started when they learned that countless numbers of American horses were being shipped to meet horrible deaths in both Canada and Mexico to satisfy an International market for horse meat in parts of Europe and Asia. They knew that we do not slaughter horses or eat them in the U.S. since they are revered and loved in our culture and so they were deeply disturbed. Further, they had discovered that the vast majority were young and healthy and this caused them to take action!

BHFV saved many horses over the years and have thankfully adopted out those they have rescued to loving homes by way of Sharon’s efforts and how caring, particular, and discerning she is. What remains is their ongoing effort to continue to raise funds for this cause. For this purpose, there is a wine-label series named after four of their former sanctuary’s most beloved residents. Wonderful individual wines offerings are available; ‘Mirage’ (a red blend), ‘Angel’ (Chardonnay), ‘Savannah’ (Rose) and ‘Isis’ (Dessert). A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of this horse rescue wine series go to support other reputable horse sanctuaries.

Its Website provides much insight about the goings on at BHFV, and while wines can be purchased online with free shipping and special offers, there seems to be limited technical information about them. However, this may be found by both email and phone inquiry.

When visiting wine country along Sound Avenue on the North Fork, BHFV is the west-most vineyard, located just east of Edwards Avenue. The tasting house, in the style of an English pub, is located in the carefully-restored 1861 farmhouse seen above.

Food & Wine Magazine, in its November 2015 issue, listed BHFV as one of the 20 “Best Long Island Wineries to Visit,” while Travel and Leisure selected it as a top wine destination for the Riverhead-Suffolk County region in 2018.

Why? Because the Rubins devoted nearly all of the first floor of a carefully-restored farmhouse and rustic rear courtyard to a tasting area. A visit is rewarded by a sense of history as well as comfort in which to relax, taste, and enjoy the food & entertainment.

Many of their wines have won awards in competitions. The 2011 Sweet Isis, a Riesling dessert wine, won Double Gold at the 2014 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition; the 2013 Riesling, just off-dry, won Double Gold at the 2015 Competition; the 2014 Cheval Bleu, a dessert wine based on Cabernet Franc, won Double Gold at the 2017 NY Wine & Food Classic; the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon won Double Gold at the 2017 Finger Lakes IWC and; the 2015 Riesling won Double Gold at the 2019 Finger Lakes IWC. That’s not to mention all the gold and silver medals that their other wines have been awarded just since 2012.

North Fork Wine Trail

Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard

Address: 2114 Sound Avenue, Baiting Hollow, NY
Owner: Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, LLC 
Winemaker: Tom Drozd, using PWG facilities        Vineyard Manager: Bill Ackerman
CEO: Richard Rubin                                General Manager: Steve Levine
Phone: 631.369.0100
Website: baitinghollowfarmvineyard.com             
Online store: Yes                                 Facebook: Yes
E-mail: info@bhfvineyard.com               
Year Established: 2007                            Vineyard: 17 acres, 11 acres planted
Annual production (varies by vintage): about 3,800 to 4,800 cases
Varieties grown: Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot