Bedell Cellars was established by Kip Bedell in 1980, making it one of the oldest vineyards on the East End and only one of ten that have vines that are 30 years old or more. Bedell was eventually sold in 2000 to Michael Lynne, executive producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a former head of New Line Cinema. Lynne, who already had just purchased Corey Creek Vineyards, brought both great enthusiasm and deep pockets to Bedell, has turned the winery and its tasting room into an elegant and modern space to make and display some of the most distinctive wines on the North Fork, as well as a collection of fine Contemporary Art. Unfortunately, Lynne died in March 2019 after a struggle with cancer.
Bedell’s winemaker, Richard Olsen-Harbich, is himself a long-time veteran of the wine trade in Long Island, both as a vineyard manager and winemaker, first working at Mudd Vineyards, and then worked at Bridgehampton Winery in both capacities. It was while he was at Bridgehampton that he drew up the applications for the Hamptons AVA and then one for the North Fork, and finally one for Long Island. It was at there that Rich saw the effects of bad vineyard siting, when the vines collapsed during a hard winter, due to cold spots and poor drainage. Nevertheless, he managed to produce a number of award-winning wines at Bridgehampton, in the end working with purchased fruit. He then went on to work at Hargrave Vineyard—the pioneer vineyard that had started viticulture on the island—and later helped establish Raphael with Steve Mudd, a well-known grower and vineyard consultant. He remained at Raphael until 2010, when he moved to Bedell. With a degree in agronomy from Cornell and his years of experience in the business, Rich has among the strongest credentials of anyone in the East End wine business. As pointed out by Jay McInerney, wine writer for the Wall Stret Journal, in his wine column of Sept. 6, 2013, “The Other Bordeaux Lies Closer to Home,” “The arrival of Richard Olsen-Harbich in 2010 seems to have marked a turning point. . . . [and he] has taken Bedell Cellars to new heights since he arrived at the winery.”
David Thompson, Bedell’s former vineyard manager, was responsible for, among other things, helping to write the Long Island sustainability guidelines for Cornell University’s Vine Balance Initiative, a ‘best practices’ handbook for sustainable grape growing in New York State. Rich, who has a complete grasp of what goes on in the Bedell vineyards, worked closely with vineyard Thompson, who had been there with Kip since its inception, until he retired in June 2016 and Donna Rudolph filled his shoes. Donna came to Bedell in 1996, having worked at Ressler Vineyards for 13 years before that. At Bedell, she oversees sustainably-grown grapes on three vineyard sites spanning 75 acres on the North Fork.
With respect to the vineyards and the cultivation of the vines, he says that:
“When we plant a new field we start a liming program early on; our aim is to bring the pH up to 6.2 to 6.4. Thereafter we only need to replenish the soil with lime once or twice in every ten years. We use a water tank to irrigate new vines when there’s a dry spell.
“Our preferred vine spacing varies, according to the plot of vines: it can range from 9’ by 7’ or 8’, 8’ by 3’ for Syrah vines, and even 8’ by 4’. I’d say that the average spacing works out to about 9’ by 5’. We typically harvest about two tons an acre and we prefer to pick the grapes manually.”
“Practicing sustainable agriculture means that you have to have a system that pays attention to both ecology and economy. You need low-impact strategies because, after all, our vineyards are near towns and we have an obligation to be good neighbors. So, we hire local people, do not foul our own nests, and we have social obligations as well. For example, in order to preserve the vineyards as farmland forever, we have sold our development rights to the Peconic Land Trust. “We make our own compost, using the natural by-products of grape pressing and fermentation and returning these to the vineyard soil. In my opinion, using fish fertilizer is not sustainable, as it means devastating wild fish populations, so I consider that to be ‘dirty’; it’s better and cleaner to use commercial nitrogen fertilizer made from peanut byproducts.” The Website adds that “We avoid or minimize the use of synthetic fertilizers, instead encouraging responsible natural stewardship of soil health, fertility, and stability.”
Bedell participated in the Cornell University VineBalance program for years, and the winery is also a founding member of the North Fork Sustainable Winegrowing certification program, itself an outgrowth of VineBalance.
With respect to organic farming, Rich says that he believes that the science of organics is flawed and that much more work needs to be done before we can say that we really understand what organics add to sustainability. In this respect he points out that both copper and sulfur of the kind that is used in farming are industrial products, so neither can be considered ‘natural’ or ‘organic,’ and copper, while highly toxic and with long persistence in the soil, is permitted in organic agriculture. Both sulfur and copper are insuperable fungicides and are difficult to replace when humid conditions may prevail, as is often the case in Long Island.
Bedell’s excellent Website adds the following information:
There are several other ways we have worked for the public interest through a sustainability-minded vineyard program:
We participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentive Program and Conservation Security Program, which rewards good land stewardship through nutrient, pest and cropland management, natural windbreaks, and non-planted wildlife buffer areas.
We established a dense cover crop of grasses, fescues, and clovers between the rows of grapevines to maintain high biological species diversity in the vineyard. These row-middle cover crops also reduce soil erosion and promote symbiotic relationships between plants and beneficial insects.
We minimize off-farm inputs such as agricultural chemicals to protect the farmer, the environment, and society at large.
If we have to spray a fungicide to control a specific grapevine pathogen such as powdery mildew, we use one with the lowest possible environmental impact.
We avoid or minimize agricultural chemicals that do not biodegrade and might build-up in the soil over time.
We scout the vineyard for insects using Integrated Pest Management principles and economic threshold evaluation to eliminate or minimize insecticide use.
We encourage a natural flow of ecosystem elements through the presence of Bluebird houses, honey bee hives, and deer migration corridors. At Bedell, we employ sustainable, ecological viticulture to ensure the highest quality fruit without unnecessary, high-risk practices. We grow grapes for our own unique environmental conditions – the first step toward a pure expression of local terroir in our wines.
Bedell’s conviction about terroir is found, vividly expressed, in the cave of the winery, where a plexiglass box hanging on the wall displays a cross-section of vineyard soil (though compressed vertically many times over) showing how loam, sand, clay, and gravel are layered. (The image also holds the reflection of wine barrels, appropriately perhaps.) It helps explain how stratification can account for such factors as drainage and/or retention of water in the soil—which is important in understanding how vines respond to the terroir in which they grow, along with the effects of slope, aspect to the sun, etc. (See “Olson-Harbich’s Obsession with Soil . . . ” on the New York Cork Report blog, June 2, 2011.)
Furthermore, it goes on to say, “We maintain viticultural practices that produce the highest quality fruit possible, while also being sensitive to the environment and financially viable over time. . . . Each of our three unique vineyard sites is a holistic ecological system,” and together total approximately 80 planted acres: Bedell Home Vineyard on the Main Road in Cutchogue, behind the winery and tasting room; Corey Creek Vineyards on Main Road in Southold, adjacent to the Corey Creek tasting room; and Wells Road Vineyard on Main Road in Peconic. According to Rich, there are five sections planted to Merlot, its most important variety, for a total of 32 acres in 50 separate plots, as can be seen on the maps below. The other varieties planted at the sites include Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.
Bedell’s viticultural philosophy is presented very clearly on its Website (about the vineyards); indeed, I find it is the fullest, yet pithiest exposition of its viticultural practices of any of the Island vineyards, and the only one to offer plot maps. Rich’s blog posts on the Website are especially worth reading-for example, his assessment of the 2013 vintage: Lucky 13.
As a vintner dedicated to making ‘natural’ or ‘minimalist’ wines, he points out, first of all, that “we try to stay away from late season fungicide applications in order to preserve the wild yeasts that are used for fermentation.” Indeed, one of Bedell’s hallmark’s is its commitment to the use of indigenous yeasts, thanks to Rich, who, in fact has inaugurated what has become a new ritual at Bedell–the care and feeding of the yeast in preparation for the fermentation of the new harvest. It’s a bit of a witch’s brew, minus the eye of newt and leg of toad–perhaps it should be called a ‘fairies’ brew,’ given the addition of wildflowers, freshly-picked local fruit, including apple, pear, and a white peach. (A post on Facebook about this provoked an article in October 2013 by Louisa Hargrave, The Yeasty Beasties, which is well-worth reading.) In fact, Eric Fry has an amusing anecdote about Rich’s commitment to wild yeast:
That’s his thing and he does it… he’s been doing it for years and he seems to have it figured out, and cool, that’s good fine, yeah, good for him, good for him. It’s really funny because when Rich moved from Raphael to Bedell, he showed up at Bedell and he’s looking around, he’s rummaging around, and seeing what’s there and everything like that, and he came over [to see me at Lenz] and said “I’ve got like six or eight boxes of yeast here, do you want them?”
I said “OK, I’ll take them.” Because [Rich] says “I don’t want them.”
As with all of the top vineyards that I’ve visited on the East End, Bedell’s wines begin in the vineyard and the results are telling. For example, it’s Bordeaux-style blend (with some Syrah), Musée, was awarded 91 points by Wine Spectator for the 2007 vintage—one of the highest scores by that publication for a red wine from the East End. The sample I tasted was already rich in flavor, with good acidity and tannins to give it backbone, but it was still a bit closed. Clearly, it needs to be laid down for a few years. Bedell claims that it can keep for up to 15-20 years. Any wine that can develop for that long has to be exceptional, so to drink it now would be to commit infanticide. I also bought a few bottles of Corey Creek’s Gewürztraminer, which I found to be among the best of that variety of any North American ones that I’ve tasted. Irresistible.
In April 2016 the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc earned 90 points from WA while the 2014 Chardonnay also got a score of 90 with the remark: “ beautifully balanced . . . all about the finesse.” The 2010 ‘Taste Red’ earned 90 points from WA. In April 2017 WE awarded the Bedell 2014 Cabernet Franc 90 points and others are rated in the high 80s. In January 2019’s Cork Report, Lenn Thompson rated the Taste Rosé as 90 points, given its “nice fruit flavors.” These are very good to excellent scores indeed. There is also a zippy, straightforward quaffing wine, known as ‘Main Road Red’ that is always reliable.
The 2014 Taste Red (a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc) is a real favorite of ours and is meant for serious oenophiles. Rich and full-bodied, it offers a bouquet of cherry, plum, and toast, and is complex in the mouth, offering cherry, plum, chocolate, and herbs. It can be laid down for several years.
This is a vineyard and winery that commands high respect and praise. I recommend visiting winery and its elegant tasting room, festooned with a collection of contemporary art including works by Barbara Kruger, Chuck Close, and others. If you cannot get there soon, at least visit the Bedell Website.
Due to Lynne’s death, the winery is now for sale. The asking price is $17.8 million.
Based on an interview with Richard Olsen-Harbich on 12 May 2011, with additions from the Bedell Website updated 4 April 2019
“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).
Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue also earned some impressive numbers, with four scores of 93 and three scores of 92.
“In the world of wine, Robert Parker has been recognized as possibly the world’s most influential wine critic,” said Paumanok winemaker Kareem Massoud. “We think of [wine ratings] as a necessary evil. Like it or not, people are going to evaluate your wine and give your wine a score. In spite of all of the limitations of relying on a number, it still feels good to end up with a highly rated wine.”
Massoud said Mark Squires of WA visited the winery in March of 2015 and later requested a second set of samples of the wines he tasted, a common practice for wine critics.
“Even the best critics will get palate fatigue,” Massoud explained.
One of the Paumanok standouts for Squires was its 93-point 2007 Merlot Tuthill’s Lane.
“Here, [Paumanok] makes a wonderful Merlot,” Squires wrote. “Full-bodied and caressing on the palate, this shows very fine depth, but it retains its elegance all the while.”
All in all, 23 of Kareem’s wines earned a score of 90 or more. That is more than any other winery on the Island and a remarkable achievement.
Most recently, Paumanok was named NY Winery of the Year 2015 by the NY Wine and Food Classic held in August at Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes. This is the second time that the winery has been so honored. Its 2014 Medium-Sweet Riesling was declared best white wine in the competition. See Edible East End’s article.
Based 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
North Fork of Long Island
1074 Main Road (Route 25)
P.O. Box 741
Aquebogue, NY 11931
Christian Wölffer, a real estate entrepreneur, bought the 14 acres of potato fields known as Sagpond Farms in 1978. Enchanted by the idea of a vineyard of his own after tasting a Chardonnay planted by a Sagaponack neighbor, in 1988 he asked David Mudd to plant fifteen acres of vines. It has since grown to 55 acres, with ten parcels of vines with sub-parcels. The vine rows were planted running North to South and East to West, depending on the best orientation to the sun based on the terrain. By 1996 he had assembled 168 acres, which he devoted mostly to grazing land for his horses. His first release, a Chardonnay, was in 1991.
Roman Roth and Richard Pisacano are the team that together produces some of the finest wine made in Long Island. Roman, of course, is the winemaker (and now partner) at Wölffer, and Richie—as he’s known to his friends and colleagues—is the winegrower. One is, as it were, the right hand and the other the left. So close are they that Richie’s own wine brand, Roanoke Vineyards, is made by Roman. Roman himself has his own label, Grapes of Roth, which, since he became partner this year, will be sold in Wölffer’s tasting room.
Roman has been with Wölffer Estate as winemaker since 1992, Richie came to the Estate in 1997. Both of them had years of experience in the wine trade before coming to Wölffer’s.
Roman & full-time vineyard crew at lunch
Roman comes from southern Germany and learned about vineyards, varieties, and vinification there, as his was a winemaking family. He travelled and worked at wineries in California and Australia before returning home. In 1992 Roman received his Master Winemaker and Cellar Master degrees from the College for Oenology and Viticulture in Weinsberg. Soon after, he accepted the position of winemaker at Sagpond Vineyards, a new winery in the Hamptons. This was a winemaker’s dream—to be part of a new and growing wine region with the chance to create something new, to leave a footprint at the foundational level.
Over the next several years, Roth managed the expansion of Sagpond Vineyards into “Wölffer Estate,” now a 55-acre vineyard with a state-of-the-art winery producing a wide range of award-winning wines, all nestled in a 175-acre property with horses, paddocks, stables, and riding trails. Under Roth’s meticulous direction, Wölffer has become a Hampton’s destination, producing wines of excellent caliber and reputation.
In April 2003, Roman received the award of “Winemaker of the Year” presented by the East End Food & Wine Awards (judged by the American Sommelier Society). This reflected the excellence of the wines he produced as winemaker and as a consultant, and was recognition of his contribution to quality winemaking on Long Island as a whole. After Christian Wölffer’s untimely death in a swimming accident, the Estate was in the hands of his children, Joey and Marc. At that time Roman was made a partner in the firm and basically runs it. In December 2015 he was elected as President of the Long Island Wine Council to serve for two years.
Rich started his career with greenhouse plant propagation, then worked for Mudd Vineyards (the first Vineyard Consulting Management firm in Long Island) in 1977, while still in high school. He went on the design and maintain vineyards for Cutchogue Vineyards (now Macari South), Pindar, Palmer, Island (now Pellegrini), Jamesport, and others before he came to Wölffer. He was invited by Roman to come to Wölffer to help “rescue” the vineyard, to help bring the Estate to the next level and further improve the quality and reputation. When he arrived he brought along with him the ideas of sustainable viticulture and in fact followed the precepts of Cornell’s VineBalance program for the last ten years.
The first fifteen acres of Wölffer vines were planted by David Mudd in 1988, and it has since grown to 50 acres, with ten parcels of vines with sub-parcels. The vine rows were planted running North to South and East to West.
Wölffer’s terroir, given its location on a hill, varies considerably, much more so than the vineyards on the North Fork. The Estate has two types of soil, Bridgehampton loam and Haven.The Bridgehampton soils are mostly the flatter ground and the hillside soils, which are lighter, are mostly Haven. [i] Where the two converge one overlaps the other with interesting effects on the micro-terroir of individual vines. Both soils offer good drainage and the way that the vineyard slopes allows the cold air to flow out of the vineyard across to the Montauk Highway. With its undulating topography and overlapping soils, it makes for an especially interesting terroir, particularly so for Long Island. Rich refers to it as a “unique setting.”
Both Richie and Roman agree that “The vineyard comes first,” and “we focus on what we can do in the vineyard, then we can make wine from that.”
The California model is not a good one to follow in LI; Wölffer has healthy low vigor/well balanced vineyards. With respect to viticulture, Rich’s is a balanced approach, with individual attention to the vines. Indeed, given his 30-years of experience, they call him “the grape-whisperer.” As Rich pointed out, in his straightforward but modest way, “given time, one develops an intuition.”
For Rich, rule number one for a vineyard manager is to throw out the personal calendar and appointment book—the vineyard has precedence over all matters personal. The Manager is like a doctor on call, always ready to respond to an emergency. Or, as Rich puts it, “Sometimes I’m not a vineyard manager as much as I am vineyard-managed.”
For example, in 2011, despite the terrible weather, including Hurricane Irene’s contribution, Wölffer had no crop loss whatsoever thanks to the adequate manpower that was available to manage the problems engendered by the weather. Wölffer managed to harvest 2.79 tons per acre, which was right at the 20-year average for their harvests. The biggest challenge of the season was the sudden changes in the weather, and that requires a very nimble and highly attentive manager.
The symbiotic relationship between vineyard manager and vintner was demonstrated in the 2005 vintage, which had been a very good season until 20 inches of rain were dumped on LI in the space of a week just at harvest time, with the result that grapes were so swollen with water that the sugar levels were diluted to as low as 16 degrees Brix. Some growers went ahead and picked the swollen grapes immediately after the rain, others abandoned entire parcels of fruit. Roman, however, saw the potential for patience rewarded and had Rich leave the grapes alone for a few days. Three days of dry weather led to the grapes shrinking back to normal size and reaching 23 Brix, and by the fifth day the sugar level had reached 25 Brix, which was unheard of in terms of sugar levels that increased so dramatically in so brief a time. At that point some of the crop began to shrivel and raisin, so a 35-person crew was sent out to pick what were now very ripe grapes. Some other vineyards had been watching what was going on at Wölffer Estate and held off as well, but none had the resources that the Estate enjoyed, so as soon as the grapes were brought in the crew was sent out to help harvest the grapes at the other vineyards as well. As a result, some very good wine was made that year, although at much smaller yields than usual. This is part of what Rich calls Roman’s “wine-rescue program.”
The fact of the matter is that Richie and Roman “get energy from one another.”
Wölffer now has seven varieties planted, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Trebbiano and Vignoles—of which there is a half-acre. Chardonnay needs to be picked at full ripeness. In the mid-1990s the significance of proper clonal selection became better appreciated, so that optimal results can be obtained in the vineyard. Presently there are three Chardonnay clones planted: Davis 3+4 Dijon 76, and Clone 96. Dijon, which is a Burgundy clone, tends to offer comparatively low acidity by comparison with Davis 3+4, which was developed for the warmer climate of California. Merlot clones include 181 (from France), 3 (from U. of C. at Davis), and 6 (from Argentina).
Wölffer planted Trebbiano Toscano [aka Ugni Blanc] in 2010, the only Long Island vineyard to do so. The vines were productive by the 2nd year, yielding 3.5 tons / acre and by the 3rd year, 8 tons of good fruit. Given the large and experienced vineyard crew that the Estate can call on at harvest time, it was possible to harvest by hand 6 to 8 tons per hour, or about 40 tons at the end of a 7-hour day. In fact, many of the crew are people with other jobs but who have helped harvest the crop by hand for as long as ten years or more. They know what they are doing and are very efficient. According to Rich, the best of all the pickers are invariably women, who are more careful and attentive than are most of the men.
Vines’ vigor affects wine character. For that reason, there are rows of Cabernet Franc and Merlot that are reserved for making rosé that run down a slope, with Bridgehampton Loam eight feet thick at the top that is overlaid with Bridgehampton Loam as one goes down the slope, until the Haven is only eight inches thick. The Bridgehampton soils are mostly the flatter ground and the hillside soils, which are lighter, are mostly Haven. This represents ever-changing terror, which is to say that each vine in a row has a micro-terroir of its own. Indeed, thanks to drainage and soil changes along the rows, the vigor of the vines changes along the length of the slope. Consequently, in order to “harmonize” that vineyard parcel, Rich has leaf-pulling and green harvesting done along the rows at graduated intervals, with the vines furthest downslope getting the most attention, and those at the top less. Thus, the vines mature and are ready for harvest at nearly the same time. This is the work of a ‘grape-whisperer.’
Roman & crew at soccer. Goal!
Wölffer always has an adequate vineyard crew—for one thing, the Estate make harvesting fun and treats the harvest as a celebration. They feed the workers very well, with much coffee and snacks available throughout the workday. Because of so much attention in the vineyard throughout the season, there is mostly clean fruit at harvest time, which makes it easier and faster to hand-pick. In fact, a good crew can pick [clean fruit] by hand faster than a mechanical harvester is able to do. Naturally, by harvest time there are an abundance of workers available due to the fact that the tourist season has come to an end and many of the workers had been in the hospitality industry for the summer season.
Wölffer has already joined the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers program, which leads to certification in sustainable farming. They had, as mentioned above, been growing their vines responsibly since the mid-90s, so the transition to the LISW program was actually very easy, as they’d been following the VineBalance guidelines that are the basis for the LISW ones, but modified to better fit the conditions of Long Island, rather than for the whole state of New York. For example, they do not use pre-emergent herbicides or added nitrogen to the soil—the use of nitrogen-fixing cover crops takes care of that. Periodically, given the high acidity of the Long Island soil, about 1½ tons of lime per acre is added to raise the pH level of the soil to make it more amenable for the vines. By May of 2013, the vineyard had succeeded in meeting all 200 requirements of the LISW and obtained its certification for sustainable winegrowing.
The winery is large and sophisticated, enjoying excess capacity such that not only does Wölffer buy grapes from five other vineyards, including Mudd’s vineyard, Dick Pfeiffer’s, and Surry Lane’s to make Long-Island appellation wines under the Wölffer label. Roman gets to use the winery facilities to make his own Grapes of Roth and Richie’s own Roanoke Vineyards wines. He also uses the facilities to make wine for clients Scarola Vineyards and Gramercy Vineyards as well. Indeed, in 2009 an extremely selective picking of botrytised Riesling grapes took place in Jamesport Vineyards, allowing Roman to make a TBA under his Grapes of Roth label. Not too many TBAs are made anywhere in the US of A; the very first one was a feat of the late, great Konstantin Frank, in 1965, of Finger Lakes fruit, of course, not LI. That one made headlines—in 2015 Roman’s two latest efforts with botrytised wines have earned him the highest scores ever awarded for Long Island wines.
In fact, given that Roman makes three rosés, eight whites, thirteen different reds, three award-wining dessert wines, two sparkling wines, and two apple ciders (a total of 29 different wines alone for Wölffer’s, not to speak of the wines he makes for Roanoke Vineyards), the question arises. How does he do it? Well, as he explained, working at the Karlschüle in South Germany he dealt with a wide variety of reds and whites. There he learned that close attention to detail mattered: every tank had to be topped up, every bung properly place, etc. He also gave credit to the excellent wine-growing climate of Long Island, which shares the same latitude and Madrid and Naples and gets the most sun of all of New York State. So, in early August they begin picking the grapes for sparkling wine, when they’re not fully ripe, then grapes for the rosés, which also don’t need full ripeness, and on to the whites, then the reds, which need more ripeness, and at the end of October, the late-harvest grapes. It means he has time to deal with the winemaking over a period of as much as three months. He gives as much attention to a basic white as he does to a Christian Cuvée red, because he can, all because of the enabling climate and soil.
For Roman, to make good wine demands a very scrupulous attention to detail. Not only are the grapes all hand-picked at the proper time, but when the fruit arrives at the winery they have as many as 56 hands at work at the sorting table, so no bad fruit goes into the must. Few wineries have the resources to bring more than a dozen hands to that task. When the must is fermenting in the tanks they do pumpovers three times a day, where most wineries do it only twice or even once. Of course, it helps to be able to afford a cellar team that can give this kind of time to such matters. It also helps to have had one fabulous vintage after another since 2010—2011 being the exception—and it may be true for 2015 as well.
To Roman, the great untold story about Long Island wines is their longevity: a 20-year-old Chardonnay still drinking well, for instance, and red wines that can mature and hold up for 25 to 30 years. The word has not yet gotten out to collectors that the wines of the region can be laid down and over time they will increase in value—not yet like great Bordeaux, perhaps, but as rarity and demand increase, even that is a possibility.
Roman introduced a dry rosé to the Long Island wine repertoire in 1992, within a year of his arrival at the winery—he was quite bullish in his pursuit to make Wölffer rosé a respected and fashionable wine. The 2011 is made with 54% Merlot and 21% Chardonnay, 9% Pinot Noir, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8%Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2012 consists of 69% Merlot, 16.5% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir, 4.5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The blend, as one can see, varies considerably from year to year, depending on the results of the harvest. Whatever the blend, Wölffer calls it “Summer in a Bottle.”
Along with its wide range of varietal wines, including Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Trebbiano, and so on, Roman also makes a non-alcoholic verjus that is a low-acid alternative to vinegar (used in a salad make the salad much more wine-friendly), but it is also an eminently quaffable beverage that is its own “Summer in a glass.” Perfect for those friends who can’t or don’t drink wine, yet almost as enjoyable.
And I cannot omit mention of the time that I stopped by at Wölffer’s tasting room to try a glass of the 2000 Merlot, which at a $100 a bottle had caused a sensation. The glass of wine cost only $25, and I sipped it slowly for over an hour, observing how it evolved with time and exposure to air. Slightly closed at first, it wasn’t long before it was offering notes of plum and black berries, and then hints of cedar and clove, becoming brighter and deeper in bouquet and flavor, and lingering long on the palate. An extraordinary wine. I knew then that Long Island wine had arrived on the world stage. I had become hooked.
More recently, an article on the North Forker website of July 6, 2015, “Long Island wines receive record-breaking reviews in The Wine Advocate” stated that the critic, Mark Squires, of the Advocate had awarded two Wölffer Estate Vineyard wines — the Descencia Botrytis Chardonnay and Diosa Late Harvest — the highest scores ever received in the region, each earning 94 points.
“If I had to name a ‘short list’ of top wineries in the region, this would have to be on it, without requiring any thought,” Squires wrote in his review. “Under winemaker/partner Roman Roth and Vineyard Manager Rich Pisacano (who also owns Roanoke, at which Roth is also the winemaker), this winery excels in making age-worthy, structured wines.”
Further to that, in the Nov. 16 issue of Wine Spectator Wölffer’s Grapes of Roth 2010 Merlot one of the top 100 wines of the year 2015. No other Long Island winery has ever achieved that accolade. Tom Matthews wrote: “A polished texture carries balanced flavors of tart cherry, pomegranate, toasted hazelnut and espresso in this expressive red. Features firm, well-integrated tannins and lively acidity. Elegant. Drink now through 2022. 2,592 cases made.”
139 Sagg Road, PO Box 900. Sagaponack, NY 11962. Phone 631-537-5106
[i] According to the LISW Climate & Soil Web page, “Bridgehampton-Haven Association: These soils are deep and excessively drained and have a medium texture. It is its depth, good drainage and moderate to high available water-holding capacity that make this soil well-suited to farming.”
The entirety of the Northeast, including New York State, was once covered by Laurentide ice sheets up to nearly two miles thick during the Late Wisconsin Glacial Period, which receded about 11,000 years ago. As the ice sheet melted it reshaped the landscape beneath it that was to take on the features that we know today, and it helped create the Hudson River Valley, leaving behind a complex and varied topography, soil, and climate–the terroir–, much of it appropriate for vine cultivation or other fruit.
1. Map from the Uncorked New York Web site.
The Hudson River Region AVA is the oldest continually-productive wine region in the United States. Though most people refer to this wine region as the Hudson River Valley or the Hudson Valley, on July 6, 1982 the BATF—in its wisdom—granted the AVA but chose to call it by another name in order to avoid confusion with a winery that already bore the name, Hudson River Valley Winery (no longer in production). If one were to look at different maps that depict the region, its geographical boundaries would not entirely clear, as the maps don’t all agree. (The best one is shown above.) Unfortunately, there is no official AVA map of the region, much less a map for its varied soils and climates. However, it is clearly described verbally in print: its western boundary is the Shawangunk Ridge (a northerly extension of the Appalachians) in Orange and Ulster Counties. It then follows the Delaware River to the New Jersey State line, from which it goes roughly east to its eastern boundary at the state lines with Connecticut and Massachusetts. It then extends north along those borders to the northeast corner of Columbia County, New York. From there it extends west to the juncture of Columbia and Greene Counties in the Hudson River. It includes all or some of several counties: Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester.
It doesn’t quite encompass all of the Hudson River Watershed, which extends even further north and includes the Mohawk River (see map at left). From this it can be seen, by comparing it to the first map, that while it is primarily geographic, most of its boundaries are political, which is not unusual for AVAs all over the country; however, it also is not strictly based on a homogenous climate or soil types—the terroir—though many of the vineyards are planted on or near the slopes on either side of the Hudson River.
However, even today the true boundaries of the Valley are still in dispute, and the definition of the area of the AVA Region is questionable. Carlo DeVito, a wine writer and winery owner, commented that “The AVA is old and obsolete….it only covered the existing wineries that were around at the time of the filing, and makes no sense. More than half the valley’s wineries in the region are not covered by it. Here’s my take on it:” Where is the Hudson Valley?
Soil and Terroir
As can be made out from the soil map above, there is a range of soil that include “acid soils with neutral to acid frangipans” (pink color) that runs the length of the river valley, shifting to “medium to moderately coarse-textured acid soils with strongly acidic frangipans on glacial till from gray slate, sandstone, [and] slate” (red color). Contiguous to this is also “deep and shallow soils associated with hilly areas” (dark red). Along the mid to upper-length of the river we see “moderate to fine-textured soils on glacial lake or marine sediments” (pale blue). At the southern limits we see “muck” (dark blue, highly fertile) and “moderately coarse textured, very strongly acid soils from glacial till from granite” (brown color). As grapevines are not fond of acidic soils, this means that many if not most vineyards need alkaline additions such as lime to bring up the soil pH.
The most complete and accessible description of the soils and terrains of the Region may be that of the “New York Wine Course and Reference”, which is worth quoting at length:
This region crosses five [of the nine New York State] physiographic provinces and is composed of more distinct soil types than any other region. Moving north from Manhattan, the first province encountered is that of the Gneissic Highland Province, a hilly, complex region of highly metamorphosed ancient gneiss. This region encompasses the northern end of Manhattan Island and southern Rockland County, where it forms the Ramapo Mountains. The region continues across the Hudson, and the structure underlies Westchester, Putnam and a small part of southern Dutchess County. The hardness of the bedrock in this area and glacial action have resulted in shallow, rocky soils largely unsuitable for agriculture. Bordering the Gneiss Highland Province to the north is the Taconic Province, an area of lower elevation that extends from Orange County northward through southeastern Ulster County and across the Hudson River, encompassing Dutchess, Columbia, Rensselaer and Washington counties. The rocks in this province are largely shales, slates, schists and limestones, although the northern and eastern areas of Dutchess, Columbia and Rensselaer are underlain with hard metamorphic quartzite and gneiss. The topography of this province varies widely, starting as a valley in southern Orange County and progressing to rolling hills and valleys in the western portions of those counties on the east side of the Hudson, finally culminating the rugged highlands of the Berkshire Mountains in the easternmost section of the province. Given the wide variety of parent material and topography in this province, soil types and suitability to viticulture are extremely varied. Soils in the western portion of this province generally tend to have moisture problems and be low in fertility, although many good sites of limited acreage are under cultivation as orchards and vineyards. Soil conditions improve on the western side of the Hudson, with eastern Dutchess and Columbia Counties possessing the finest sites and consequently the greatest acreage of vineyards. Deep, well-drained soils with adequate moisture holding capacity and low to moderate fertility are present and available in large tracts of land, and offer the opportunity for the expansion of viticulture in the Hudson Valley. Two other physiographic provinces can be included in the Hudson River Region: the Catskill Province which borders the Taconic Province along the dramatic Shawangunk Ridge; and the Mohawk Valley Province which enters the region north of Albany. Neither has significant acreage in grapes, and discussion of the soils of these areas is not relevant to this subject.
A further explanation makes even more clear just how complex the soil profiles of the Region comes from the USDA soil series page:
The Hudson series consists of very deep, moderately well drained soils formed in clayey and silty lacustrine sediments. They are nearly level through very steep soils on convex lake plains, on rolling through hilly moraines and on dissected lower valley side slopes. Saturated hydraulic conductivity is moderately high or high in the mineral surface and subsurface layers and low through moderately high in the lower part of the subsoil and substratum. Slope ranges from 0 through 60 percent. Mean annual temperature is 49 degrees F. and mean annual precipitation is 39 inches.
The Region’s geographic setting is described as follows:
Hudson soils are nearly level to very steep on lake plains and lacustrine capped uplands and valley sides. Slope ranges from 0 through 60 percent. More sloping and dissected areas show evidence of slumping or mass slipping. Mean annual air temperature ranges from 46 degrees to 50 degrees F., mean annual precipitation ranges from 30 through 45 inches, and mean annual frost-free season ranges from 120 through 180 days. The elevation ranges from 50 through 800 feet above sea level.
The Hudson River is one of the great waterways of North America, but it only runs 315 miles (507 km.) from its source, Lake Tear in the Clouds, located in Adirondack Park (elevation 1814 ft. (553 m.). It is what is called a ‘drowned river’ in that the waters of the Atlantic Ocean flow upstream with the tide as far as Troy, NY (north of Albany) which means that it is a very long tidal estuary–in other words, a fjord. For this reason it was known to the Lenape tribe that lived along its banks as Muhheakantuck (“river that flows two ways”).
Indeed, it is the Hudson , with its moderating effect on climate, thanks to the tidal flow and winds that sweep upriver from the Atlantic as well as the so-called “lake effect” (or “river effect” in this case–except in the winter, if the river freezes and is covered with ice) of its wide, deep, flowing stream, that make it possible to grow grapes at all, as it would otherwise be too frigid for most varieties other than the native ones. Its growing season is short: 180 to 195 days. (By comparison, Long Island’s season lasts from 215 to 230 days, while the Niagara Escarpment enjoys 205 days, and the Finger Lakes AVA has 190 to 205 growing days.) Its production is also small, at 585 tons a year (about 2.5 tons an acre), whereas the Niagara Escarpment, with only 6 vineyards and 883 acres produces 4,648 tons (about 5 tons an acre), though some of this is for table grapes, which have much higher yields than do wine grapes.
The AVA covers an area that extends roughly within the confines of the river valley proper, encompassing as it does 224,000 acres (90,650 ha), but it has only 430 acres planted to wine grapes among 49 bonded wineries—some with, some without, vineyards—some of which buy fruit from the Finger Lakes or Long Island to make wine from varieties that do not thrive here, and in some cases from California. Many of the wineries produce fruit wine, such as raspberry, apple, strawberry, blueberry, and so on, along with grape wine. After all, the Hudson Valley is famous for its fruit production, and once was one of the largest producers of apples in the world. However, as pointed out in an article by Carlo DeVito, “Where is the Hudson Valley?” on his blog, HudsonRiverWine, the boundaries of the AVA as currently drawn lead to confusion and are no longer relevant, given that they were drawn when there were far fewer wineries, and the number of wineries and vineyards in the Valley has not only grown exponentially, but many new ones are being established within the Valley but outside the AVA.
Tradition has it that the first vinifera vines were planted by French Huguenots in 1677, at the time that they first settled New Paltz. However, this is unlikely, because these Huguenots had come from Belgium and were more inclined to drink hard cider, brandy, and brews. However, the earliest record of vinifera planting goes back to 1642, when the New Amsterdam patroon, Kiliean Van Rennselaer sent cuttings to his commisary in Fort Orange (Albany), which of course didn’t survive the winter. Settlers then resorted to American varieties, but the wines made from these were likely not pleasing at all to the French or Dutch palates, but at least it was alcoholic. The first commercially-successful vineyard was planted with Isabella and Catawba in 1827 by Robert Underhill at Croton Point, just above Tarrytown. The oldest continuously-operated winery in the nation is Brotherhood Winery, originally established as Jaques Brothers’ Winery in 1839 at Little York (now Washingtonville, in Orange County) to make wine that was mostly sold to churches. When the last of the Jaques family died in 1885, it was taken over by Jesse and Emerson, who promptly renamed it Brotherhood. The earliest-planted continuously-used vineyard, going back to 1845, was planted by William Cornell in Ulster County. His brother-in-law, Andrew Caywood became involved and began developing hybrid varieties that could better grow in the demanding climate; one of his efforts led to the Dutchess grape, still widely grown in the Northeast today. That vineyard is today part of Benmarl Winery, in Marlboro.
Farm Winery Act of 1976
Before Governor Hugh Carey signed the Farm Winery Act into law, there were only nineteen bonded wineries in all of New York State. Thanks to the tireless work and advocacy of people like Benmarl Winery’s Mark Miller, the new Commissioner of Agriculture, John Dyson (owner of Millbrook Vineyards and Winery), and the support of wine writers like Frank Prial of the New York Times, the restrictive post-Prohibition laws that then prevailed were replaced by a new set of laws that made it much easier for farms (i.e., vineyards) to establish new wineries for a small fee. The result was an explosion of winery growth in the State, and by 2008 there were about 255 across the State.
The vineyards and wineries with vineyards in the Hudson River Region AVA (excluding cideries, meaderies, distilleries, and producers of fruit wine only), as of 2014, number thirty-one by my own count, and these are highlighted in bold type. Vine acreage is not always certain and in some cases little or no information is given The Websites are rarely of any use in this regard.
A number of wineries purchase some or all of their grapes from other growers, both from within the Hudson River AVA as well as the Finger Lakes and Long Island. There are any number of perfectly good reasons for this. A winemaker may want to produce wine from a variety that he doesn’t grow. Some vineyards are too new to produce commerciable fruit. With a few exceptions, most of the wineries and/or vineyards are very small in scale–most are, after all, “farm wineries.” In no case does this reflect on the quality of any of the wines so made. The gamut of quality is there to be had.
(NOTE: this article and the series on wineries that follow are only interested in wineries and vineyards that grow and/or produce grape wine. This is not a prejudice, it is simply that the focus is on sustainable viniculture, or the growing of wine grapes, as well as on winemaking. Wineries that have been reviewed on this blog are shown with a link):
Adair Vineyards*, New Paltz (West Bank, Ulster County; 37 acres, all hybrid)
Altamont Winery, Altamont (West Bank, Albany County; no information on acreage or planting)
Applewood Winery*, Warwick (West Bank, Orange County; ? acreage, both hybrid & vinifera)
Baldwin Vineyards*, Pine Bush (West Bank, Ulster County, 35 acres, both)
Basha Kill Vineyards*, Wurstboro (West Bank, Sullivan County, 1.5 acres, hybrid)
Benmarl Winery*, Marlboro (West Bank, Ulster County; 37 acres; both)
Brimstone Hill Vineyards, Pine Bush (West Bank, Ulster County; 13 acres, both)
Brookview Station Winery* [no vineyard, purchased grapes]
Brotherhood Winery*, Washingtonville (West Bank, Orange County; 40 acres, all vinifera?)
Capoccia Vineyards and Winery, Niskayuna (West Bank, Schenectady County, not AVA; no information)
Windham Vineyard and Winery, Windham (West Bank, Greene County; no information)
*Twenty-two of the wineries are members of the Hudson Valley Wine & Grape Assoc., and owners and/or winemakers meet from time to time to compare notes and discuss issues that are common to the region. The mission of the Assoc. is “to conduct educational programs to advance grape growing and winemaking in the Hudson Valley AVA.”
NOTE: Winery Websites will not always tell about the varieties in the vineyards, nor will they necessarily indicate what varieties go into their blended wines, as they may use generic or invented names for their blends. This doesn’t mean that one can’t ask in the tasting room. The only dependable clue as to whether the wines are made from grapes blended from more than one AVA (e.g., Finger Lakes & Hudson River) will be found on the label: if it says Hudson River Region, it may or may not be estate bottled but is from the Region; if it says New York State the wine is made from grapes from more than one region. Caveat emptor, but only if these issues matters to the buyer.
The varieties that do thrive in the AVA are mostly hybrids as well as some cool-climate V. viniferas (hybrid variety information is from Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, et al., Wine Grapes—listed alphabetically, so page number are not needed); Hudson AVA acreage information comes from the “NY Wine Course”, pp. 75-61 passim; data is for 2013):
Aurore or Aurora, aka Seibel 5279 (White, French-American hybrid; less than 10 acres)
Baco Noir (R, French-American hybrid, Folle Blanche x Grand Glabre [V. riparia]; <10 acres)
Cabernet Franc (R, vinifera; 7 acres)
Cabernet Sauvignon (R, vinifera; <20 acres)
Catawba (R, either V. labrusca or a natural hybrid, in any case American; <10 acres, in decline)
Cayuga White (complex American hybrid created in Geneva, NY; <10, decreased from 38 acres in 1996)
Chambourcin (Red, French-American hybrid; acreage not reported)
Chancellor, aka Seibel 7053 (R, French-American hybrid; acreage for the AVA not reported)
Chardonnay (W, vinifera; 32 acres)
Chelois (R, French-American hybrid; acreage for the AVA not reported)
Concord (R, V. labrusca x unknown vinifera?, decidedly American; 168 acres)
De Chaunac or Dechaunac (R, French-Canadian hybrid, by Albert Seibel; named for the Canadian enologist, Adhemar DeChaunac; <15 acres)
Delaware (V. labrusca x aestivalis var. bouriquiana x vinifera?, American hybrid; <10 acres)
Diamond, aka Moore’s Diamond (labrusca x vinifera American hybrid; acreage unreported)
Dutchess (complex hybrid by A. J. Caywood of Poughkeepsie, V. labrusca x aestivalis x vinifera; <10 acres)
Elvira (complex American hybrid, V. labrusca x riparia x vinifera; <10 acres)
Frontenac, aka MN 1047 (complex American hybrid from Minnesota; )
Gamay Noir (R, vinifera, a specialty of Whitecliff Vineyards)
Gewürztraminer (W, vinifera; <10 acres)
Golden Muscat (W, American hybrid ex-Cornell, labrusca x vinifera; acreage unreported)
Noiret (R, complex American hybrid created in Geneva, NY)
Pinot Blanc (W, vinifera, Alsace clone planted only at Stoutridge)
Pinot Gris (W, vinifera)
Pinot Noir (R, vinifera, almost unique to Oak Summit in the region; about 30 acres)
Refosco (vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)
Riesling (W, vinifera; <10 acres)
St Pepin (complex American hybrid by Elmer Swenson in Wisconsin)
Sangiovese (R, vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)
Seyval Blanc/Seyve-Villard 5-276 (W, French hybrid, vinifera x rupestris x lincecumii; 73 acres)
Teroldego (vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)
Tocai Friulano (W, vinifera, planted only at Millbrook Vineyards)
Traminette (W, complex American hybrid based on Gewürztraminer)
Vidal Blanc/Vidal 256 (W, French hybrid, Ugni Blanc x Seibel 4986; <10 acres)
Vignoles/Ravat 51 (W, complex French hybrid, Pinot Noir? x Subéreux?; <10 acres)
As can be seen from the list, most of the wine varieties are hybrids, developed specifically for traits that would enable the vines to survive the extreme cold, humidity, and diseases. The French hybrids were often developed to produce vines based on V. vinifera that were resistant to phylloxera, as the original intention was to plant them in European vineyards. Once it was realized that grafting American rootstock to vinifera shoots would adequately protect against phylloxera, interest in hybrids dropped in Europe, but many of the hybrids have been successfully introduced to the United States. American (esp. New York hybrids) were often developed to thrive in American vineyards with their attendant cold-climate challenges and the diseases that are endemic to the region.
Bibliography and other References
Unfortunately, there is a serious paucity of books devoted exclusively to the entire Hudson River Region AVA. The only one still available, by Martell and Long, is out of print but can still be ordered.
De Vito, Carlo. East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia. Rutgers U. Press: New Brunswick, NJ, 2004. An excellent guide to the wineries of the region, though having been published ten years ago, it doesn’t even include the author’s own winery: Hudson-Chatham.
Figiel, Richard. Circle of Vines: The Story of New York State Wine. Excelsior Editions, Albany, NY, 2014. Written by the once-owner of a Finger Lakes winery, this is a well-written account of the story of New York wine, with a chapter devoted to the Hudson Valley and additional related material in two others. The entire book, a sweep of history going back to the Ice Ages and up to the present day, is a worthwhile read and the chapter on the Valley is especially complete and valuable.
Martell, Alan R. and Alton Long. The Wines and Wineries of the Hudson River Valley. The Countryman Press: Woodstock, VT, 1993. Given that it was published 21 years ago, it is seriously out of date, and at a scarce 48 amply-illustrated pages, it covers but 20 wineries and a meadery. It is clearly meant for the general public.
New York Wine & Grape Foundation (text by James Tresize), “The New York Wine Course and Reference.pdf.” 2014. Available as an online download, it is an excellent and very complete research source, although it has a promotional slant. It also includes very useful regional maps on the soils, temperatures, growing degree days, etc. (Note: It is curious that the AVA map in the Wine Course document does not match the one on the Website: Fact and Figures, which is the version that I use at the beginning of this article; it is the one that I consider the most accurate.) The Website is listed below. In citations, it will be referred to as “NY Wine Course.”
A handful of others touch on the region here and there, but superficially. For example:
Berger, Dan and Tony Aspler. North American Wine Routes: A Travel Guide to Wines & Vines from Napa to Nova Scotia. Reader’s Digest Press: Pleasantville, NY, 2010. Very superficial, with no useful background and only four wineries listed on the two amply-illustrated pages about the Region.
Castell, Hudson. Wines of Eastern North American: From Prohibition to the Present: From Prohibition to the Present – A History and Desk Reference. Cornell U. Press, Ithaca, NY, 2014. Its subject is rather broad so that the Hudson Valley is only touched upon here and there, but it is a fine work of scholarship and an important reference.
Morton, Lucie T. Winegrowing in Eastern America: An Illustrated Guide to Viniculture East of the Rockies. Cornell U. Press: Ithaca, NY, 1985. An important book but it only offers a very cursory coverage of the Valley.
Robinson, Jancis and Linda Murphy. American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines & Wineries of the US. U. California Press: Berkeley, 2013. For an ‘ultimate guide’ there are only two pages, mostly covered by illustrations and no useful map. It counts 33 wineries, mentions Millbrook Vineyards and Winery as the ‘Superstar’ and shows three wine labels.
Thomas, Marguerite. Touring East Coast Wine Country: A Guide to the Finest Wineries. Berkshire House Publishers, Lee, MA, 2002. Mentions only two wineries and is out of date.
For grape varieties:
Casscles, J. Stephen . Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada, Flint Mine Press, Coxsackie, NY, 2015. An important an indispensable guide to the varieties of the region. (See my review of the book at Grapes of the Hudson Valley.)
Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, & José Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. HarperCollins: New York, 2012. Simply the best and most complete reference to all varieties available in the English language.
Benjamin, Vernon. The History of the Hudson River Valley from Wilderness to the Civil War. Overlook Press, New York, 2014. Using up-to-date scholarship, this is a serious and significant contribution to the literature of the Hudson Valley but, alas, there’s very little about wine. Nevertheless, a very worthwhile book to own.
Be aware that most of these sites may not be up-to-date or may contain misleading or incorrect information.
HVNet.com: Wineries The Hudson Valley Network is more about tourism in the Hudson Valley than it is about the Hudson River Region AVA, and includes at least two wineries that do not belong in the AVA. It is also out of date.
HVWineGoddess.com A light-hearted but informative romp through the Valley. It is currently maintained with fresh material, but it isn’t clear if it updates old posts.
HVWineMag.com The Hudson Valley Wine Magazine is probably the source with the most up-to-date information about what is going on regarding wine in the Valley.
NYSAES (Cornell U.)* The academic/scientific go-to Website for all matters agricultural and horticultural, which means viticulture as well, in the State.
Also indispensable for New York State wines is the New York Cork Report by Lenn Thompson, with its many interviews, coverage of wine tastings, reviews, and more.
NewYorkWines.org New York Wine & Grape Foundation, aka Uncork New York, covers all the wine regions of the state. Though it states that there are 41 wineries in the Hudson region, but that includes 3 cideries, 2 distilleries, and 1 glögg producer, so strictly speaking there are really only 35 wineries in the region. “The New York Wine Course and Reference.pdf.” can be downloaded from here.
In exploring vinicultural practices in Long Island, I intend to particularly examine the practice of sustainable farming, which includes organic and Biodynamic® agriculture. My original, first posting on 15 June 2010, Can 100% Organic Grapes be Grown in Long Island?, provoked some interesting and even useful responses. I have since renamed it The Challenge of Growing Certified Organic Grapes in Long Island, given the developments at Shinn Estate and The Farrm that have taken place since that 2010 posting. The series now continues with this posting (now updated to April 2015 to include new developments and information, particularly with the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing [LISW] program established in 2012).
This Part II post serves as an introduction to the Part III articles devoted to the individual vineyards and wineries of Long Island.
To put things in perspective, one should bear in mind that New York State is the 3rd-largest producer of grapes by volume in the United States, after California and Washington. Admittedly, most NY vineyards grow table grapes, but as of 2014 there were, according to the NY Wine & Grape Foundation (NYWGF), 373 wineries in the State, of which of which one in six are in Long Island. Of all the wine regions of the State, Long Island is the one that is most committed to growing Vitis vinifera varieties, with very little planting of French-American hybrid vines and no Native American grapes at all.
I want to point out some factors that I believe appertain to most of the vineyards that I’ll be writing about—which is to say, all of the ones in Long Island, of which there are sixty-six bonded wineries, all but a handful of which are on the North Fork, as well as seven vineyards that sell their fruit to others. They comprise, by my own calculation, about 2,565 acres of planted vines (the NYGWF calculates 2,041 acres.)
Geology & Soils
Geologically, Long Island is extensively formed by two glacial moraine spines, with a large, sandy outwash plain extending south to the Atlantic Ocean. These moraines consist largely of gravel and loose rock that would become part of the island’s soils during the two most recent extensions of Wisconsin glaciation during the Ice Age some 21,000 years ago (19,000 BCE). The northern, or Harbor Hill, moraine, directly runs along the North Shore of Long Island at points. The more southerly moraine, called the Ronkonkoma moraine, forms the “backbone” of Long Island; it runs primarily through the very center of Long Island. The land to the south of the Ronkonkoma, running to the South Shore, is the outwash plain of the last glacier. When the glaciers melted and receded northward around 11,000 BCE, their moraines and outwash produced the differences between the North Shore and the South Shore soils and beaches.
A General Soil Map (below), devised by the USDA Soil Conservation Service and the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station in 1972, shows the different kinds of soils that dominate the East End of Suffolk County, the part of Long Island that is home to most of the vineyards there.
The soil associations (or types) for Suffolk County as listed in the General Soil Map (and relevant to viniculture) are as follows:
“Carver-Plymouth-Riverhead association [N. shore of the North Fork, extending across the Fork at Mattituck and then running East along the S. shore of Great Peconic Bay to Southold]: Deep, rolling, excessively drained and well-drained, coarse-textured and moderately coarse-textured soils on moraines
“Haven-Riverhead association [running from Brookhaven along the southern edge of 1 (above). With an interruption at Mattituck, then extending as far as Orient Point; this is the dominant soil of the North Fork]: Deep, nearly level to gently sloping, well-drained, medium-textured and moderately coarse-textured soils on outwash plains
“Plymouth-Carver association [runs across the middle of the West-East axis of the county, encompassing Riverhead just south of 2. It then extends into the Hamptons or South Fork as far as East Hampton but at no point touches the south shore.] rolling and hilly: Deep, excessively-drained, coarse-textured soils on moraines [the Ronkonkoma Moraine].
“Bridgehampton-Haven association [actually runs immediately adjacent to, and south of, 3.]: Deep, nearly level to gently sloping, well-drained to moderately well-drained, medium-textured soils on outwash plains”
“Textures refer to surface layer in major soils of each association.” [A caveat regarding the use of the map says,] “The map is . . . meant for general planning rather than a basis for decisions on the use of specific tracts.”
(There are ten soil types shown on the map, but we list only the four that form part of the terroir of the vineyards of the East End.)
With respect to the soil types in the North Fork and Hamptons AVAs, Louisa Thomas Hargrave wrote an article, “The Dirt Below Our Feet,” in the Spring 2011 issue of Edible East End, in which she made some important observations:
Every discussion of a wine region’s quality begins with the soil. Going back to ancient Roman times, around ad 50, Lucius Columella advised, in his treatise on viticulture, De Re Rustica (“On Agriculture”), “Before you plant a piece of ground with vines, you should examine what sort of flavor it has; for it will give the wine a similar taste. The flavor can be ascertained…if you soak the earth in water and taste the water when the earth has [g]one to the bottom. Sandy soil under which there is sweet moisture is the most suitable for vines…any soil which is split during the summer is useless for vines and trees.”
The “useless” soil that splits is clay, a colloidal suspension of particles similar to Jell-O. Clay retains too much moisture when it rains, making the tender roots of wine grapevines rot; it withholds nutrients from the vine when the weather is dry.
There is little clay on the East End of Long Island, except in specific and easily identified veins. We have remarkably uniform sandy soils here that vary in available topsoil (loamy organic matter), but all contain the same fundamental yet complex mixture of minerals. These soils are ranked by the U.S. Soils Conservation Service as “1-1,” the most auspicious rating for agriculture. Any single handful of Long Island soil will show the reflective glint of mica; the dull gray of granite; the mellow pink, salmon and white of quartz; the red and ochre of sandstone; and black bits of volcanic matter. To describe them simply as “sandy loam” fails to acknowledge the profound effect that having this mixture of minerals must have on the vibrancy and dynamic quality of Long Island’s wines.
It should also be pointed out that Long Island soil, regardless of its composition, tends to have a rather low pH, which is to say too acidic for Vitis vinifera vines to grow well as it weakens the vines’ ability to assimilate nutrients from the soil. The vines need the addition of lime to balance the pH and is something that nearly every vineyard must do to get itself established for vinifera. It can take years—Paumanok Vineyards was adding lime to its vineyards every year for twenty years before it was able to relax the practice. It nevertheless has to be done again every few years when the pH gets too low again, as it appears that the added lime may get leached out of the soil over time.
Overall, Long Island displays a cool maritime climate. The brutal summer heat seen in the Iberian Peninsula, which is at the same latitude, is tempered in the Hamptons AVA by the Labrador Current which moves up the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Summer temperatures are also moderated by Little Peconic Bay to its north. The North Fork enjoys the moderating influences of Long Island Sound. These same bodies of water help to temper the effects of the Canadian air masses that move in during the winter. The influence of these waters helps prevent late spring frosts which can kill young grape buds. The cumulative effect is a lengthening of the growing season to approximately 210-220 days. Wine-grape varieties can thrive here, as they can grow better and ripen further than just about anywhere in the U.S. outside of California. The North Fork is such a narrow band of farmland, situated between the bay and the sound that virtually all of the vineyards or near or on the water. According to the Appellation American Website:
Despite being next door to each other, there are notable differences between the South Fork and the warmer North Fork. The South Fork is more exposed to onshore Atlantic breezes, delaying bud-break by as much as three weeks. Even after bud-break, the area is frequently foggy, keeping early season temperatures and sunshine hours lower than on the North Fork. By the end of the growing season, the seemingly subtle weather differences between the Forks add up to quite different overall climates. The Hamptons are generally very cold to moderately cool, while the North Fork is moderately cool to relatively warm. The damper silt and loam soils of The Hamptons, along with climactic differences, create a unique style, with wines from The Hamptons generally being more restrained and less fruit-forward than wines from the North Fork.
Wineries & Vineyards
By my own count, as of March 2015, there are a total of 76 wine production entities in Long Island, of which:
21 are wineries with vineyards, though they may also buy fruit from others
3 are wineries without vineyards that buy their fruit from growers
11 are wine producers that have neither a winery nor a vineyard, but outsource their production, having their wine made to their specifications from purchased grapes
33 are vineyards without a winery, but use an outside facility to make wine to their specifications from their grapes
1 is a crush facility that makes wine from fruit, provided by others, to the providers’ specifications
7 are vineyards that sell their fruit to wine producers
In all, there are 58 tasting rooms in Long Island
Regardless of the different terroirs of either Fork, the first point that I’d like to make is that, based on my visits, so far–to Wölffer Estate and Channing Daughters in the Hamptons AVA, and to Bedell Cellars, Castello Borghese, Diliberty, Gramercy, Jamesport, Lieb, Lenz, Macari, Martha Clara, McCalls, Mudd Vineyard, The Old Field Vineyards, Osprey’s Dominion, Palmer, Paumanok, Peconic Bay, Raphael, Kontakosta Winery, Sherwood House, and Shinn Estate in the North Fork AVA–the standards of vineyard management are of a very high order. The neatness of the rows of vines, their careful pruning and training (most, if not all, are using Double Cordon trained on two wires with Vertical Shoot Positioning, or VSP, and cane pruning), the use of cover crops between rows, and much else besides, attest to the high standards and sustainable practices to which the vineyard managers aspire.
A handful of vineyards are endeavoring to farm organically and/or Biodynamically, though only a single vineyard, Shinn Estate, is actually working to obtain actual certification for both. Then there is The Farrm, in Calverton, run by fruit and vegetable grower Rex Farr, who obtained full organic certification in 1990 and planted vinifera vines in 2005–thus harvesting the first certified-organic grapes on LI in 2012. It is expected that the first wine to be made from its fruit will be produced in 2013 by a newly-established winery on the North Fork. None of this is to say that a vineyard that does not seek to grow organic or Biodynamic grapes is the lesser for it, though all should seek to farm sustainably. Excellent, even great wines have been and shall continue to be produced whether farmed organically or not. Indeed, as I pointed out at the beginning of my first post, there is no proven correlation of quality of a wine because it is made with organic or Biodynamic grapes. (A case in point is the famous and incredibly expensive wine of the Domaine de la Romanée Conti, in Burgundy. It has been long acknowledged as the source of some of the greatest red and white wines of all of France, and this was the case before it was converted to Biodynamic farming, and continues to be the case today.) Part of what makes it so difficult to quantify the quality of a wine made by either method is that fact that there is vintage variation every year, due primarily to factors of weather and climate. Thus, there is no objective way of being sure that viticultural practice was the dominant reason for the quality of a particular vintage, rather than the weather of a particular season. Nevertheless, those who practice organic/Biodynamic viniculture do aver that it is reflected in the wine and there are consumers who do think that they can detect the difference.
By now virtually all of the vineyards on the two forks are attempting some form of sustainable farming, though the kind of sustainable work can vary considerably across the gamut of over sixty vineyards. Along these lines, an important development took place when a new accreditation authority was created in May 2012: Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, Inc., with the intent of setting out the guidelines for sustainable viticultural practices for all wineries in the region. Membership is voluntary, but already, as of April 2015, there are sixteen vineyards that have joined, with thirteen already certified and three in transition. Others are giving membership serious consideration. A post devoted to the LI Sustainable Winegrowing authority was published on this blog inApril 2012 (since updated as of 21 June 2013).
Another important factor to keep in mind is the role of clone selection for the vineyards. A very useful article about the significance of clones was posted by Richard Olsen-Harbich of Bedell Cellars on March 19, 2013: Revenge of the Clones. The piece is well worth reading in its entirety, but there are two salient paragraphs that are worth quoting:
Over the past 10 years, grapevine clones have shown themselves to be of increasing importance in our vineyards. Simply put, clones are a genetic variant of a particular variety. The Chardonnay grown on Long Island decades ago is not the same vine we have today. Plantings since that time – especially in the past 10-15 years, have benefited from a wider selection of available plant material. Back in 1990, if you wanted to plant Chardonnay, you had one choice. Today there are more than 70 registered clones of this noble white grape being grown throughout the world and they all have their particular nuances and characteristics. Many of these clones are already in existence in Long Island vineyards – from the tropical and aromatic Musqué to the classic and alluring Dijon clones from Burgundy. Although these are all Chardonnays, each exhibits their own distinctive character.
This fact is also true of grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Franc, where profound differences in wine quality can be seen between clones grown in the same vineyard, on the same soils. Over 50 clones of Merlot have been identified in Bordeaux. Pomerol alone has over 35 clones of Cabernet Franc. Newer French clones, long kept overseas as tightly held trade secrets, are finding their way into the United States. In most cases these new clones are better suited to our maritime climate. Often these clones will ripen earlier than the older selections we used to have. Some are more resistant to disease. The ultimate result is higher quality wines. I’ve seen clones so different from each other that you would think the wines were made from another variety entirely.
In other words, when the first vinifera vines were planted in the 70s and 80s most of the clones came from California. Many of these clones had been developed at the University of California at Davis (UCD) but of course were created with California vineyards in mind. This meant that the clones were less suitable for the very different, maritime climate of Long Island. For example, the Sauvignon Blanc clone 1 (the ‘Wente clone’) was very vigorous and produced large clusters but it was also very susceptible to rot in LI. Only in the 90s were new clones planted to replace clone 1, and all of these came not from California but France (primarily from Bordeaux, in the case of the Sauvignon Blanc.) This process was true for several other varieties. In other words, the new clones are part of what makes Long Island the most ‘European’ of the wine-growing regions of the United States.
As a matter of fact, the Long Island Wine Region, which includes both the North Fork and the Hamptons AVAs, in 2010 became signatory to the Declaration to Protect Wine Place and Origin that was first enacted in 2005 in Napa (it is also known as the Napa Declaration on Place). The original signers included not only the Napa AVA but also Washington and Oregon State AVAs, and Champagne, Jerez/Sherry, and Oporto/Port in the EU, among others. (The point of this, of course, is to control the use of place names and prevent the misuse of the name ‘Champagne’ for example, on any sparkling wine that is not from there. Chablis, Port, and Burgundy were also place names that were widely abused around the world.)
There is no intention whatsoever in my series to judge a vineyard because it does or does not grow or intend to grow organically or Biodynamically. (Indeed, wineries that are technically organic can still choose not to be certified. Among the many reasons for this, for example, are that a winery may not want the added costs and the bureaucracy entailed in registering, or a winery may disagree with the government standards. Whatever the case, such wineries are not allowed to use the term organic on their labels.)
In any event, the point of this series is to understand the reasons for choosing a particular approach to grape production over another. We want to understand why Long Island vineyards do what they do before we go on to explore their methods of vinification, for between what is done in the vineyard and what happens in the winery is what determines the quality of the wine that is produced. The wines from Long Island have long been improving since those first, tentative years going back to 1973 (when the Hargraves planted the first vinifera vines in LI) and in recent years are receiving their due recognition in the form of positive reviews, awards, and high scores for individual bottlings.
Important Terms Defined
AVA or American Viticultural Area: An area defined by a unique geology and climate that is distinctive from other vine-growing areas and hence that produces wines of a distinctive overall character. There are none of the restrictions as to varieties planted, vine density, allowable harvest per acre, or any of the other limitations that exist in European appellations, such as the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). Long Island has three AVAs, all applied for to the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) which administers the program, in the mid-1980s: The Hamptons (South Fork), the North Fork AVA, and the Long Island AVA.
Biodynamic®, or Demeter USA, certification; also, Demeter USA, FAQ, Biodynamic wine (PDF file). Also, see an excellent discussion in a 5-part series beginning with New York Cork Report, Biodynamics, Part I, by Tom Mansell, along with the ensuing debate in the comments that follow each of the postings. There is also a controversial series against Biodynamics by Stuart Smith, a winemaker in California, called Biodynamics is a Hoax, a polemic that is worth reading, along with the comments in response.
Compost Tea: A type of natural compost mixed with water for distribution in liquid form (it may be seen as agricultural homeopathy); see National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Compost Tea Notes
Cover crops: Vegetation that is either deliberately planted between vineyard rows (e.g., clover, to replenish nitrogen in the soil) or weeds that are naturally allowed to grow between and into rows (the Biodynamic approach); see UC Davis, Cover Crop Selection and Management for Vineyards
Integrated Pest Management (IPM): A major component of sustainable agriculture, it is labor-intensive but effectively reduces the need for certain kinds of pesticides; pheronome ties are a typical method of disrupting the reproduction cycle of some insect; see EPA, Factsheet on IPM
Macroclimate: The climate of a large area or region, such as that of all of Long Island, or perhaps just the East End of LI.
Mesoclimate: The distinct climate of a smaller area, such as that of a single vineyard or a parcel thereof.
Microclimate: The climate of a very small area; it could be as small as a single vine or a distinctive climate of a tiny part of a vineyard, such as a depression in a row of vines. (NOTE: These terms are often used interchangeably, but most often microclimate may be used to refer to the mesoclimate of a vineyard.)
Organic Certification: USDA, National Organic Program, Organic Certification
Serenade: A biologically-based pesticide; see PAN Pesticide Database, Products–Serenade
Stylet oil: defined in the industry as a Technical Grade White Mineral Oil, it is used as a biodegradable fungicide and insecticide in integrated pest management programs. It also serves as as a substitute for sulfur, reducing or eliminating the need for that application, according to Steve Mudd, a LI vineyard owner and consultant.
Sustainable agriculture: according to Mary V. Gold, on the USDA Website, “Some terms defy definition. ‘Sustainable agriculture’ has become one of them. In such a quickly changing world, can anything be sustainable? What do we want to sustain? How can we implement such a nebulous goal? . . . If nothing else, the term ‘sustainable agriculture’ has provided talking points, a sense of direction, and an urgency, that has sparked much excitement and innovative thinking in the agricultural world.” Follow this interesting, full explanation of the term at USDA, Sustainable Agriculture definition. Another excellent source for information about sustainable agriculture is to be found on the NY State VineBalance Program website, which is dedicated to sustainable practices in NY State vineyards, and as mentioned above, the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing certification program, with sixteen vineyards already committed to its regulations and guidelines.
Variety vs. Varietal: not to be pedantic (though I can be), Variety is the term applied to a particular kind of vine and its grape; e.g., Cabernet Franc or Riesling; Varietal is the wine made from a variety or a blend of different varieties. The terms are often used interchangeably but shouldn’t be.
Vertical Shoot Positioning: is a training system used with single or double Guyot, cane-pruned training, or with a Cordon, spur-pruned system. VSP is very common in cool and/or humid climate regions with low to moderate vigorous growth, as it encourages better air flow through the vine. This is accomplished by making all the shoots grow vertically, with no vegetative vine growth allowed below the cordon/cane. The increase in air flow helps prevent problems associated with disease and also allows the fruit to dry out more quickly after it rains.
Both cluster thinning and harvesting are generally made easier using VSP, given that there is better access to the fruit. The objective is to train the shoots so as to create a narrow layer that provides good sunlight exposure and air flow in the fruiting zone of the canopy. Each shoot is thus trained to grow vertically by attaching it to movable catch wires. The shoot’s length can easily be controlled by pruning any growth above the top catch wire. The fruiting zone is generally kept at waist height, which makes it more convenient for the vineyard workers, given that the vineyard rows are worked throughout the season.)
For a full explanation of VSP, see Cornell Univ. Agriculture Extension, Training, and Trellising Vinifera Vines.
Viticulture vs. Viniculture: again my pedantic side will out–Viticulture is the general term for the growing of any kind of grape vine, whether intended for the table or for wine; Viniculture refers to the raising of wine grapes in particular.
The vineyards that I intend to write about are listed below in alphabetical order (those wineries that have no vineyard but purchase their grapes from others will not be part of the vinicultural survey– these are shown in gray; the ones that have already had articles posted on this blog are shown in purple; those that have been ‘indirectly interviewed’ are shown inlight purple. If the vineyard has been certified by the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing Group (LISW), that is indicated:
Ackerly Ponds, North Fork AVA (85 acres) is now part of Sannino’s Bella Vita Vineyards (which see)
Anthony Nappa (no vineyard) posted 6/14
Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, North Fork AVA (11 acres)
Bedell Cellars, North Fork AVA (78 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Rich Olsen-Harbich interviewed on May 12, 2011; posted June 2, 2011
Bouké Wines (no vineyard)
Castello di Borghese Vineyard & Winery [formerly Hargrave Vineyard], North Fork AVA (85 acres); Giovanni & Allegra Borghese interviewed on Nov. 18, 2014 and Mar. 27, 2015, to be posted
Channing Daughters Winery, Hamptons AVA (25 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Larry Perrine interviewed on April 30 & May 21, 2012; posted January 22, 2013
Clovis Point, North Fork AVA (20 acres); see Bill Ackerman interview
Coffee Pot Cellars (no vineyard)
Corey Creek Vineyards, North Fork AVA (30 acres, LISW sustainable-certified), owned by Bedell Cellars; posted June 2, 2011
Corwith Vineyards, Hamptons AVA (3 acres; LISW sustainable-certified); Dave Corwith interviewed May 20, 2014 and Nov. 16, 2015; posted Oct. 15, 2014, updated Nov. 19, 2015.
Croteaux Vineyards, North Fork AVA (10.5 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
Deseo de Michael, North Fork AVA (.3 acres)
Diliberto Winery, North Fork AVA (4 acres); Sal Diliberto interviewed Mar. 28, 2015, to be posted
Duck Walk Vineyards, Hamptons AVA, and Duck Walk Vineyards North, North Fork AVA (130 acres; LISW candidate); Ed Lovaas, winemaker, on Nov. 16, 2015. to be posted.
Gramercy Vineyards, North Fork AVA (3.5 acres); Carol Sullivan, owner, interviewed October 2, 2012; posted; as of June 2015 the vineyard is leased out; no longer making wine
The Grapes of Roth (no vineyard)
Harbes Family Farm & Vineyard, North Fork AVA (5 acres, LISW sustainable-certified)
Harmony Vineyards, LI AVA (7 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
Influence Wines (no vineyard); Erik Bilka interviewed 6/15; to be posted
Jamesport Vineyards, North Fork AVA (60 acres); Ron Goerler, Jr. interviewed on April 14, 2014; posted Sept. 9, 2014.
Jason’s Vineyard, North Fork AVA (20 acres)
Kings Mile, North Fork AVA (leased vineyard); Rob Hansult interviewed on Sept. 26, 2013; posted same day
Kontokosta Winery (23 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition); Michael K. interviewed Nov. 18, 2014, Gilles Martin interviewed Mar. 28, 2015; to be posted
Laurel Lake Vineyards, North Fork AVA (21 acres); Juan Sepúlveda interviewed Sep. 26, 2015
Lenz Winery, North Fork AVA (65 acres); Sam McCullough interviewed April 20 & 27, 2011; posted May 16, 2011; Eric Fry interviewed Mar. 27, 2015, to be added to original Lenz post
Leo Family Wines; John Leo interviewed for PWG on October 3, 2012; posted February 11, 2013
Lieb Family Cellars, North Fork AVA (50 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition); Logan Kingston, Sarah Kane, & Jildo Vázquez interviewed June 6, 2013; posted October 4, 2013
Loughlin Vineyards, Long Island AVA (6 acres)
Macari Vineyards & Winery, North Fork AVA (200 acres); Joe Macari, Jr. interviewed July 9, 2009 & June 17 2010; posted June 30, 2010
Martha Clara Vineyards, North Fork AVA (101 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Jim Thompson & Juan Micieli-Diaz interviewed Feb. 3 & March 27, 2012; posted May 3, 2012
Mattebella Vineyards, North Fork AVA (22 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition)
McCall Vineyards, North Fork AVA (22 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
Mudd Vineyards, North Fork AVA (50 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Steve Mudd interviewed; posted September 18, 2012
The Old Field Vineyards, North Fork AVA (12 acres); Ros & Christian Baiz & Perry Weiss interviewed on May 12, 2011; posted on June 7, 2011
Onabay Vineyard, North Fork AVA (180 acres total, not all with vines): see Bill Ackerman interview
One Woman Vineyards, North Fork AVA (12 acres, LISW sustainable-certified)
Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards, North Fork AVA (90 acres); Adam Suprenant interviewed April 23 & May 8, 2012; posted February 3, 2013
Palmer Vineyards, North Fork AVA (100 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Miguel Martín interviewed October 12 & 22, 2010; posted November 13, 2010
Paumanok Vineyards, North Fork AVA (72 acres planted, LISW sustanble-certified); Kareem Massoud interviewed May 3, 2011; posted May 23, 2011
Peconic Bay Winery, North Fork AVA (58 acres); Jim Silver & Charles Hargrave interviewed; posted May 9, 2011; winery is now closed but see interviews with Steve Mudd & Bill Ackerman, since Peconic Bay’s vineyards have been turned over to Lieb Cellars as of January 2013
Pellegrini Vineyards, North Fork AVA (72 acres); see Steve Mudd interview
Pindar Vineyards, North Fork AVA (500 acres; LISW candidate); Pindar Damianos interviewed Sept. 26, Ed Lovaas on Nov. 16, 2015. to be posted.
Pugliese Vineyards, North Fork AVA (45 acres); Pat Pugliese interviewed Jan. 19, 2015
Raphael, North Fork AVA (55 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Leslie Howard & Steve Mudd interviewed May 21 & June 13; posted September 17, 2012; Anthony Nappa interviewed
Roanoke Vineyards, North Fork AVA (10 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); interviewed Richard Pisacano, owner; posted July 10, 2013
Sannino’s Bella Vita Vineyard (5.25 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); interviewed Jan. 30, 2015; to be posted
Sherwood House Vineyards, North Fork AVA (36 acres); interviewed Bill Ackerman on September 26, 2012; posted
Shinn Estate Vineyard, North Fork AVA (20 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); Barbara Shinn & David Paige interviewed June 18, 2010; posted July 12, 2010
Southold Farm+Cellar, North Fork AVA (9 acres; as of Sept. 2014 just entering production); Regan Meador interviewed Jan. 30 & Nov. 16, 2015; to be posted
Suhru Wines (no vineyard); Russell Hearn, owner, interviewed for PWG on October 3, 2012
Surrey Lane Vineyards, North Fork AVA (25 acres, LISW sustainable-in transition); see Steve Mudd interview
T’Jara Vineyard, North Fork AVA (14 acres); Russell Hearn , owner, interviewed for PWG
Vineyard 48, North Fork AVA (28 acres planted)
Waters Crest Winery (no vineyard); interviewed Nov. 17, 2014, to be posted
Whisper Vineyards, Long Island AVA (17 acres); interviewed Steve Gallagher on Mar. 27, 2015, to be posted.
Wölffer Estate, Hamptons AVA (174 acres, LISW sustainable-certified); interviewed Roman Roth & Rich Pisacano on April 30, 2012 & June 20, 2013, updated and posted on July 10, 2013
Three very useful links that serve as portals to most of these vineyards are 1) Long Island Wine Country which lists only those wineries and vineyards that are members of the LI Wine Council; 2) Uncork New York! (aka the New York Wine and Grape Foundation) which provides links to all wineries and wine vineyards in New York State. Also indispensable for New York State wines is the New York Cork Report by Lenn Thompson, with its many interviews, coverage of wine tastings, reviews, and more.
A framable 24 by 36-inch map of the wineries and vineyards of the East End of Long Island, by Steve De Long, can be purchased on Amazon:
Based on an interview with Perry Weiss, and Rosamond and Christian Baiz, 12 May 2011
Upon arriving at the vineyard, which is just off the main road going through Southold, the old barns and house give little clue as to where to go, and there may be no one there to greet you. Still, you approach the likeliest suspect, a low, long barn which, it turns out, has a sign reading “Tasting Room” near a kind of logo confected out of a ring of old wine corks encircling a painted tin rooster that hangs on the barn siding. Still no one there and the tasting room was closed, because everyone is out in the fields pruning, removing vine suckers, or spraying the vines. This is a very small family operation, and the day I arrive, by appointment for the interview, there is too much to be done to have someone greet me upon arrival. It is, after all, mid-May, early for visitors but timely for the vineyard.
I phone Perry Weiss, the winemaker, on her cell and she arrives shortly from the vineyard. She is direct, engaging, and very polite, the while giving me all the time I need to conduct my interview with her. When done, she takes me into the fields to meet her mother, Rosamond Phelps Baiz, the vineyard manager, who is removing any suckers growing from the base of the vines with a gloved hand, nearly caressing each vine as she rubs the base in a careful but swift motion. Then we go to the house, where I meet her father, Christian Baiz, the vineyard factotum, who is briefly on a break from spraying the vines to refill the machine. In fact, Perry has taken over the duties of winemaker from Ros, who replaced Perry in the vineyard. The truth of the matter in an operation so small is that everyone has to pitch in everywhere, so all three of them are jacks-of-all-trades.
This is wine-growing and wine-making writ small—a true family operation that is not sustained by deep pockets but rather by passion, enthusiasm, and caring about what they do. It came into existence as a vineyard because the property has been in family hands since 1919. The first vineyard was established in 1974 by Chris using cuttings of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir that they bought from Alex and Louisa Hargrave, who had themselves just started up their own vineyard the year before—the very first one on Long Island. More Pinot Noir vines were added in 1985, and then Merlot and Cabernet Franc in 1997, just after Chris and Ros purchased the property from his family. They had to pull up the Chardonnay when it became clear that it wasn’t doing well at the site. In all they’ve now planted a total of twelve-and-a-half acres to vines, which produce about a thousand cases of wine every year. At the time they acquired The Old Field, they were living in Bronxville, just north of New York City, and decided to make a go of running a vineyard and so moved permanently to Southold and the farm.
Like the Hargraves when they started, the Baiz family had little notion of how to run a vineyard and make wine, but they were determined not only to succeed in the vineyard but to make quality wine as well. Also like their predecessors, they didn’t start with a large amount of capital. Unlike them, however, they had the experience and knowledge of the Hargraves themselves to draw upon, as well as of other wineries and vineyards that had gone into business before they did, such as Bedell Cellars, Lenz Winery, Peconic Bay, and others. Still, Ros had never driven a tractor, for example, and much had to be learned from scratch.
Now, they work as a team, though the one hired hand they’d once relied on was no longer available, as he was denied a visa to return to the US to work in the vineyard, though son Ryan does join in the work when he visits. Working over twelve acres means nearly 12,000 vines that need to be tended, which is a great deal of work to be done manually. There are six contiguous plots, including Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir. Recently they also planted 250 vines of Sauvignon Blanc by the Bay to see how that will do. For now, lacking significant wine-making capabilities, they make wine from their own grapes at the winery at Lenz Vineyards, where Perry works with master winemaker Eric Fry to create varietals with their own distinctive signature of the Old Field.
Unlike most other vineyards on the Island, The Old Field has had no need to adjust the acidity of the soil, for the site was—before English settlers purchased the land over 370 years ago—occupied for perhaps 500 years by a large Corchaug Indian village of about 170 huts. The inhabitants evidently fished and harvested tons of shellfish every year (the field is right on Southold Bay). The shells were cast in the field and over the years became part of the soil, making it rich in calcium and keeping the pH high at 6.8-7.1. The vineyard also enjoys a high water table, so there is little need to irrigate, except for very new plantings. This alone makes for a unique terroir.
In this bucolic setting there is a pond which is a source for frogs and insects, including dragonflies that are natural insect predators. The space between the rows has cover crops of grasses and legumes, including clover and fescue, which also encourage a diversity of insects. They have a wild-flower patch as well, which also promotes the presence of ‘good’ insects in the vineyard. And then there are the red-tailed hawks, the great horned owls, and always the chickens. Here, IPM seems to take care of itself.
Indeed, the commitment to sustainable viticulture also includes “hand-harvesting, hand leaf-pulling, hand pruning” and so on, “which keeps the tractor out of the field, lessening soil compaction and diesel usage.” They also flail-chop vine prunings, thus adding mulch back to the soil. They use a tractor only to handle needs that cannot (or ought not) to be done manually. For instance, they employ organically-approved sprays where possible, delivered by a trailer-sprayer designed to focus on specific parts of the vine, as they cannot afford the far more expensive and effective tunnel-recycling sprayers used by more affluent vineyards. (Therefore, as drift is inevitably a factor under windy conditions, they also try to confine spraying to windless days.)
Old Field Vineyard is an enthusiastic participant in the Cornell University VineBalance Program, and do not mind that they are regularly checked on to ensure that they are in compliance, which is what is required of those vineyards that participate in the program. They do not, however, at least at this time, think of converting the property to organic farming, though they will use organic viticulture where it is practicable for them.
One of the reasons that the Baiz family purchased the property in 1996 was to keep it from being developed. The one thing that they will not do is sell the development rights to the fields as some other vineyards have done. There is a problem with that, after all, insofar as land values have risen exponentially to the point that an acre of land can cost over $100,000 while the rights can fetch a few tens of thousands at best—in other words, they cannot afford to, though in principle they are in favor of a Land Trust.
Thus, this fifth-generation family on the Old Field is working to sustain the what is the second Long Island vineyard and its land for more generations to come, practicing sustainability, hand-harvesting their fruit, and producing wines red and white wines, including an unusual white that is made from Pinot Noir, two Chardonnays, a Cabernet Franc, and two Merlots, not to speak of a Blanc de Noir sparkler that had earned 90 points from the Wine Spectator. It begins in the vineyard, along with a great deal of sweat.
For those who wish to see just what’s involved in farming sustainably, The Old Field Vineyards offers a Sustainable Agriculture Tour on Saturdays at 11:30am, as well as a Sustainable Agriculture Tour with Tasting and lunch on selected Saturdays.
Christian F. Baiz and Rosamond Phelps Baiz, Proprietors Eric Fry, Master Winemaker Christian F. Baiz, Tractor/Lawnmower operator Rosamond Phelps Baiz, Assistant Vineyard Manager, Winemaker, Assistant Tasting Room Manager Perry Weiss, Vineyard Manager/Tasting Room Manager/ Assistant Winemaker Ryan Weiss, Grounds and Structures