The Wines of Long Island was originally published in 1987 and a second, revised edition was issued in 2000. 19 years later, it remained the best and most complete single volume on the history, geography, viniculture, winemaking, and the wineries of Long Island. It was carefully researched and very well-written. It was also seriously out of date.
In the 19 intervening years a very great deal of change has taken place in the wine industry of the region. In 2000 there were 25 wineries and vineyards, about half of which are no longer in business; in 2019 there are 62, including several wine brands that have no winery or vineyard as such and use a crush facility. A handful of the wineries are not even in the East End, but elsewhere in Suffolk County, with two in Brooklyn.
19 years ago the issue of sustainability was scarcely on the radar. Today, sustainable winegrowing is a major issue worldwide, and a new entity, the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers association, is providing independent certification for members.
The new edition of The Wines of Long Island provides all this new information as well as updates to the history of the region in a new edition. Every wine producer on Long Island is described in the book, some extensively, often with anecdotes. This edition is intended as the principal reference and guide for the wines of Long Island. It has 274 pages, a foreword by Louisa Hargrave, and an expanded section on terroir, varieties, and vintages. Most of the more than 130 illustrations are in color and were taken by the author.
Mark Squires of The Wine Advocate says, “This book’s greatest virtue is its ability to appeal to both geeks and average consumers. It tells you where we are and how we got there.”
Kevin Zraly, wine instructor and author of the popular Windows on the World Wine Course, writes that the book is “a must-read for anyone visiting the wineries of Long Island.”
Carlo DeVito, author, East Coast Wineries , writes: “Though I taste in the region annually, Mr. Moreno-Lacalle’s book is the best tour of Long Island wine I’ve had in years. Thorough, complete, and definitive. The author has done a superlative job.” He also wrote a review of the book on his own blog Website, East Coast Wineries.
Louisa Hargrave, a founder of the Long Island wine trade, wrote in the foreword of the book: “Palmedo and Beltrami revised their own book in 2000. Now, the time is ripe again for revision. How appropriate it is that they handed their project over to José Moreno Lacalle, a man who, like themselves, views the wine business with the perspective of his own successful career outside the industry. With worldliness and sophistication, he brings his profound interest in the topic—twinkle in the eye, and glass in hand.”
My favorite review by a non-wine person is the editor of the Gardiner Gazette (Winter 2020), which starts: “The mark of good writing, I believe, is writing that makes us interested in something we’re not interested in.” She went on to say that she expected to “skim a few pages and write something brief. . . I’m interested in wine only to the extent necessary to get a glass in my hand on a Friday night. . . By page five I realized that I was actually reading. By page 19, I was getting impatient to start skimming. By page 30 I surrendered and settled in for a long read.” The review then goes on for several paragraphs, but you get the picture! (Disclosure: I write for the Gazette, but the editor does no favors.)
The book has been published under my own imprint, Rivers Run By Press, since late August 2019, and is already in four bookstores on Long Island: Southampton Books in Sag Harbor, Canios Books, also in Sag Harbor, Burton’s Books in Greenport, and Book Hampton, in East Hampton. Kitchen Arts & Letters in Manhattan is also selling the book. As of October, eleven wineries also carry the book: Baiting Hollow Vineyards, Bedell Cellars, Castello di Borghese, Channing Daughters, Laurel Lake Vineyards, Osprey’s Dominion, Raphael, Roanoke Vineyards, Sannino Vineyards, Sparkling Pointe, and Wölffer’s. It is also available at the wine shop, Wines By Nature, in Wading River. Copies can also be ordered directly from me on this Website (see the top of the page), and soon from Amazon.
In the meantime, I’m hoping that Wine Spectator will review the book, but it will be a few months before that happens.
NOTE: For errata and updates to the book, see the post below.
I have been writing about winemaking and viniculture in Long Island for my blog, Wine, Seriously, since 2010, when I earned the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Diploma in Wine (a professional certification). I also have an MA in Art History as well, which gave me the foundation to use a scholar’s approach to writing the new book.
Following is a highly selective list of books that I’ve read or consulted that I consider particularly worthwhile. If I haven’t read or consulted a book, I do not recommend it. Alas, there are more that I’ve not read than have—I’ve only 140 books on wine in my library, and some are still waiting to be read, though nearly all have served as references.
Grapes, Wine, Wineries, and Vineyards
There are seven general wine books that one should own in order to be truly well- and completely informed:
1. Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th ed. (2015) is just indispensable, with a comprehensive coverage of just about every topic bearing on wine that one can think of, a true Abbocatto to Zymase encyclopedia. All articles are signed, all cited references noted. Robinson was both the editor and a contributor. The 4th edition adds 300 additional, new terms, though many will only be of interest to wine professionals. For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.
2. Equally indispensable is Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson’s The World Atlas of Wine, 8th ed. (2019). How else could one find the way around the vinicultural regions of the world, including NY State? The maps are in full color, ranging in scale from street-level for the Champagne towns and the lodges in Oporto, to 1:45,000 and larger for wine regions. The text for the many regions is the very model of pithy, clear writing. For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.
3. In 2013, two new, serious reference books on wine—sure to become indispensable and classic are: Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy’s American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States (a very useful feature is its summary of each AVA, including the best grapes grown, and listing the top wineries by category); the other must-have is Jancis’s encyclopedic Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours, written in collaboration with Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz. See my post, The Three Indispensable Wine Books, for a complete review of Wine Grapes.
4. Emile Peynaud’s vital and perennial The Taste of Wine: The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation (trans. Michael Schuster, 1987). Originally written in French as La Goût du Vin in 1983), it is considered definitive by many in the field.
But then, there is always Jancis Robinson’s How to Taste (2000), which is both a how-to for tasting and a guide to the aromatic and gustatory sensations of the different varieties and how they can differ from place to place (i.e., from terroir to terroir). Robinson’s is certainly the more approachable for most readers.
5. WSET students and graduates, anyone interested in wine certification, and indeed, even winemakers can benefit from David Bird’s Understanding Wine Technology: The Science of Wine Explained, 3rd ed., which has been required reading for all WSET students, is a very clear and lucid explanation—in laymen’s terms—of what goes on right down to the molecular level of yeasts, viruses, and chemistry generally. It’s also a very good read.
6. I very much enjoyed and admired Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop’s Authentic Wine: toward natural and sustainable winemaking (2011), which has many really interesting insights into what really goes on in a vineyard, a winery, and what it takes to be a sustainable winegrower and producer. Much food for thought, though some may cavil about a few of the authors’ conclusions.
7. If one wanted to carry as much information about wine in a portable package, there’s one that I cannot live without: Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2020. It is pithy, witty, thicker than ever, and claims to be the Number One Bestselling Wine Guide, which it deserves to be. I’ve bought every edition since the very first one, published in 1977 (it was rather slim then). Also available as a Kindle Book from Amazon.
8. A book not to be overlooked is Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course,Revised, Updated & Expanded Edition (2018). Zraly is a truly gifted instructor and virtually anyone can benefit from his guidance. His approach is original and his book is the most popular wine book of its kind, with over three million copies sold worldwide.
New York and East Coast Wine
Long Island Wine Country: Award-Winning Vineyards of the North Fork and the Hamptons, is an useful guide to visiting Long Island vineyards and wineries. Written by Jane Taylor Starwood, editor-in-chief of Long Island Wine Press, she gives us an insider’s track on the owners, the winemakers, and the wineries themselves. In a conversational tone (and amply illustrated), the book leads the reader from East to West on the North Fork, and then down to the Hamptons, as though it would be followed geographically. It’s a bit frustrating an approach if one wants to do research and would prefer an alphabetical organization, but it’s a quibble given the overall quality and usefulness of the book, although it’s now rather out-of-date, given that it was published in 2009.
Louisa Thomas Hargrave wrote a gracious memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery. One cannot begin to understand what was involved in creating the Long Island wine industry without reading this charming and touching account of the establishment of Long Island’s first winery, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973, when there were only small farms and potato fields. It is charming in its modesty, touching in its honesty, and a remarkable tale of what it takes to start a vineyard from scratch when you don’t even know what you’re doing! And look at what it started–a whole industry that is one of the dominant features of the East End of Long Island, begun with passion, commitment, and hard work, but ultimately at the cost of heartbreak and renewal. Now out of print, it may be available, used, on Amazon or AbeBooks.
In Marguerite Thomas’s Touring East Coast Wine Country: A Guide to the Finest Wineries (1996) we have the first important guide to the wines and wineries of the East Coast, from Maine to Virginia, replete with useful insights and a good background on the history of the viniculture of each state. It also provides biography capsules of some of the most important or interesting winemakers. Given that the book was first published in 1996, a good deal of its information is now more of historical interest, and it needs, and deserves, a new edition.
More recent is Carlo DeVito’s East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia, published in 2004. Still, even this needs to be brought up-to-date, but its value lies in its own take on East Coast wineries, with listings of the wines offered by each estate with brief descriptions, recommendations and excerpted tasting reviews of the wines. Let’s hope that, like Thomas’s guide, DeVito’s will also receive a new, updated edition soon. For the serious wine tourist, one guide complements the other, so why not buy both?
An interesting and somewhat chatty book is The Story of North Fork Wine: Historical Profiles and Wine Country Recipes (2009), John Ross’s up-close-and-personal look at the people who work in and run the wineries. A chef who owned Ross’s North Fork Restaurant, he became close to many in the wine trade, especially given that he was interested in devising recipes and menus that would best accompany the wines of the region.
Vital–thanks to its clear, lucid writing and very useful history of LI viticulture and winemaking–is the excellent Wines of Long Island, 3rd edition (2019) by José Moreno-Lacalle, based on the 2nd edition by Edward Beltrami & Philip E. Palmedo. It includes profiles of the most important personalities in the LI wine world as well as all the producers, with descriptions and reviews of wineries and their wines–both past and present–and a generally judicious insight into the trends and achievements of the region. Definitely worthwhile owning, if you love LI wines. (Is this called self-promotion?)
Organic and Biodynamic Viniculture
Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course: The Birth of the Biodynamic Method, is the foundation text of the biodynamic movement. A compilation of eight lectures delivered in Germany in 1924 provides, in Steiner’s own words, the basis for what he called a new science based on the natural rhythms of the world and the cosmos, as recovered from the traditional practices of the peasant farmers of yore. It is meant as a healthy antidote to the rise of farming methods based on industrial chemicals and fertilizers. Many leading vineyards are farmed by this method, from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy to Shinn Estate in Long Island. You owe it to yourself to read the lectures if you wish to really understand what Biodynamics is about.
Nicolas Joly is a leading proponent of Biodynamic viticulture, and he practices his preaching at one of the greatest vineyards of the Loire, the Coulée de Serrant. Joly’s Wine from Sky to Earth: Growing and Appreciating Biodynamic Wine, is a true believer’s panegyric to Biodynamics. His ideas and those of the founder of Biodynamics®, Rudolf Steiner, are put into practice at two vineyards that I know of: Macari Vineyards and Shinn Estate.
Lon Rombough’s The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture, is an excellent introduction to how to grow grapes organically. It’s also very practical, as the guide is really intended for the novice who wants to start a backyard vineyard or even a commercial one. It takes the reader step-by-step on establishing an organic vineyard, imparting along the way a good deal of knowledge and savvy advice.
Other Wine Books of More than Passing Interest (or Not)
Tyler Colman, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink (UCal Press, 2008). I highly recommend this book for its clarity and scholarship. The subject of politics in the wine world proves to be fascinating, and the author chose to approach it by comparing, for example, the AOC laws of France (and by extension, much of the EU) with the AVA regulations promulgated by the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). There are surprising insights into how and why wine is grown and made in different countries, why labels look the way they do on each side of the Atlantic, and the effects of custom, religion, crime, regionalism, nationalism, and so forth on the wine trade. Eminently worthwhile for the serious wine-lover.
John Hailman, Thomas Jefferson on Wine (UMiss Press, 2006). Another book that is based on sound scholarship and research, also well-written, but one may wish to skip all the tables and lists, which are difficult to grasp at times simply because the wines of Jefferson’s period (1743-1826) varied so much in name, currency, weights and volumes, that clear comparisons with our own period are so difficult to make. Still, if one has the patience, there is reward in seeing how all-encompassing were the interests and tastes of the first great oenophile of the United States of America.
Thomas Pellechia, Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade (Thunder’s Mouth Press, NY, 2006) A work with great potential written by someone who has long been in the wine trade but whose sense of history is lacking in scholarship and critical acuity. Some of what he writes is couched in such vague or confused historical terms as to be virtually useless, especially when dealing with antiquity and the Middle Ages. The writing style is breezy and casual, but it lacks polish and lucidity. Such a shame.
A far better foray into wine history would be the classic Gods, Men, and Wine, (1966) by William Younger, or the more recent Story of Wine (1989)—or the New Illustrated Edition (2004)—by Hugh Johnson, both of which are better-written and historically more reliable. Neither of the latter books is available in Kindle versions, but they do enjoy the virtue of been on real, durable paper bound in hardcover.
A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage (2005), is more than just about wine. It tells its story by means of six beverages: beer (Mesopotamia & Egypt), wine (Ancient Greece & Rome), spirits (Colonial America), Coffee (Europe in the Age of Enlightenment), Tea (the British Empire), and Coca-Cola (Modern America and the Age of Globalization). It’s both amusing and informative, but I’d put the emphasis on the amusement. Unless you’ve utterly uninformed about wine or the other beverages, this is really History 001, rather lightweight.
Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine, edited by Barry C. Smith (2007), with essays by experts such as Paul Draper, Jamie Goode, Andrew Jefford, and others, with an enthusiastic Foreword by Jancis Robinson. The contributors also include a couple of philosophers and a linguist. The language of wine as presented in this book is clearly academic. A worthwhile but challenging book, well worth the time to read.
Wine Wars, by Mike Veseth (2011), which, with chapter headings like “The Curse of the Blue Nun,” “The Miracle of Two-Buck Chuck,” and “The Revenge of the Terroirists,” is an interesting and amusing way of treating the effects of globalization on the modern world of wine. It is also rather informative, and occasionally provides some surprising nuggets of information (such as the fact that Trader Joe’s is actually a German company).
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:
Louisa Thomas Hargrave is the doyenne of the Long Island wine business, having established the very first wine vineyard, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973 with her (then) husband, Alex Hargrave. They were true pioneers, determined to plant vinifera grapes where they had never successfully grown before, even in the face of well-meant advice against taking on such a risky venture. Neither of them had ever farmed until they planted the vineyard.
At the time she was a recent college graduate, having gone to Harvard, earning her BA in Government at Smith, and thence to Simmons College to earn a MAT (Masters of Arts in Teaching). But she and Alex had caught the wine bug, and became seriously interested in starting a vineyard and winery of their own, with the idea of producing quality wine from V. vinifera grapes in the styles of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Consequently, Louisa next went to the University of Rochester to study Calculus and Chemistry, and further studied the latter at Stony Brook University with the idea that she could apply what she had learned to the making of wine.
Louisa & Alex Hargrave, 1975
After planting vines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc in the original 17-acre field of the old potato farm that had become Hargrave Vineyard, Louisa went to the Cornell Cooperative Extension program to earn a Certificate in Land Use Planning in 1974, an ongoing interest of hers as Suffolk County and New York State developed new laws and regulations that had an impact on her ability to farm. By 1998 Louisa had been awarded a Doctor of Science, honoris causa, from Dowling College, in recognition of her contributions to viticulture in Long Island.
Between the very solid academic credentials that Louisa has earned over the years and the deep and long experience of establishing and maintaining a vineyard for twenty-six years, as well as making wine and running a successful winery, Louisa has perhaps the most sound credentials of anyone in the Long Island wine world. Furthermore, after selling Hargrave Vineyard in 1999, when she and her husband agreed to separate, she went on to establish Winewise LLC, a consulting firm for the wine industry. She was director of the Stony Brook University Center for Wine, Food, and Culture from 2004 to 2009, and is continuing to work as a writer on the subject of wine, viticulture, and winemaking for various publications, including her own blog, www.vinglorious.com.
Louisa has also written a well-received memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery (Viking/Penguin, 2003), about the joys and challenges of running a family winery and vineyard. Earlier, in 1986, she had contributed an essay, “The History of Wine Grapes on Long Island,” to the Long Island Historical Journal. Most recently she wrote about the terroir of Long Island in an article for Edible East End, “The Dirt Below our Feet.”
Given those credentials and that experience, I cannot think of a better-qualified person to speak to about some of the issues bearing on the viniculture of Long Island. To meet Louisa is to encounter someone who is direct, forthcoming, very well-informed, and definitely opinionated. She is petite, bespectacled, and wears her silver hair long. She has no pretensions or airs, but she does not suffer fools. Given her high profile in Long Island, she frequently has requests from schoolchildren or their parents for an interview so that they can write a paper for school. Her response is simple: “When you’ve read my book, The Vineyard, get back to me and we can talk.” So far there have been no takers.
Fortunately for me, I had read The Vineyard, so that made getting my interview with Louisa that much easier.
Louisa initiated the conversation by making the point that there are two types of wineries in Long Island: those that cater to the tourist trade and those that focus on making quality wines. (Several do both, but most emphasize one or the other). Of the top quality wineries, she cited Bedell Cellars, Channing Daughters, Lenz Winery, Paumanok Vineyards, and Peconic Bay Vineyards. Given that all of the Long Island wineries depend on retail sales for a major part of their income and nearly all have tasting rooms for the wine tourists who are a significant part of their business, I inferred from what she said that some of these wineries seek to attract tourists and tourist groups with large tasting rooms, provide access for buses, and offer space for parties, weddings, and so on. While some of these are serious about their wines, such as McCall, The Old Field Vineyards, and Pellegrini, a handful is really focused on the tourist trade, perhaps to the detriment of the wines they make—good enough for the tourists, but certainly not world-class.
One way to judge a winery is by looking at their containers—the smaller the container, such as an oak cask (typically of 225 liters, the size of Bordeaux casks) the more serious is the winemaking, as it costs more time and work to manage. Large containers tend to be used for large-scale production and do not allow for the blending of batches for refining the way the wine tastes and smells the way that small ones do.
She also made clear that there is a fundamental difference between vineyards that seek to grow the highest quality fruit possible by practicing ‘green harvesting,’ which means removing bunches of fruit in the middle of the growing season—sometimes as much as third to a half of the developing crop, in order to improve the quality of the fruit that remains. The result, of course, is a smaller crop, but wines made from such fruit will be richer, more flavorful, more interesting. This will not be true of vineyards that primarily grow and sell their wine grapes to wineries. These vineyards seek to maximize their grape production, as they sell grapes by the ton and they would receive nearly the same price regardless of whether or not they practiced ‘green’ harvesting. In this case, quantity trumps quality.
I had a few prepared questions for Louisa, to wit:
When you started your vineyard there was no concept of ‘sustainable’ viticulture, although ‘organic’ and Biodynamic agriculture was already being practiced in some places. Was there a point at which you and Alex decided to move towards sustainable viniculture, and if so, how did you go about it?
“Ecology was very much a part of the vocabulary when we planted our vineyard, and we had stayed at an organic farm some years before. Still, it was fungicides that made it possible for us to plant V. vinifera vines in our vineyard. Historically, those who had attempted to grow these European wine grapes had failed because they had no tools to combat the fungi and other pests indigenous to North America. We recognized that techniques like grafting and amendments like copper sulfate and other fungicides developed after 1870 now made it possible to successfully grow these plants that previously had not survived here. We also perceived that cold-sensitive vinifera might survive on the North Fork of Long Island, due to the moderating effects of the Gulf Stream and Peconic Bay, when they had failed to survive in the more continental climates of other parts of the east coast.
“We even planted some Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc on their own roots, because the sandy soils of Long Island made it difficult for root pests (like Phylloxera) to establish themselves. Nevertheless, we really didn’t want to use sprays except to the extent necessary. Although we did use herbicides at times, when weeds became excessive, we always tried to control them mechanically (which usually meant hand-hoeing and weed pulling in areas that the side-hoe on the tractor could not reach). Late sprays before harvest can affect fermentation, so we did not use fungicides after mid-August. The fact of the matter is that wrestling wine to the ground is very, very complex.
“We embraced the estate approach from the very beginning—in other words, our wines would be made only from the grapes that came from our vineyard, as is the case with Bordeaux chateau. In later years, we did purchase some fruit for our second label, Chardonette, in order to be able to offer a less-expensive, entry-level wine.
“Our wines were made with no residual sugars; malolactic fermentation was complete in all our wines, and we applied minimum sulfites—none at crush time—because we did not want to destroy the indigenous microflora. The natural acid in wine, at a pH lower than 4.0, makes it impossible for bacteria harmful to people to survive, but some sulfites were needed during aging to protect the wines from yeast or bacteria that harm wine by creating vinegar or off-odors, especially after the malolactic fermentation, when the pH would rise to a less protective level, as high as 3.7 in Pinot Noir especially.
“I am interested in biodynamic techniques but have never practiced them. There are pros and cons to every agricultural practice. Recently, I visited a biodynamically-farmed vineyard in Champagne that was using horses to work the fields. The idea was to avoid the hardpan that can develop after running a tractor over the vineyards many times and compacting the soil, as the hardpan that results is virtually impenetrable and can harm the nourishment of the vines. However, the vintner who showed me the horses commented that, while using horses was good for the soil, it was not good for the horses—the soils were so dry that the horse could go lame. That, then, is not really a good option for sustainability.
“With respect to Biodynamic sprays I should point out that these need DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] approval, as does anything that is applied to crops. All must have a seal of approval and licensing from the DEC. DEC guidelines are not always clear and are subject to change without notice. Because the DEC is funded by fines levied against farmers in violation of their guidelines, it behooves its inspectors to find violations and levy what can be very heavy fines. It’s a real problem, and it has to be fixed by providing financing for it by New York State. In my memoir, I describe an untoward incident we had with the DEC that illustrates how this agency has, in the course of implementing laws intended to protect the environment, veered off course in a way that persecutes unwitting and well-intentioned farmers like ourselves.”
Looking back on how you went about establishing Hargrave Vineyards in 1973, how would you start up differently as a pioneer, given what you know now? For example, would you plant Pinot Noir again, or something else? What about preparation of the soil?
First, Louisa said, “I’d start with a south-facing slope, and then I’d use compost with biodynamic elements to maintain the vineyard.” “You said ‘biodynamic’ but did you mean ‘organic?’” “No, I said ‘biodynamic,’ meaning that the soil amendments would reflect the concept of the farm as a unified system of life forces, cycling between times of birth, growth, fruition, decay, and rebirth.”
We had discussed Biodynamics at some length, and Louisa said that she agreed with other viniculturalists, like Sam McCullough and Kareem Massoud, who think that some aspects of Biodynamics may actually work, though it may not need all the mystical components to be effective. While she does believe that there can be something that could be called “energy” in wine, perhaps due to the level of acidity—it has to do with what makes the wine appealing, or exciting, or perhaps there’s something else to which people respond when they drink it. Whether or not there is some kind of cosmic energy that comes from the planets and the stars, or that has to do with affinities between horns and earth or anything like that. It may very well be that the biota that is in the compost teas is really healthy for the vines. [As an aside, I would like to note that that this has not been borne out in any scientific tests that I know of, but it’s clear that even viticulturalists who would not seek to enter the Demeter program for Biodynamic Certification are open to the possibility that the compost teas have some efficacious attributes.]
Louisa further remarked that, “although growing and making wine from Pinot Noir proved to be most challenging, I would do it again. I learned more from my efforts to ripen this “heartbreak grape” and to tame its hard tannins than from any other variety. Success with it is not assured, but when it comes, it makes extraordinarily wonderful wine on Long Island.
Do you think that the Cornell VineBalance program has made a real difference in the vinicultural practices in LI? It doesn’t have many actual members—about six, I believe.
“The VineBalance program only has a few members because participation requires detailed record-keeping and a lot of paperwork, which are time-consuming and costly. This doesn’t mean that VineBalance isn’t important to the rest of the vineyards. It provides all kinds of guidance. Vineyard managers can and do take courses on sustainable viniculture, including pesticide use, which requires certification. Cornell provides many seminars and brings experts from other regions here to discuss many aspects of viticulture, including organic interventions and sustainable practices. So VineBalance, under the direction of Alice Wise at the Cornell Agricultural Extension station in Riverhead, does play a significant role in the viniculture of Long Island.”
Louisa concluded our conversation by saying, “Agriculture in Long Island must be kept alive, even if eventually grapes may have to give way to cabbages. That’s fine, as long as the farms remain.”
With that remark, Louisa speaks in a way that is characteristic of her and her deep commitment not only to growing wine, but sustaining agriculture. The East End is a beautiful area, and the North Fork still retains a quality of the bucolic and rural thanks to its working farms and vineyards. The Hargraves sold development rights to their vineyard to the Suffolk County Land Trust years ago. That is also part of her commitment. Long Island owes her many thanks for all that she’s done and continues to do.