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
Raphael Winery entrance, by Petrocelli Construction
Raphael Winery, in Peconic, on the North Fork of Long Island, was founded by John Petrocelli Sr. and his wife, Joan, and is family-owned. Petrocelli is also the owner of J. Petrocelli Construction, which specializes in quality design and building, and the handsome, 28,000 sq. ft. winery was designed by him, inspired by the architecture of the Neapolitan monasteries of his native Italy. He named it after his father, Raphael, who was an avid home winemaker like his own father before him, so John Sr. came by his oenophilia perhaps genetically. The venture was five years in planning and cost $6,000,000 to complete, with the intention of making the premium winery of Long Island, Italian-inspired but Bordeaux-oriented.
When the commitment to build the winery was made, it was clear that a vital component, the vineyard, needed to be tended to by expert viticulturalists. The family then hired David and Steve Mudd—Mudd VMC is the premier vineyard management consulting firm on the Island—to help guide them in the development of a Bordeaux-type of winery. Also hired as advisers were Paul Pontallier, managing director of Ch. Margaux—one of the five Premier Cru châteaux in Bordeaux— along with Richard Smart, a respected Australian viticulture consultant who had earned his Ph.D. at Cornell. With their advice the cellar and equipment was developed along those lines, and built twelve feet below the ground in order to allow for the first gravity-fed fermentation tanks to be used in the region, using as models Opus One and Mondavi, of Napa Valley. (Gravity feed is considered to be less stressful and damaging to the fruit and organic matter that constitutes the must than is mechanical pumping.)
One of Raphael’s vineyard plots
In 1996 the Mudds planted the first vineyard for Raphael with Merlot, and have been managing the vineyard, which has grown to 60 acres over the years, ever since, using sustainable practices, including what Steve Mudd calls “fussy viticulture”—green harvesting by hand—from the very beginning. (In fact, the first wine made under the Raphael label came from Merlot vines grown at the Mudds’ own vineyard and were vinified at Pellegrini Vineyard. The first wine produced at the new facility was the 1999 vintage.) Other varieties have been planted since the Merlot, including Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
According to Steve Mudd, a nine-foot space between rows is supposed to provide room for equipment to move along the rows, but it’s a myth that that much space is necessary. Pontallier, when asked his opinion about the row spacing and vine density, said, “it is not for me to say” what it should be, but back in 1994, when the vineyard was still in the planning stage, he had argued against close spacing, suggesting 3 meters (10 feet). The density of the first planting at Raphael is just 820 vines per acre (9’x6’ spacing) as opposed to about 2,550 in Bordeaux. Later plantings increased the density somewhat, and the rest of the vineyard is now spaced at 9’x5’, or 968 vines/acre.
The quality wines produced by Raphael simply would not be possible if it weren’t for the work done in the vineyard by Steve Mudd and his crew. High-quality fruit is always there for the winemaker, even in a bad-harvest year like 2011.
For further insight into the viticultural practices at Raphael, the reader is referred to another post, on Mudd VMC, the contracted vineyard manager for the winery.
Richard Olsen-Harbich, who had been Raphael’s winemaker since its founding and helped define its style of wines—made reductively, using native yeasts, with minimal intervention, in order to allow the hand-picked grapes to more clearly express the terroir. After he left in 2010 to work at Bedell Cellars Leslie Howard became winemaker, but in 2012 Les moved on and Anthony Nappa, former winemaker at Shinn Estate, maker of Anthony Nappa Wines, and founder of the Winemaker’s Studio, took over as winemaker at Raphael.
I met Anthony several years ago, when he was winemaker at Shinn (2007 to 2011). When he first went to there it was with the understanding that he could use their facilities to make wine for his own label, which bears his name. His first wine under his label was 200 cases of LI Pinot Noir. After he left Shinn he focused more on his own wines and made them at Premium Wine Group, the custom crush facility in Mattituck.
He now has same arrangement with Raphael. As he explains, “We keep everything very separate. [Raphael’s] business is very separate from ours. We pay to make the wine here; it’s just like at Premium. We pay to store it; we pay everything just like we would if we were just a customer. A lot of times I’m working on my stuff, I’m working on their stuff or whatever, but I just try to keep everything very separate. They don’t sell our wine, we don’t sell their wine.” (To read more about Anthony Nappa and his own wines, see Oenology in LI: Anthony Nappa Wines.)
For Anthony, who has certainly had plenty of experience on both coasts, Long Island is the place to make wine in the East. He told me that “I really think Long Island is the best wine region on the East Coast by far. It’s so diverse; we’ve so much potential. The wines that I’d tasted even ten years ago were better than anywhere else along the East Coast, and they’re even better now.”
To the question, “What have you done since you’ve been here to in any way define the wines of Raphael to a new standard, an Anthony Nappa standard?”
He replied that by “having standards, the first goal is to just figure out where we are and what’s going on with sales and production, and try to get the business side of things in line as far as what we’re making, cutting packaging costs, and streamlining the whole production side. Raphael wants to make money, so obviously the financial side of it is important. And then on the winemaking side, it was just looking at every product. The first thing is to only make as much as we sell. A lot of wineries just bring in the fruit, make it, bottle it, warehouse it. Our goal is to figure out what we’re selling, and any excess we sell off in bulk—any fruit or wine or whatever—and then figuring out each product and having a standard for it.
“We have a whole line of what we call ‘First Label.’ It’s all the Reserve wines, and those are all from our vineyard. We buy a lot of fruit too, but those are all from our vineyard. It’s just like with my own wines, we have very high standards for fruit and we have very high standards for the quality of each wine. I’ll just not make a wine. If the quality is not there, if the fruit doesn’t deliver, it gets downgraded to a lower level wine, and if the vineyard doesn’t deliver, we just don’t buy the fruit. That’s easy for me, because I’m the one buying the fruit.
“It’s easy to fuck things up. You’re taking grapes and from the moment you pick them, it’s all downhill. You’re just trying to protect it through the process, but it’s on a long, slow trail to becoming vinegar from the moment you pick it . . .”
I replied, “It seems to me every single winery should have a sign that says ‘First thing, don’t fuck it up.’”
He went on: “But we try to make everything. I’m a non-interventionist. I want the grapes to express themselves. I want the Cab Franc to taste like Cab Franc and I don’t want to just make everything taste the same. So usually I just bring things in and let everything ferment wild and let things go. And then I intervene when I have to. When the fruit comes in we look at it and we make decisions sometimes on the fly based on what we’re going to do. Then I always err on the side of caution. If I’m not sure about something I do nothing, and I intervene when I have to.”
Anthony concluded with this remark: “I think a lot of wineries just go through the motions and just make the same wines every year and there’s a huge separation between upstairs and downstairs and outside and inside and there needs to be more synergy, there to have some more consistency. No one has done anything different ever in this business that hasn’t been done for the last thousands of years. It’s just about taking thousands of decisions and putting them in a different order and you get a different result. But there are no secrets, you know.”
Trying Raphael’s wines in the spacious and handsome tasting room proved to be very interesting, as there was a wide range of wine types and styles on offer, and he had plenty to say about them. (Please note: the wines identified as “First Label” are considered to be Reserve Wines; i.e., the best produced by the winery.)
The 2010 First Label Chardonnay ($39), which came out of Mudd Vineyards (there is no Chardonnay planted at Raphael) was pressed to yield 120 gallons per ton of grapes (clone CY3779), so out of 5 tons of this particular parcel 600 gallons, or about 3,000 bottles, were made. It underwent a 100% malolactic fermentation, was kept on its lees, and spent eight months in oak barrels. It was bottled unfiltered, with low sulfites. The result was that in the glass the wine was clear, offering citrus, butterscotch flavors, and toasty notes. It has the typicity of an oaked Chardonnay, somewhere between a Burgundy or California version. 2010 was perhaps the greatest wine vintage in Long Island—given its early budding, excellent weather, and early harvest—and the quality of the Chardonnay was also a reflection of this. Made by Leslie Howard.
The 2013 First Label Sauvignon Blanc ($28) The last months of the growing season had no precipitation and no notable disease pressure, so Raphael was able to harvest each grape variety at leisure and at each one’s peak. According to them all the wines from 2013 show exceptional natural balance and full ripeness, which is also promising for the future longevity of the wines of this vintage. The Sauvignon Blanc was made from hand-selected grapes from their oldest vines to help produce balanced, structured wines. Made with partial skin contact and cold-fermented in stainless steel, this dry wine exhibits a bright nose of citrus and pineapple, along with flavors of pineapple, grapefruit and lemongrass, a full body and a long dry acidic finish.It’s a clear, pale-lemon colored wine with aromas of pineapple, white peach, and, citrus; clean, medium-bodied, with high acidity and a mineral finish. An exceptionally enjoyable Sauvignon Blanc that matches well with seafood and spicy Indian and other Asian cuisines. Made by Anthony Nappa. 13.1% ABV.
The 2013 First Label Riesling ($28) from the same excellent vintage as that of the Sauvignon Blanc described above. The grapes were hand-harvested and pressed very gently after two days of skin contact in the tank. The juice was fermented using naturally-occurring indigenous yeasts from the skins. Fermentation was carried out cold at 55F and lasted 5 weeks. The wine saw no wood, as befits a Riesling. It was blended from several batches and then bentonite-fined for heat stability, cold-stabilized and sterile-filtered before bottling. This is a limited-production, dry Riesling that offers a firm but balanced acidity matched by fruit concentration that produces a beguilingly aromatic and rather full-bodied—for a Riesling—with a dry, minerally finish. This wine shows flavors of fresh apricot and ripe pear. Excellent as an aperitif or to accompany seafood, chicken dishes, and spicy cuisines. Anthony Nappa. 12.4% ABV.
The 2013 Cabernet Franc ($25) also benefited from the excellent conditions of the vintage. The fruit was hand-harvested, de-stemmed, and crushed. The grapes from different lots were then fermented apart. The fermentation was carried out at 75F to retain fruit flavors and took a month with pumpovers twice a day. The wine was aged with 50% in stainless steel and the rest in French oak barrels, where it underwent natural malolactic fermentation. The aging took ten months before the wine was blended and then bottled unfiltered and unfined. The resulting wine has a firm acidity, full body, and offers a pronounced fruity aroma of ripe red berries with herbal notes and a hint of tobacco. It is actually ready to drink now bout would certainly bear aging a few more years, given that it was so recently bottled. A fine accompaniment to any variety of pork, beef, or lanb dishes. It would be good with cheese or chocolate as well. Anthony Nappa. 12.9% ABV.
In June 2015 the Wine Advocate blog posted a review of 200 Long Island Wines, of which 7 were from Raphael, earning scores of 86 to 92 points. The top Raphael wine was the 2010 Merlot First Label, by Leslie Howard, with 92 points, followed by the 2014 Suvignon Blanc First Label, at 91 points, by Anthony Nappa, and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon by Howard at 90 points. Quite a track record from Robert Parker’s Website.
Based on interviews with Anthony Nappa and Steve Mudd
13 June 2012; updated 22 June 2014
39390 Main Road/Route 25, Peconic, NY 11958; (631) 765.1100
“Green” is a global movement to promote sustainable practices in all walks of life, from recycling waste to reducing one’s dependence on materials that cannot be reused, as well as improving automobile fuel economy, minimizing energy consumption (reducing one’s ‘carbon footprint’), and promoting safer, cleaner means of producing energy, primarily by the use of renewable sources such as wind and solar power. It also means promoting and using sustainable practices in agriculture, whether in the raising of farm animals and produce, or in viticulture (the growing of table and wine grapes)—itself a type of agriculture. Green—a synonym for “sustainable”—is now a mantra for the ecologically-aware and sensitive consumer and it demands to be taken seriously by those who produce food, wine, and care for the land on which it is raised.
A big push towards sustainable practices in viticulture in New York State recently has been made by Walmart, which joined the Sustainability Consortium in 2009, and wants to sell grape juice with an “ecolabel” displayed on the containers, showing that it has been sustainably produced. Given that Walmart is the world’s largest retailer, its demand has forced winegrowers throughout the state, whether producing juice grapes or wine grapes, to respond to it. What follows is about the response to the challenge on the part of Long Island winegrowers.
In a presentation by Barbara Shinn, of Shinn Estate Vineyards, and Richard Olsen-Harbich, of Bedell Cellars, given at the 31st Annual Long Island Agricultural Forum, held on January 13, 2012, attended by most of the vineyard managers in the region—all were invited to attend—an outline of the process by which vineyards could become certified for practicing sustainable viticulture gave clear form to what is involved in achieving that goal, with the objective of minimizing environmental impact and as a means of responding to the needs of the community at large.
The VineBalance Program
What follows is a précis of the presentation along with relevant commentary by the participants who together form the Core Group in the certification project: Barbara Shinn, Richard Olsen-Harbich (the presenters), Jim Thompson of Martha Clara Vineyards, and Larry Perrine of Channing Daughters. In addition, Alice Wise, who is the Viticulturalist and Education Specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, at the Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center in Riverhead, provided some background for this article on the initial sustainable viticulture program for New York State, VineBalance:
“In 1992, I received a grant to create a Long Island sustainable viticulture program. Working with a group of growers, we created a set of vineyard management guidelines that emphasized good stewardship practices. Established programs such as Oregon LIVE, Lodi Rules, and AEM (Agricultural Environmental Management) were very helpful to us. A number of individuals associated with those programs provided guidance as well. Our efforts drew attention from both upstate wine growers and the upstate Concord industry. Starting in 2006, a group from Cornell and from the industry received a series of grants to create statewide guidelines, now called VineBalance.
“Growers participated in the process of creating the guidelines so additional review has not been necessary. That said, VineBalance was written to be inclusive of all grape industries in NY. There are certain things in it that do not apply to Long Island. Also, vineyard management is not a static thing, it evolves each season as we learn how to best manage our vineyards. Consequently, Long Island growers decided to further refine VineBalance to more closely reflect the current management of Long Island vineyards.
“VineBalance will continue to serve as the framework for any sustainable viticulture programs in NY. The creation of additional, region-specific guidelines is great, it shows that growers are analyzing their practices and are genuinely interested in the process. All regions should do this.”
However, while VineBalance provides a pathway to self-certification, that does not carry the same weight as certification by a recognized third-party certification authority, and is therefore not really meaningful in the marketplace or wine industry. Certification by an outside authority has many advantages, such as:
Validation of a claim of sustainable farming practices
Promotion of on-farm accountability
Provision of a pro-active response to local needs and concerns
Acting as another tool with which to respond to global competition
Improving the strength and viability of the Long Island wine brand
The concept of sustainability as laid out in virtually every certification program in the U.S. boils down to three concerns:
Worker & Community care
Certification Program Models
There are, already, a number of third-party certification authorities with national or global recognition, based on the strength of their guidelines and regulation, such as:
Certified California Sustainable Wine (CCSW)
Napa Green—Napa Valley Vineyards (NVV)
Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine (OCSW)
Oregon LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology)
Sustainability in Practice (SIP)
Serra presentation to LI Winegrowers
Each of these, as well as the internationally-recognized authority, Sustainable Wine New Zealand (SWNZ), is directed at specific ecological systems, which is why Long Island needs its own authority, but these at least provide models for the project to be known as Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers (LISW). In December of 2011, Chris Serra, of Oregon’s LIVE certification program, was invited to give a presentation to the East End vineyard managers. The expenses for his trip were paid for by Martha Clara, Bedell, Shinn Estate, and Channing Daughters, the four vineyards whose managers form the Core Group.
Whatever certification authority Long Island wine growers create must have credibility and address not only agricultural standards of sustainability but must also deal with ethical issues; for example, a certifier representative must not be involved with the vineyards being visited in the capacity of consultant or have any other ties to them.
How Certification Works
Certification is a seasonal program that would involve:
Use of the VineBalance Workbook (the full title is The New York Guide to Sustainable Viticulture Practices Grower Self-assessment Workbook)
Core Criteria based on the Workbook
Winegrower’s Pledge that is signed in the spring prior to the growing season.
One of the challenges regarding sustainability and certification is the issue of participation. The larger the body of participants, the more viable and reputable the certifying authority will be. Jim Thompson, a thoughtful Midwesterner with long experience in agriculture, says that “sustainability [in Long Island] is achievable.” Furthermore, a Sustainable Certification will help the local industry survive by giving it stronger bona fides. Thus, he believes that certification should be made accessible to all vineyard managers. However, as Olsen-Harbich pointed out, “One of the issues that the certification project needs to address is that of offering ‘inclusivity’ versus ‘teeth.’ In other words, the lower the bar for certification, the more people will join, but once standards for certification have real ‘teeth’ and make real demands on those who want certification, the likelihood is that fewer will seek it.”
Participation in a third-party certification program means that:
Members get a visit from a certifier representative in the first and second years of the track to certification and every third year thereafter.
A visit means a walk through the vineyard and a view of the records kept by the vineyard
A review of practices in the VineBalance Workbook
A review of vineyard inputs (i.e., chemicals used to control disease and fertilizers applied to the fields)
The report by the representative is then sent to the Core Group of the certification authority
For example, Shinn Estate is currently seeking to be certified by both Demeter (the Biodynamic® Certification body) as well as the National Organic Program (N.O.P.), each of which applies standards for general agriculture, but not specifically viticulture. As is the case with all certification agencies, the record keeping is fully standardized though the standards are not particular to viticulture. For Shinn, there is one visit per year every year, which comes at the end of the season, often right after harvest. It involves a two-to-three hour visit consisting of a walk through the vineyard followed by a sit-down session in which the vineyard records are reviewed. The advantage of a late-season visit is that it allows the certifier to see the condition of the vineyard after a full season’s farming, such as the ground cover, and allows for a full review of the entire season’s inputs. For Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers, after the first two years, there is one visit every three years. “It isn’t very demanding,” says Shinn, “provided you’ve kept good records.”
Scouting the Vineyard
Let us consider one aspect—a very important one—of a vineyard manager’s responsibilities, for it bears directly on the issue of sustainable practices. It begins with the concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). An authoritative viticultural specialist and qualified soil scientist, Larry Perrine explains: “IPM originally and primarily has to do with the control of insects. It requires knowledge of the life-cycle of each of the insect pests, thus to know when they are most vulnerable to pest-control applications. Insect infestations don’t behave like fungal ones—fungal control requires foliar application before an infestation develops, whereas insect pests can be tolerated up to a certain level of insect damage. Therefore, scouting in the vineyard is necessary to determine when or if the insects are reaching the point at which insecticide application is necessary. Scouting means that the vineyard manager needs to check a block of vines and calculate the density of pests present on, say, 50 leaves. For example, Grape Berry Moths overwinter in trees that may border a vineyard. Vineyard rows bordering those trees are most vulnerable to GBM attack. They can best be controlled by strategic use of insecticides, after scouting—for minimum environmental impact. The use of pheromone lures on twist ties, which confuse the moths during their mating season, can be helpful.”
Barbara Shinn, who has long been deeply committed to certification, elaborates, “I might go out to a particular block of vines and check the vine leaves for the presence of mites. If, say, I find that out of forty rows of vines, ten of the middle rows of vines have significant mite populations whereas the rest only had one or two mites, then I would have to consider applying the appropriate insecticide for the mites in the infected rows only—the more specific the target that the insecticide is designed for the better, as there is less collateral damage. Of course, each grower has to set his or her own limits—there is no set number. All growers have a list of acceptable inputs for sustainable, or organic, or Biodynamic practices. One selects from the list starting with the inputs with the lowest impact to the environment to those with the highest.”
What Certification Means
There are real potential benefits that come with sustainability and certification, and Long Island’s third-party certification will be carefully watched by wineries elsewhere in the Eastern United States, including Virginia, South Carolina, and New Jersey. What LISW does will certainly influence them in the development of certification authorities for their regions.
The Web site for LISW will include:
The VineBalance Workbook
A list of participants in the Certification Program
Olsen-Harbich, an articulate, acknowledged expert in both the vineyard and the winery, pointed out that, “Sustainability is a pathway which is ongoing and is not an ideology. It must be, and is, based on peer-reviewed science. It is the most viable form of safe agriculture.” Nevertheless, vineyard managers and all other farmers, whether sustainably farming or not, often use three products that are not naturally-made:
Stylet oil, a highly-effective, biologically-degradable foliar input used to control fungal diseases such as Downy mildew, but which is itself a highly-refined petroleum product
Sulfur, while a natural element, is another highly-effective foliar input used to control diseases and is usually a by-product of petroleum refining
Copper sulfate is also a widely-used industrial product that is used in agriculture primarily as a fungicide.
In addition, he points out, “Chemical companies have their ears open to what is going on in agriculture, and as a major player in the production of agricultural inputs (herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, etc.), they are always ready to come up with new products. These, in turn, often push the boundaries between natural/sustainable/synthetic inputs. They need to be considered, but with great care, when addressing the issue of sustainability.” Perrine cautions that, “There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ pesticide. Both traditional materials such as copper or sulfur, as well as the most recently developed hydrocarbon-based pesticides need to be considered for environmental impact, therefore sustainability.”
Olsen-Harbich goes on to say, “There is also the matter of synthetic nitrogen vs. compost nitrogen—which is the preferred product to use in a sustainable program? Fish products, which are natural, are often used in the form of compost and fertilization material, but the very practice of commercial fishing is itself not sustainable.” To which Perrine adds, “Synthetic nitrogen accounts for more than 50% of the nitrogen used to grow plants around the world. To maintain a food production to feed the world, requires more than the organic sources of nitrogen that are available. The 100,000,000 tons of synthetic nitrogen produced around the world consumes only 1.5% of the world’s annual fossil fuel consumption. Indeed fish fertilizer is not sustainable, while synthetic N is
Weighing in on the nitrogen issue, Barbara Shinn has this to say:
“Here is where even amongst a group of ecologically-based farmers opinion differs. I prefer to take a byproduct from the fishing industry and make it useful by regenerating my soil with it – along with seaweed, whey (from the cheese making industry) and compost (made on-farm with our winemaking musts, bedding from the local horse-boarding industry and wood chips from the local tree trimming industry). The reuse and recycling of materials helps close a cycle that otherwise could be viewed as unhealthy for our planet and does not originate from a fossil fuel. I prefer to use materials on my soil that are connected to an originally living material. This type of soil work has been proven in peer reviewed papers to produce more minerally complexed food, and of course wine is an agricultural product so wine is food. In my opinion synthetic nitrogen dumbs down the soil, skipping over the all-important step of feeding the microbial life and in essence ignoring the natural lifecycle of our soil. In this respect, synthetic nitrogen is not sustainable. This difference in opinion is what makes our LISW group dynamic and, in the end, a viable springboard for fascinating discussions.”
Furthermore, “As ecologically practicing farmers it is important to retain our brotherhood. Whether we practice Sustainable, Organic, Permaculturalist, Biodynamic, or any other restorative-based farming, our root issues are the same. As a whole group banded together our concerns for the future of this planet have a huge voice, much louder than if we were separated by difference of opinions.”
For the LISW, there are potential partnerships with environmental entities such as:
The CCE (Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment), which is committed to encouraging citizens’ involvement in promoting strong environmental policy at the state and local levels
Sustainable Long Island, which promotes community revitalization
Peconic Land Trust, “which is dedicated to conserving Long Island’s working farms and natural lands.”
According to the CCE, “Long Island has been designated as a sole-source aquifer region by the U.S. EPA. This means that 100% of our drinking water supply comes from underground. The almost 3 million residents on our island are completely dependent on groundwater as our fresh water supply. The Lloyd aquifer is the deepest and cleanest source of drinking water on Long Island.” Larry Perrine says, quite bluntly, that with respect to agriculture, “there is, of course, the question of where the line gets drawn, especially with respect to a community’s sole-source water supply—as is the case in Long Island—the protection of which is of pre-eminent concern.”
Further to that, Perrine pointed out, “The Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing program will include on its Web site materials to help the public better understand what sustainable farming is and how it helps protect the community and its drinking water. The reason this must be done is that too many people come to conclusions based on the easiest and most available informational sources, which often are not reliable, fact-checked, or accurate, but often sensationalize the news. Such sources include TV, the Web, and newspapers. We wish to provide science-based and factual information that can be readily understood by the concerned public.”
Sustainability and the Community
To the question of how a vineyard relates to its community, Barbara Shinn, made the following points:
“Farming practices, as mentioned above, such that they should not have a negative effect on the community at large; choice of sustainable inputs is an important part of this.
“Land conservation, which means how the vineyard property seeks to maintain and protect animal and plant species and their variety that naturally appear and exist on the property, apart from pests that need to be controlled
“Public education about vineyard practices and objectives, particular to both viticulture and to farming practices generally. This can include information offered to visitors to the winery as well as the publication of books and articles for the general public (such as this one).”
Jim Thompson, observed that the issue of sustainability carries with it legal, environmental, and personal concerns. On a legal basis, certification would mean that a vineyard’s neighbors—often private homes or other, non-farm businesses, could rest assured that nothing dangerous is going into the ground or being wafted into the air that could affect a person’s health or neighborhood. On an environmental level, it would mean, for instance, that ground water would be protected, hence the community drinking water would be safe. “On a personal level,” he went on to say, “it means a safer environment in which to work, with the satisfaction of knowing that vineyard workers would be not exposed to the potential toxicity that is present in many of the [possible] input applications used in the vineyard.”
Larry Perrine summarized the situation well when he said: “It should be kept in mind that the natural world is in most cases self-healing over time. Farming itself is not natural, for it represents a massive intervention in nature. The goal of sustainability is to mitigate the impact of that intervention. The farmer is therefore in a compromised position, for in agriculture there is no perfection—he is always striving for something at which we can never arrive. Still, we want to leave a proper legacy for our children.”
The Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers program became a reality in April 2012. With its debut, Long Island is be the Eastern US leader in Sustainable Certification. (It has 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status.)
According to Perrine: “LISW expects about 10 wineries to sign up initially. Others are taking a wait-and-see attitude. It may take a few years for them to join. Not all of the initial members will effect a complete change-over to the sustainable practices advocated by LISW in the first year. It is, after all, only a pathway and not in itself the goal.” [One of the first to join apart from the core group was Wölffer Estate.]
Trent Pressler, CEO of Bedell Cellars, addressing the LISW audience.
On 6 June 2013 Bedell Cellars hosted the First Anniversary celebration of the founding of the LISW. As of September 2015 the LISW now has nineteen members, with sixteen of them already having achieved full certification:
Bedell Cellars (founding member)
Channing Daughters (founding member)
Corwith Vineyards (certified)
Duckwalk Vineyards (in transition)
Harbes Family Farm & Vineyard (certified)
Kontokosta Winery (in transition)
Martha Clara (founding member)
Mattebella Vineyards (certified)
McCall Wines (certified)
One Woman Vineyards (certified)
Palmer Vineyards (certified)
Paumanok Vineyards (certified)
Pindar Vineyards (in transition)
Roanoke Vineyards (certified)
Sannino Bella Vita Vineyards (certified)
Shinn Estate (founding member)
Sparkling Pointe (certified)
Surrey Lane Vineyards
Wölffer Estate (certified)
Paumanok Vineyards and Sparkling Pointe are the latest to achieve certification as of November 2015, bringing the total to 20 members. So the majority are already certified, each having put nearly 200 elements of sustainable practice into operation for a year or longer with two left in transition to certification. This represents very fast growth for a new certification authority, as it already has nearly a third of all the vineyards on the island. Such rapid growth can be explained in part by the fact that many of the vineyards already were practicing the guidelines of Cornell’s VineBalance program, which is the underpinning of LISW approach. There are still some that are taking a wait-and-see position, such as Osprey’s Dominion (“we’re already farming sustainably, but we need to be sure of the benefits of joining”) and Lenz (Sam McCullough told Wine Spectator [May 2012 issue]:
“The number one reason we’re not participating is that I typically buy my pesticides for the coming season at the end of the year [to save money], so I had already committed to purchase things that they don’t allow in the program,” said Sam McCullough, vineyard manager for the Lenz Winery. While he cited fungus control as his big concern in Long Island’s humid climate, he felt the sustainability program provides enough options to deal with any problems that might arise and didn’t think the required changes would be onerous.” Still, McCullough has yet to decide about participating next year. “I think it’s a fine idea, but I don’t know that there are really that many genuinely harmful practices out here. We’re all pretty responsible. I see it mainly as a perception issue and a public relations act rather than changing the way we take care of the environment, but anything that helps market our product is a good thing.”
Furthermore, the Spectator pointed out that “smaller wineries are concerned about the cost and whether consumers are willing to spend more to offset the extra expenses. Right now, [Roz] Baiz [of The Old Field Vineyard] said, she’d rather use the combined $800 in membership and inspection fees to purchase some new needed equipment.”
But twenty have joined so far, such as Mudd’s Vineyard, which says that “It’s the right thing to do.”
For wineries that are certified, the LISW logo can be included on the wine labels, thus showing that the wines are made from grapes raised with a conscience. This, it is hoped, will also help promote Long Island wines among those consumers who care about this, and the number who do are steadily growing.
Certification is accomplished by the expertise of LISW’s independent third-party inspector: Allan Connell, the former District Conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), using the New York VineBalance Grower Workbook as a roadmap for evaluation of the sustainable viticultural practices of Long Island vineyards.
As of Feb. 27, 2014, a new post was published on the Bedell blog by Richard Olsen-Harbich: “Seal of Approval,” pursuant to a visit last December by one of the world’s leading experts in the field of sustainable viticulture – Dr. Cliff Ohmart. Pursuant to that visit, on March 17, 2014, Wine Spectator published a blog post by its Managing Editor, Dana Nigro: How Serious Is Long Island About Sustainable Wine? with the subtitle, “Region’s new program gets green thumbs-up from outside expert.”
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: