Earlier this year, when Harold Watts sold his five-acre vineyard, fans of his Ternhaven Cellars wines worried that he’d close the doors to his Greenport tasting room too. Luckily for those fans — myself among them— reports of the North Fork’s easternmost tasting room’s demise were overstated. Watts, 73, has just released his 2001 wines and has vintages up to and including 2005 aging for future release in his tasting room. His wines are also available at The Tasting Room on Peconic Lane, Long Island’s only co-op tasting room for small, artisanal producers.
On many occasions, I’ve described Watts, a retired economics professor who taught at Yale and Columbia Universities and who began his winemaking career years ago in his Manhattan apartment, as the Greenport Garagiste. Garagiste, translated from the French, means “garage owner,” and is used in regions like Bordeaux to describe winemakers who produces small lots of high-quality, handcrafted wines – sometimes right in his or her own garage. Funny enough, Watts’ tasting room is located in a former service station on Front Street. A garage really.
Watts makes his wine using time-honored, rustic techniques. Primary fermentation takes place in shallow open tanks before the young wines are basket pressing into closed stainless steel tanks for secondary fermentation. The wines are then racked into mostly American oak barrels at or near the end of ML (malolactic) fermentation. Watt uses mostly American oak of varying age because the barrels are more affordable than French ones. To preserve aromas and texture, Watts doesn’t filter or cold stabilize his wines either.
Despite low production — around 1000 cases per year — Watts does a better job than most of not releasing wines before their time. Many wineries have had their 2001 wines on the market for years, but Watts is only now releasing his. He didn’t even bottle the 2001s until last summer.
Ternhaven Cellars’ 2001 Merlot has a concentrated, fruit-forward nose of blackberries and black plums with earthy undertones and hints of sweet cedar. On the palate, similar sweet blackberry and earthy flavors live inside a well-integrated tannin structure. The finish is medium-long with a light spice-black pepper note. This isn’t as elegant or refined as some, but Watts has captured the intensity and strength of the 2001 vintage in a bold, somewhat rustic, wine that begs for food.
Watts hasn’t released his Ternhaven Cellars 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon yet but he will within the next few weeks. Lighter both in color, aroma and body, the nose offers plums, cherries and faint eucalyptus. From the first sip, plummy flavors are accented by tart cherry preserves, cinnamon spice and light oak. The tannins are relatively light, but food-friendly acidity provides just enough backbone.
Both the merlot and cabernet have their charms, but far and away my favorite of Watts’ new releases is his Ternhaven Cellars 2001 Claret D’Alvah, named for the vineyard he just sold on Alvah’s Lane. A seamless blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, both the nose and palate are a rich and captivating fusion of blackberries, plums, cedar and violets. Bold but still elegant, the wine displays supreme texture and integration of medium tannins. The finish is long and delicious. This wine should age extremely well.
For more information, call 477-8737, visit www.ternhaven.com or visit the Greenport Garagiste at his tasting room, which he dubs “The Last Winery Before France,” as you head east.