Over the weekend, you may have seen Howard Goldberg's "Long Island Vines" column in the New York Times, which focuses on Long Island's 2007 vintage and it's potential quality.
He starts the column with quotes from Charles Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards and Roman Roth of Wolffer Estate, two of Long Island's most respected vintners. The quotes mirrored what I've heard from local grape growers and winemakers.
John Levenberg, winemaker at Bedell Cellars told me that 2007 was a "a great growing season with plenty of heat and good sunshine, punctuated by bouts of rain that happened upon us when our vines were calling for water." Ben Sisson, who manages McCall Vineyard told me in an email that "Fruit quality overall was excellent with low disease, rot or physical damage. High sugar with low acid and correspondingly higher pHs was pretty typical throughout the region." Rich Pisacano, who manages vineyards on both forks for Wolffer Estate and Roanoke Vineyards even called the season "somewhat boring" because it was so ideal.
Across the board, these are the kinds of things I've been hearing for weeks, if not months.
From there, I expected Goldberg — especially given the column's title "For East End, an Ideal Year" — to move onto discussing the extremely high brix levels or maybe some tasting notes based on 2007 wines he's tasted from barrel.
No such luck. Instead, he suggests, in essence, that winemakers can't be trusted. He tells us to "ignore sales hype...and approach every 2007 bottle with benign skepticism."
You know, he's right. You can't really believe winemakers when they tell you a vintage is "the best" or "spectacular." At least you can't believe them blindly. Part of their job is to sell wine. They aren't going to admit if a vintage is a poor one. At least not very often.
But, anyone who covers Long Island wines should know that this isn't pure hyperbole this time around. Based purely on scientific fact, this was a terrific growing year. All of the "numbers" that winemakers and vineyard managers track during the season were better than they've ever been. Brix levels were through the roof, for Long Island, and according to Richard Olsen-Harbich of Raphael, it was one of the warmest seasons on record with almost 3500 growing degree days recorded, the most since 1998.
And, as someone who has tasted a fair amount of hanging fruit over the past several years, I can tell you that the ripeness went well beyond sugar levels or other measurable. Flavor development and tannin ripeness went further than I remember tasting.
Goldberg has a point when he says "Not everyone grows and harvests grapes the same way. Not all winemakers are equally experienced and lucky in the cellar." Grape-growing and winemaking talent is highly variable in our local wine community. Not every winemaker has the same abilities in the cellar.
But, I think that even second-tier winemakers learned a lot about how to work with riper-than-usual grapes in 2005. There are several wines from that vintage that lack structure and nuance. Many of the reds are plush but straightforward and simple. Many of the whites border on flabby. I think that winemakers just weren't used to all that sugar and some didn't act accordingly to bring balance and grace.
I think — and hope — we'll see more balance and complexity in the 2007 wines. But the proof is in the tasting. Come back in a year for the whites and a year or two after that for the reds.
I'm just left wondering why Goldberg is raining on Long Island's parade. The same points that he's made about Long Island can be said of any group of winemakers in any region of the world. I'm sure that not every 2005 Bordeaux is spectacular, but that doesn't mean the overall vintage isn't still a classic one, does it?
More importantly, Goldberg's column is probably one of the most-read sources of information on Long Island wine, doesn't he have something more interesting to write about?
Then again, I'm writing about it here, aren't I?