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March 19, 2009

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Long Island Merlot's are great, but I'd argue it's the Cab Francs that define the region. How about starting a Long Island Cab Franc Alliance?

Oh Henry, a topic near and dear to my heart -- Long Island cabernet franc!

There are a few issues that come into play here, and I'm sure that the local winemakers/vineyard managers who read LENNDEVOURS will echo these, although perhaps in different ways:

First: Year in and year out, merlot does perform best on the North Fork. In the best years (keep an eye out for some awesome 2007 cab francs) the quality is close, but in down years, local producers can usually make better merlot.

Second: As much as I love franc, if Long Island were to be known as the "best cab franc region outside of the Loire" would the general populace care? I'm not convinced that they would. Cab franc has little cache in the marketplace outside of wine geeks.

Third: There is a lot more merlot planted and growing in established vineyards than there is cabernet franc. In that sense, it makes sense for the region to push merlot over anything else. If it were up to me, there's be a lot more cabernet franc planted (in place of merlot) and a lot of chardonnay ripped out in favor of sauvignon blanc.

But, since I don't have any skin (money) in the game, I don't have much say ;)

Lenn - very well said. I think it comes down to this: the best sites on Long Island are better suited to the production of merlot than cabernet franc. There are some cooler, less well-drained sites that may lend themsleves better to growing cab franc mainly due to the resilience of that variety on those sites.

Unlike a lot of other winemakers that I talk to, I actually like and appreciate cab franc a great deal. I think its a different animal - more like pinot noir in its density and structure. It can be wonderfully aromatic, elegant and delicate which lends itself well to a wide range of cuisine. Unlike merlot however, franc doesn't seem to express our terroir with as much nuance and complexity. It also doesn't lend itself as well to blending - it often needs another variety (i.e. merlot or malbec) to flesh it out but rarely (except in special vintages like 2007) improves on another red variety within a blend.

That being said, I do think we do our best work year in and year out on red wines with merlot and merlot-based blends.
I'm convinced that Long Island merlots are the reds we can hold up in most years as being world-class representatives of our region.

Glad to see Hal has made the decision to join LIMA. John brings fine winemaking and Hal is really interested in promoting LI wines, and LIMA is another great channel to get the word out.

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