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March 10, 2009

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Sasha: Thanks for writing this great post. A few comments that I have...

First, I'd argue that Long Island very much DOES have an emerging style and given the region's relative youth, I don't think anyone expects a well-defined style yet. It could also be argued that there is absolutely no way that this project is going to define that style for anyone but themselves.

Bringing Napa winemakers in to define Long Island's style seems awfully arrogant on some level, doesn't it?

It sounds to me like perhaps Mark's experience with Long Island wines is somewhat limited. There are already wineries who let reds hang a LONG time. There are already wineries who are trying some white wine fermentation on the skins and/or with extensive lees time.

I'm still curious to try these wines. Maybe they will show something that local winemakers can learn from. And intellectually I'm extremely interested in tasting what hot shot Napa winemakers can do with Long Island fruit.

I don't buy for a second that no one is out to make money on this project though. Not even for a nanosecond.

Great article, Sasha.

I do agree with Lenn that what we need is not so much a paradigm shift in winemaking, but enough time for the region to mature. Having a few guys from the west coast show up to show us how it's done does nothing to endear me to their brand.

Pride always comes before the fall...with the amount of ego I detect in this venture I doubt it'll last very long.

If nothing else, this project will raise the profile of Long Island wines.
I am a believer that a rising tide floats all boats.

How will this raise the profile of LI wines? Not saying it won't, but curious to hear your logic...

The more the merrier.

you dont start a buisness like that and go about saying your 'just gonna fit in' and 'not make any waves.' there just hyping there venture. as a New Yorker Im not a big fan of anything california either, but we shouldnt be hyper sensitive about it. dont kid youself thinking winemakers from Burgundy or Bordeaux wouldnt go about it the same way, theyd be even worse, 'the Great Europeans bring the light of Civilization to the darkened colonies.' Its all about personal connections, these are probably the two guys they knew, so thats who they went with.

also, winemakers are always moving around between areas. Im sure there are instances of Italian or Spanish winemakers working in France or Germany, and visa versa.

and to your point about the fruit being the center of focus. I think you can infer from the way they are hyping the wine that they consider the fruit top knotch, otherwise they wouldnt be here.

Mediocre grapes + the dirty environment of Brooklyn, what a magical combination!

I think of this in marketing terms, since that is what I do for a living.
Whenever you are building a new category, like LI wines, having well known and respected (or even cult personalities like Abe) industry types jump on board really helps the cause.
It adds to the category's credibility and also heightens a sense of interest from the average consumer.
People think, hmm, why are Bob Foley and Abe Schoener buying LI fruit and making wine in Ny?
Think of Michel Rolland, amongst many others, jumping on the Argentina bandwagon ten years ago.

LI winemakers take either a typically Bordeaux or New World approach, and the CA transplants will change that.

Is that why they want LI fruit to hang on the vine as if it was growing in Paso Robles?

I'm trying to wrap my head around how that creates an LI style, especially after considering that one is generally confined to working with--not against--a particular growing environment.

Is it possible that these Brooklyn 'winemakers' are not aware that there are also winemakers on LI who've made wine in California, Europe and other regions, have advanced degree graduates from UC Davis?

'Right now they’re sitting on about 500 cases worth of wine'..... How many of these guys does it take to make a bottle of wine anyway?

They sound a little pumped up with California jargon.

But keep after them Lenn and let us now how their wines are.

Regards,
Val

I'm sort of in the middle on this one. On one hand I do believe that the better LI producers have their own style and are fully aware of how to make good wine in this region. In fact, a number of wineries do employ low yields and long hang times. The idea that these techniques are somehow not being utilized or nobody thought of them is kind of silly if not a little ignorant. But new perspectives/styles/opinions/talent are welcome and if good wine is produced with local fruit and it reaches some new customers then it can only help the region as a whole and raise the overall quality.

Great post Sasha!

I'll give them the benefit of my doubts despite what sounds like a difficult start.
Letting the vineyard speak for itself, extreme farming, extensive hangtime, risky decisions, eclectic wines are all terms found in the history made by the LI wine pioneers over 20 years ago.

We, of course, welcome our new colleagues and wish them great success. We are confident that will make great wines with our fruit given their CA credentials and repute.

Assuming Sacha reported accurately, ( I say that because I have been misquoted so many times :) ) I am not surprised that a newcomer to winemaking in that group will take a shot at the rest of us. Others have done it until they got religion as they say.

(It is better to speak about how good you are rather than claim the other guys don't know what they are doing. It does turn people off. Disparaging the competition always backfires)

The report makes points about style that I am missing: it seems Long Island winemakers do not know what they are doing as there is no style that has emerged but the guys from CA are so good that from the same batch of fruit they made 2 different styles and that is supposed to be an accomplishment?? Sacha is this your contribution or is this what they fed you?

Other than that I look forward to tasting their wine and they have a standing invitation to bring samples and visit us to cross taste when they come to buy more grapes next Summer. And Sacha you may come along.

Cheers,

Charles


Love all these comments and you guys are bringing up a lot of issues I thought about when writing this post. Mydailywine's point about Michel Rolland et al is particularly well-taken. And yes, Lenn, I think they'd probably be delighted to make some $$$ on this venture.

Great post Sasha. I'll try to not repeat what most have said above. Let me just point out that the "not in it to make a profit" may not be that far from the truth. When you sit inside your winery watching the birds eat your fruit and let 80% of your grapes rot away because it poured multiple times just before/during harvest... to then bring in 20% of the potential crop which survived, yeah, you got really ripe fruit, but that's for sure difficult to make a profit from it.

I'm in Souteastern Mass., so not far from LI. In 2008, I picked all my Pinot Gris the morning before two days of non-stop heavy at times rain. Brix was almost 21 and yes I would have loved to let it get ripper. But I could not take the risk of not making a profit... some of us do have to make money to keep the dream alive.

This has been a lively topic for sure. When you guys are done with them down there send them up here (FLX) so we can be shown the light as well. We could use some of that Piano Man $ too.

OK, OK, here's my dream: the same visionaries can send Kareem Massaud and Roman Roth out to Napa and in five or so years we can all enjoy a blind shootout.

"I am not surprised that a newcomer to winemaking in that group will take a shot at the rest of us. Others have done it until they got religion as they say."

Charles,

Your comment reminds me of the many CA winemakers who came to the Finger Lakes to "change" things and then learned how to deal with really cool climate growing--or maybe some hadn't learned it and left.

I remember one in particular who was going to tell us how to produce Riesling. He's back in CA.

Seems there is some unwarranted fear of "outsiders" portrayed in some of the posts/replies. Nothing but good can come from this venture.
As with everything in life (work, sports, winemaking, etc), success often attracts interest and talent. Long Island is progressing very well and the fact that established winemakers from other regions want to branch out should only be taken as a compliment to LI's progress and success.
As for style, Long Island does have a style, but it is still being shaped and will continue to be fine tuned for decades to come. Do you think that Burgundy's style was entrenched after only a couple decades? It's been evolving for centuries. And the way it evolved was with new perspectives, new experiments, and new winemakers.
Learning and experimenting can never stop if progress is to continue. Whether or not the work of this group above is a success in the actual wines they create is irrelevant, for it is already a success solely for the purposes of learning. Remember, even failed experiments yield positive results (you learn what not to do the next time).
Let's hope that these winemakers learn some new "tricks" while here. And let's hope they can share some of their tricks. And most importantly, let's hope that the resulting product of all LI produces is the beneficiary of experimentation.

PS: I'm not in any way related to Robert Foley, though if he is reading this and wants to adopt a 38 year old wine lover I'd be all in.


I like Dave Foley's previous comment pointing out that the fact that Napa winemakers want to make wine in LI is nothing short of a great compliment to what LI wine growers have and can continue to achieve.

I have met with all of the members of this new project multiple times and there enthusiasm to work with cool climate fruit, passion and open mindedness is welcome and refreshing.

In a small region we all need to support each other and work together to make strides toward a mutually beneficial greater goal.

Reading this article as well as others about the new winery I am nervous that the message the media can take (if intentional or not) is that 'it takes Napa winemakers to make great wine on LI'. This is a slippery slop to take and I hope the Red Hook team is conscious and careful of how they portray themselves to the media while of course using there winemakers as a marketing tool


Dave,

We are reacting to the comments in the article, not to the fact that they are going to be working with LI fruit.

I believe Anthony's final point is the one on which to focus, and to it I will add that they please recognize that LI is not Napa--trying to push fruit in one region to meet another region's ripening stats will cause trouble more times than not.

I see the education process going both ways.

Mark sometimes has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth.They dont grow the fruit in Brookyln they just make it there,witch is by far the easiest part of the process.It hits a nerve when comments are made like this especially when I sold fruit to them and was told how great every thng was! Concerned LI grower

Hi. This is Abe, one of the winemakers in the Redhook project.
It is an exciting coincidence for me that I was in Brooklyn working at the winery just as this article appeared and the comments on it began blossoming. It seems like a perfect forum and perfect timing to give you some sense of how I view this project. I hope that this post is not too long, but I am eager to share my thoughts with you. I wrote these comments wednesday night on the plane, on the way home. I am taking a break from bottling prep at my winery back home to post them. But I just read the last post, and wish I had managed to get these comments up last night.

Let me tell you first of all that when I met with Christopher (the actual winemaker) on tuesday to begin our work, I almost cried when I tasted some of the wines. He and I (and our friend and colleague Darren-- I guess that he is Christopher's intern in the winery org chart) were meeting to taste the problematic wines tuesday. the plan was to assess them, come up with some preliminary plans for addressing problems, sleep on the plans, re-taste the wines in the morning, reassess the plans, then go on to taste the wines that christopher found unproblematic. but after spending a few hours on the difficult students, I asked CN if we could not taste a few of the clear successes before we called it a night. He selected Chardonnay. We stood in front of the BF chardonnays made from Ron Goerler's Jamesport Vineyard fruit. Three clones, three separate lots. the musque and dijon 76 were so good that I nearly cried. Piercing, long, complex, seductive. all at once. I was there when we reviewed the rows before picking, when we made the picking decision, spurred by some weather patterns, when we brought the fruit in, sorted it, when we pressed it, when we settled it. I returned home before we barreled down; came back to brooklyn a couple of weeks later as the fermentations were finishing and have visited the wines at least once a month since then. These are not "my" wines-- they follow the BF protocol at the winery, not the AS protocol-- but I know intimately how we made them. and we did not do a damn thing that anybody else might not have done, not a damn thing that a hundred-- a thousand, more-- winemakers all over the world did not do this fall. In my mind, these wines are fantastic-- in several senses, more exciting than anything I made in California this year. And in mind, the source of all of their excellence, the single source of that excitement is one thing: the vineyard.
I am learning so much by working out here-- I cannot tell you in this space. My excitement is not because I expected so little but because I have seen so much. It is not relative, it is absolute. it is the same excitement I have felt in Collio, in Maury in the Roussillon, in Priorat-- when you get to stand in world class vineyards and see and taste the excellence of the fruit, when you get to stand in a cellar, modest or fancy, and taste wines that pin you to the wall, make you cry, make you gasp for breath. I can't say how proud I am that I have had that feeling not only in Collio and Priorat, but in our cellar too. but in spite of a pride that makes me beam at the thought of the wines, I do not take responsibility for their excellence. I am a shepherd at best. we would have nothing but some stainless and barrels in an odd neighborhood if it were not for the fruit.
And for that we owe our colleagues who farm in the worst circumstances I have even seen in my life, and do so cheerfully and enthusiastically. I will never forget Ron's almost sly smile as he watched clouds gather over the chardonnay the day before our proposed harvest. I will never forget the first time I set foot in Joe Macari's vineyard and poked the soil with my foot. You could feel how soft and alive it was, smell its health and the complex biosystem it harbored. When he drove us around in his truck that day, I saw some of the most beautiful vineyards I had seen in my life, and I knew that we- even we who had no knowledge of the local terroir-- that even we could not help but make good wine-- maybe great wine-- here. I will never forget Joe's determination as we were asking him just let the Cabernet hang a little longer-- "Joe, I know it's gonna snow tonight, I know the birds are killing you; I know we don't know shit, but let's just take a shot . . . ." and he was determined to take a shot, but not just a shot, his best shot, now matter what it cost him. and we made some wines this year from his fruit that (if I am not mistaken) almost made him cry too. Not because we are magicians-- because he provided us with the fruit.
We bought fruit from both Ron and Joe (and from other farmers I must admit that I hardly know), but I don't think of them as suppliers or producers, but as colleagues. I feel that we are all working together in this endeavor, even if I am doing so at a much greater distance, with much less contact. I still
hesitate to call them colleagues just because I owe them so much. Teachers is more appropriate. And not just Ron and Joe, but many others too. Barbara Shinn and David Page have welcomed me twice into their vineyards and winery and I have never learned more on a vineyard visit in my life, and the last visit to their cellar (toward the end of harvest, when they probably had as much fruit still out as we did) was so impressive that it made me call into question everything that I was doing with red wine in brooklyn.
I can't speak for Mark, but I hope that my views will offer a context for his comments. Sure, he might never have seen a LI wine that he loved, but that does not mean we are here to show anybody anything. I can't speak for Bob either, but I am here to learn. I brought another good friend from napa out here for a visit at the end of harvest-- he came because he wanted to learn too, and he asked because the word is getting out back home. after a couple of days here, he said to me-- "this is going to make you a better winemaker". he did not just mean the challenge of rot and not being able to pick whenever the hell you wanted, he meant being exposed to new possibilities for excellence, for the need to bring new techniques to bear-- and he did not mean new to you-- he meant new to me! I do not yet have nearly enough experience, nearly enough friends and colleagues, here to know whether the AS protocols at Redhook are exceptional in any way. But that is not the point-- the point is not to do something new or different for its own sake. the point is to take the fruit from these amazing (and insufficiently celebrated) vineyards and to make the best wine that we can. same as anybody else who works out here. the only difference, if there is any, is that my head is spinning at the new things I am seeing, at the lessons that I am learning, at the unfamiliarity, and at possibilities unfolding in front of me.

Abe: Thank you very much for taking the time to post this comment on LENNDEVOURS. I didn't write this piece and I can't say for certain what Mark said or didn't say when Sasha spent time with him a few weeks ago, but now I wish she had spoken to you (and the other winemakers) directly. This certainly seems to be a distinctly different story than the one Mark shared with her.

I too have the utmost respect for what those in my local slice of wine country are doing -- they are extreme growers in many ways. Joe Macari, Ron Goerler and Barbara Shinn (along with many other growers) are doing terrific things in the vineyards and everyone here knows that growing top-quality fruit is much more difficult here than it is for you folks in Napa.

I'm glad to see them get their due from such a prominent winemaker from the left coast. The people in the Long Island wine community know very well what they are doing. And I hope that they can learn a bit from you just as they are teaching you.

I look forward to tasting all of the Redhook wines when they are released. I

Abe,

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You will no doubt have people lining up to give the wine a shot, and that is all a winemaker could ask for. I'm sure Lenn and the rest of his writers would love to see you hang around this forum and post your thoughts on occasion. Cheers.

Abe,

What you wrote is a great introduction about who you are, as I have not had the chance to meet you yet.

We hosted this past Sunday several CA and LI winemakers. We tasted with them and had oysters and clams and then lunch. And we enjoyed each others wine, recognizing the differences in our respective terroirs. The camaraderie established itself with ease.

As a colleague, I welcome you to the Long Island winemaking scene. I look forward, as I indicated in a previous post, above, to cross taste with you and compare. When you come back to the North Fork, bring along some of your samples and we will get you lunch and taste together. And invite Lenn.

My guess is that you will contribute to the positive story that has been unfolding about the North Fork of Long Island, by the quality of your wines.

This is an opportunity for Sascha to discern facts from spin in future interviews.

Altogether this has turned out to be one of the more exciting threads on Lenndevours.

There is one thing that I would like to add: I understand why it might seem like my take on what we are doing is "a distinctly different story than the one Mark shared." But I am not sure that that impression is correct. He and I confer sometimes daily on what we are up to and we always seem to be of the same mind. If we speak differently, it is perhaps because when you have students like me running around, you all the more have to have someone with a certain tone of voice running the show.

Abe,

Your post exactly illustrates what i meant when I mentioned that it's an education process in both directions.

You've worked in Collio. I remember my first trip to that region.

It was after having spent years in the Finger Lakes wine business. I arrived in Collio in mid April. The buds on the vines had already become 8-inch shoots--in mid April.

When I got home at the end of the month, Finger Lakes buds had just begun to look like buds...

I knew it already, but that experience drummed it home: can't work with what you don't have; you must work with what you've got, and it's no use thinking that you will make it any better--only different and its own specialty.

Its awsome you guys responded the way you did, coodos. but i want to review the offending comment and play the devil's advocate :)

"For Snyder, Long Island producers too often try to emulate a particular style – taking either a typically New World or Bordeaux approach – rather than letting the vineyard speak for itself."

I agree with this, rather broad, opinion. Its not absolute, he doesnt say ALL or ALWAYS. And as a layman, it would seem to me that Long Island's whole "PR" campain is that they were the New Bordeaux. Practically every website mentions it, the soils, the weather, most vineyard's vinifera focus is on the "bordeaux varietals" with a few Reisling and Gewürzt thrown in, and tucking away the natives and hybrids (note: Im not saying other New York areas and a whole crapload of California isnt guilty of this too). So in the end, its not a comment we should not be supprised to hear from outsiders.

"Snyder also believes that because it’s relatively easy for wineries to sell most of their product straight from the cellar door, there’s little incentive to improve and try to compete in the global marketplace."

Again, mainly I agree. It's not a derisive comment, or realy related to quality. But I also think that this is something that shouldnt change. It is actully something in our favor. Its the same for the Hudson Valley. If the wines are good enough for the people of our area and NYC, then who really cares about the "global marketplace." New York city is made out of stone and concrete and steel; it's not going anywhere. The "global marketplace" is a dubious proposition at best.

... my evidence, Exibit A (lol)
Appelation Profile, by Lenn Thopmson, the Regional Correspondent for North Fork of Long Island at the Appelation America web site ...

"Bordeaux is the word that springs to mind...and palate...for many who’ve experienced the complex elegance of Long Island reds, particularly those from the North Fork where most of the island’s 3,000 acres of vineyards and 30 wineries are located. The Bordeaux comparison really isn’t so far fetched. Some attribute it to the fact that the most planted grapes on the North Fork are the Bordeaux varieties Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, but these same grapes are found in vineyards from here to California, rarely yielding the same result. What makes North Fork reds so Bordeaux-esque is the climate. Three great bodies of Gulf Stream-influenced water surround the narrow peninsula. Long Island Sound is to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and in the middle, splitting the two forks, is Peconic Bay. All three create a very moderate climate and an extended growing season that is over a month longer than other New York wine regions. However, maritime climates are susceptible to unpredictable autumn weather, and some vintages can end in a wet harvest and disappointing wines. Even this downside of the North Fork AVA rings of Bordeaux, where vintage variation has always been a fact of life and an important part of marketing. "

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