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May 06, 2009

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No expert here either - but one thing I do know is that this forum - thanks to Lenn - has provided the most comprehensive discussion of the Long Island wine industry available anywhere.

Cheers,
David Page
Shinn Estate Vineyards

It's important to have differing opinions and philosophies - among producers, critics and consumers alike. It makes for thoughtful debate and keeps us pushing forward. One thing is for certain and that is Long Island wines have never been better than they are right now - and I'm absolutely confident that they will continue to get even better. Thanks Lenn for putting last weekend together and allowing us to show what we can do.

I appreciate the comments on the post, Lenn, and for the open-minded discussion that my post has generated.

I've crossed-out the Cab Franc comment on my post, as Lenn has rightly pointed out that the weekend's experience can't really bolster my original comment on the CF.

I certainly stand by my position about Loire and N. Italy being potential areas of inspiration for LI in the future, and I agree totally with Lenn that we bloggers want to see the lower end of the wine portfolio of the LI wineries - it's what we and most of our reader will drink, after all!

Mostly, I want to underscore that I am not an enemy of LI wine. After this past weekend, I am most certainly a friend of LI wine and will be watching (and cheering) on it's success from a couple of hundred miles to the south.

I just don't want the wineries of LI to get too hasty or speed up the development of their terroir, which I am sure will continue to reach new heights in those wines!

Cheers!

"Differing opinions and philsophies" - that, folks, seems to be the key. By bringing all the bloggers there and giving them a common experience, then seeing the diversity of impressions, Tastecamp seems to have forged a brave new model for coverage. A totally refreshing alternative to mainstream wine media, where mags tend to rely strictly and solely on "beat" experts. Doing that is designed, of course, to create a sense of authority, but it denies reality. I've read a few of the post-camp reports and was pleased to see the different approaches, esp. with respect to the relative value of L.I. wines and thoughts on what the region is truly doing "best."

Joe: I don't think that anyone considers you an enemy. MOST of the wineries involved in the weekend (if not all) are more than open to hearing opinions from smart, wine-loving people.

And I certainly would never argue that the Loire and N. Italy are places where local vintners can be inspired.

But, I also think that all this talk of "models" is silly too. Long Island is a unique, one-of-a-kind region. It's one where clearly cab franc, chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and merlot can all excel (and this is by no means an exhaustive list).

That is what is go fun for me...I am enjoying seeing how the region evolves over time.

As an outsider looking in who is enthusiastic about the Region, I really love all this great discussion. I am planning my fourth trip down from Albany to the area with my wife. We usually go to our favorite stops, but I really look forward to hitting some of these other vineyards that we have missed, particularly Raphael, Shinn and Roanoke, which have garnered so much discussion. We just cannot get distribution up here so all of the blogs will really be a great resource for our next trip.

I won't speak for anyone else, but after all the Merlot we tasted this past weekend, I was just tired of it. It's not that it wasn't good - it's that I had to much of it I longed for something - anything - else. I have the feeling others felt the same way.

Therefore I have to think that if there had been a Long Island Cabernet France Alliance pouring us as much Cab Franc as we had Merlot, we would be sick of that too.

Interesting comment Dale - I think this is true no matter what the wine. Last time I was in Germany I got awful tired of tasting just Rieslings and Riesling crossings...

With regard to areas of inspiration, I think its time we move on from the comparisons and models from other regions. I think we've gotten to the point now where we need to stop talking about Bordeaux, Friuli and the Loire or anywhere else for that matter - and talk about Long Island. We need to focus on what we do and what we taste and how we move forward with what we already know. Those comparisons were good and I'd argue, somewhat necessary for us in our evolution, but its time to really dig deep into our own region and flesh out and appreciate our wonderful climate and soil for what it is.

Rich,

You are spot on. And you might tell that to marketers who keep up with the lattitude/longitude of LI and Bordeaux, and so on ;)

To be serious, however, I firmly believe that one of the drawbacks for any wine region shines brightly when writers try to model, compare, or pin the region to another, older and more established region. It's an easy out for the writer and a usually a bad rap for the upcoming region.

If we'd all live by that thing we call individual 'terroir' we couldn't possibly assume that it's right to compare regions to other regions.

As for the Merlot, CF debate: ten years ago I started to think that Merlot has a good host in Long Island. I haven't changed that view. And I agree with Lenn on his description of CF as opposed to Merlot when the vintage isn't perfect.

Having said that, I'm more a fan of a house style and less a fan of varietal marketing, so I usually evaluate wines on that basis.

Lenn, you wrote about Joe and Lyle:

"Both of those points -- varieties and prices -- are still open for debate of course, but for anyone who has only been to Long Island for a weekend (or even writing about them for 5 years like me) to suggest that Long Island wineries are doing anything "wrong" out might be a bit presumptuous."

That is way over-the-top and it goes against your stance to not be a cheerleader. After all, in the Q&A you've set up, you declare that the bloggers have now tasted a "representative sample" of Long Island wines. Part of the point of this experience was for bloggers to experience the petals and the thorns of the rose, right? So if anything is presumptuous, I'd say it's you telling bloggers they can't say that Long Island is making mistakes.

(You know I love you, bro, but just calling it how I see it).

Also, the posts on this trip have me crazily stoked for Long Island Cabernet Franc. As you know, CF is the red grape that I find most enjoyable from the Finger Lakes, and wouldn't it be awesome if the wine world recognized that outstanding CF in the United States came from New York state first and foremost? We wouldn't have to suffer the $75 California bombs anymore. The market would realize that cool climate is not an impediment, but rather a desirable quality.

And each year, we could break down the difference in Cab Franc from somewhat-neighboring but wildly different terroir!

Evan: You know I love you too, but you're way off base here with the first half this comment.

I'll give you that "representative" might be a poor word choice in my Q&A. I wrote these questions before TasteCamp was even over (and before I had realized my mistake of not encouraging more wineries to pour wines at all price points instead of just high-end stuff).

I don't think that I'm over the top at all in what I'm saying here. We all have opinions -- I think there are plenty of over-priced wines and I prefer Long Island's best cab francs to its best merlots. Does that make merlot "wrong"? If wineries are able to get $40 or more for a middling merlot, is it "wrong" for them to charge that much? I think the answer to both is no.

I'm no cheerleader. If this post came across that way, then it's my fault for not editing it better.

Those comments were merely meant as a "Hey, let's take a step back here." People may not LIKE that they are pushing merlot. They may not AGREE with it. But for any of us to say that it's wrong is presumptuous. I mean, these guys are selling all that merlot and (at least on the surface) making a living doing it, right?

And I think that in conext, with the discussion of vintage variation, etc. it reads less like cheerleading.

Now that we're done with that bit of housekeeping (and good luck getting any more of your writing through your editor btw ;)) let's get to something that is near and dear to my heart -- cabernet franc.

I'm not sure that the market thinks in "cool climate" vs. "warm climate" terms. I think that they assume California is better for everything, which obvious it is not. Why don't they buy cab franc? I don't know.

Maybe they don't know what cab franc is? Until I moved here to Long Island, had never heard of it.

Right now, it seems to be a wine geek grape first and foremost. Is it that hard-to-avoid greeness? Has the American wine-buying public been told that anything green is bad?

How can we enlighten the country on the beauty and grace of New York cab franc?

In the fall, if/when you guys come down, we should plan a little cab franc tasting one night. We'll get some wine people together, taste some FL, some LI and some Loire (no reason to mess with those cab sauv-light renditions from CA).

Lenn,

I think there are some shades of gray here on the first part. You ask, "If wineries are able to get $40 or more for a middling merlot, is it "wrong" for them to charge that much? I think the answer is no."

On a purely capitalistic basis, you're certainly correct. Why wouldn't they charge what the market will bear? What are they, nuts?

But the shade of gray that I get, when reading some of the other bloggers, is that the region has to make some sort of collective decision in regards to whether they want to be taken seriously. And squeezing every last cent out of mediocre wine is a good way to make sure your wine doesn't travel.

I think you're probably right to say that wineries should have poured a wider range. But not all bloggers are saying the region is overpriced as a whole. Clearly, thanks to the time taken by folks like David Page to explain case production and average price, there is a wide range. But some bloggers were simply saying that even the high-end wine they tasted was strong -- until they saw the price tag. I don't think that's true for every wine, obviously, but some are simply saying that the high-end wines are priced too high. I don't think they're saying the market won't bear it; I think they're saying a wider market won't take the time to try it, which limits their future to a tiny niche in the wine landscape.

As for Cab Franc, I love the idea of a Cab Franc tasting down there. I can't remember the last time I heard such universal enthusiasm for a wine as there is for the Shinn '07. I'm about ready to buy a case without even tasting it myself.

In California, there are some notable exceptions, but the story is often the same with Cab Franc I've had: The winemaker professes to love Cab Franc, and be devoted to it, and then I taste the wine and it could be any number of massive, over-extracted and often over-oaked wines. There's just no way you could taste it blind and say, "Ahh, now THIS is what Cab Franc is all about!"

And of course, Cab Franc is about different things in different places. All wine is. It's just that most (and I stress most, not all) CA versions I've had have been indistinguishable from other varietals.

Also: Why not more Chenin Blanc down there? That's an exciting idea.

Lenn and Evan,

After you compare FLakes and LI Cabernet Franc, try pinning down a NY style for that grape.

It is not about the grape--it is about how a grape performs in a particular location.

Thomas: I'll respond to you first. I don't think we're going to find a single style for NY. But I have a feeling you already know that.

Evan: We do live in a capitalistic society don't we? Sure, I wish these wines were more affordable. I'd be able to drink them every day. But, what gets lost a bit is a couple things:

First, we tasted some of the highest-priced wines in New York. The $100 Premier Cru merlot from Wolffer is the exception to the rule and is an extreme case.

Second, for all the comments about price, at least some of the bloggers (and in some cases the very ones making the price comments) purchased those wines. Wolffer sold some Premier Cru to bloggers. That same winemaker also sold a bottle of his $55 Grapes of Roth merlot. And, he also sold a bottle of his $85 botrytis chardonnay (to Joe as a matter of fact!).

Look, no one is defending Long Island pricing, espcially not me. There are plenty (PLEN-TY) of wines that are disgustingly overpriced. But it's easy to see how it happened.

Throwing out the premier cru for a moment, as it is a bit of an anomaly anyway, there are a couple producers who have aggressively raised prices over the last few years. And by aggressively I mean some wines have doubled in price. And, for whatever reason, they are GETTING those prices (or selling enough wholesale) enough that the wines sell out fairly quickly.

Other, lesser and greedy wineries, see this and jack up their prices similarly. Maybe not AS high, but pretty damn high. Are they selling out? I don't think so, so I think we'll see these prices come down a bit. I hope so at least.

Ultimately, it's up to the market to decide if a wine is priced correctly. Do people think that Dave Whiting is insane for pricing his single-vineyard gewurzts the way he has? Sure. Do they seem a little high to me (someone who loved them btw)? Yes, but if he can sell them at those prices, more power to him.

Lenn,

To be clear, I wasn't endorsing the view that a wine producer ought to take down the price a few notches in an effort to spread it further and wider. It takes an extreme case to convince me that a winery shouldn't charge what the market will bear. I was simply saying that those are the shades of gray I see in the argument, and I think they're worth hearing.

Wine derives value from a wide variety of sources for consumers. I'd pay a hefty ransom for that Paumanok, more than I might otherwise pay because there is a specific memory associated with that wine for me. It's special. Are there better reds from LI? I guess probably, yeah, but I value that wine on a different level for personal reasons.

Tom,

I would hope that my previous comments in this thread indicate that I agree with you entirely.

Evan,

Sorry I missed that. You guys got me confused ;)

Tell you the truth, I'm still dizzy from Lenn saying he had never heard of Cabernet Franc until he moved to LI. I still need to digest what that statement means.

Lenn,

Thank you for organizing this.

Your bloggers have confirmed that Long Island shines for its diversity.

When prices seem high, it tends to be on smaller productions. By the way most wineries are barely breaking even. So a case can be made that we are selling at cost. Yes our costs are high, since we farm in one of the most expensive areas in the world.


Charles

Regarding the issue of costs and production expenses - I do think that the main issue on Long Island is yield. Realize that on average, the yield of most Long Island vineyards hovers around 2-3 tons per acre. This is somewhat by design and is very desirable, especially in red plantings where reduction of yield is essential to produce high quality wines in our area, but we can't come close to what some of our competitors do even if we wanted to. Our cool climate limits what our vines are capable of in terms of yield - the good news is the quality. Compare this to many parts of Napa/Sonoma - a thinned 6-8 tons/acre or many areas of Australia and New Zealand where yields in vineyards can be as high as 10-15 tons per acre or more. This isn't a complaint - I don't want to make wine in those areas - but this issue along with the small lot size of our production is a huge factor in our costs. In this way we are just like the other cool climate viticultural regions in the world.

That being said, to me the complaints about Long Island's price/quality relationship is a dog that just don't hunt anymore. There are great values here and you really don't have to look too hard to find them. As in other regions, there will be special small lots produced in limited quantities and sold at a premium price. The majority of the wines on Long Island are being sold between $15-$20 a bottle. You have to consider production techniques and the methods involved behind the scenes. Are grapes hand picked? sustainably grown? from low-yield vineyards with little to no manipulation? from passionate producers? etc. etc. Ultimately we have to deliver the goods in the bottle and they need to be delicious! We're doing that better than ever.

Rich,

Strong points. Regarding yield, though, you speak about warm climate vineyards in a way that implies that everyone knows the yields are through the roof. I've never met a winemaker anywhere who admits to making wine from grapes farmed at 10-15 TPA, and even in California the fashionable talk is about low yields, not 8 TPA. Are many of these operations just obfuscating?

While I appreciate that everyone at TasteCamp has tremendous wine knowledge, I do find it a bit presumptuous for some of the bloggers to visit a wine region for 2-3 days and determine exactly which grapes should and shouldn't be planted there, and what prices should be charged. I don't think any of us is in a position to judge the entire wine region based on this weekend. We are all in a position to say which wines we liked, which we didn't... and a few impressions. I guess everyone wants their blog posts to take a strong stance, but I think people need to be careful and do their homework first.

Evan,

The quality producers in warm climates are also thinning crops and working with lower yields. However these numbers are not uncommon at all for lots of producers - it is not uncommon for even some cult CA reds to have yields of 5-6 tons per acre. They can do it. Those numbers are reduced from a set crop that was much higher - their climate and conditions allow that. There's no way we even get near that. 10 t/a is not an uncommon yield for many NZ SB's and imo has led to the decrease in quality in many of these wines over the last few years.
Just mentioning this because I think it is important in the price discussion. Is that all that matters? No. Clearly some producers are pricing wines at points based on production levels as well as where they feel the wine deserves to be positioned.

Lenn - with all due respect - your comments seem a bit defensive and I think that Evan's original comment is on target. You have to allow for the fact that not everyone will like LI wines as much as you do, nor will everyone see as much potential in them (or in Finger Lakes) as you do. It's true of everyone and everything - not everyone is going to like what I like either. But if you invite a lot of people who all drink a LOAD of wine, their criticisms, when they have them, should be carefully looked at and seen as what they are - an unbiased view of the things that merit a critical eye on LI. Lyle Fass, for one, has tasted and drank more wine that I have seen in my lifetime. His tasting memory, palate, and deep understanding of retail business and pricing are strong enough so that his opinions hold merit, even if all he did was to attend Brooklyn Uncorked, never mind spend two days intensively tasting with you and the winemakers. i'm not saying that he is correct or incorrect, just that your responses are defensive, and he isn't attacking LI wine. He is making a respectful criticism, and he should be encouraged to do so. Did you organize this so that all attendees will love NY wine the way you do, or so that they will gain experience with NY wine and discuss it critically, calling on their past experiences with other wine regions?

If you spent a weekend drinking German Riesling with him, wouldn't you be entitled to say what you think is going well and what you thinks needs work? Aren't you qualified to drink wine and consider its relative values and faults?

You are a champion of the region's wines and you're doing an amazing job as such. But other people have good taste too, even if they don't drink as much LI wine as you do (and no one drinks as much LI wine as you do). You yourself have said on many occasions that you don't drink enough wine from outside of LI. Other people like Lyle drink wine from all over the world for YEARS, and if you cannot allow them to express criticism about their experiences without responding defensively, you endanger your own credibility as an independent thinker.

This is not meant as an attack on you - I think you are great, your blog is great, and what you do for NY is great. But we need you to be credible and open minded, to accept advice from people like Lyle and to really think about it, not to impulsively try to refute it.

Neil: Will all due respect? You don't need to say that to me, bro. I know you'd not attack me on any sort of personal level.

What I think you (and maybe Evan too) missed here is that this isn't about liking or disliking the wines. Both Joe and Lyle (and you're absolutely write about him...I marveled at his knowledge most of the weekend).

This is about anyone coming to any region for two days and making generalizations about pricing and what varieties work best -- based on tasting a wide (horizontally) but also narrow (vertically) batch of wines.

I'm not being defensive at all, and as I said to Evan (maybe via email) I can see where that might come across but it's just not true.

Your last point is a great one "really think about it." I did think about it and because of posts like Lyle's and Joe's I have been able to identify pitfalls in the TasteCamp format and concept. And, I thought it was important to share those lessons learned.

It's entirely possible that if more "second label" wines had been poured, the price argument wouldn't be so central in the minds of some attendees. And it's entirely possible that if they had tasted more 06 cab francs, they'd understand the challenges there better as well.

Or maybe not.

And I'm hoping Lyle invites me for that weekend drinking German riesling.

Honestly, I just wish that the posts I'm seeing were more about the wines themselves -- good or bad. And trust me, we tasted some uninspired wines over the weekend (and a couple real clunkers).

Hope to see you at Brooklyn Uncorked next week, bro.

yes, will see you there. and i promise to like all of the wines! :>

I know better than that Neil, we've tasted too many LI wines together previously.

And yet, I still like and respect you. How is that?

I took away a new appreciation for Long Island Sauvignon Blancs and enjoyed those by Macari and Shinn Estate Vineyards. The Paumanok Chenin Blanc was a stand out from the weekend and overall I was more impressed with LI whites than I had anticipated.

My favorite reds were those from Roanoke and Wolffer. And the food at Raphael and Shinn Estate Vineyards was delicious.

Well, it's obvious f therom response of some bloggers after the weekend that the issue of LI wine prices is alive. I still wonder what LI wineries do, if anything, to address the issue?

Having been a retailer, too, I can say that, as true as it may be, most consumers really aren't interested in hearing that prices are high because costs are high. It was a bear to move LI wine in my shop in Manhattan and I could not win consumers over with such an argument.

I fully agree with Erika that one weekend of tasting isn't even close to enough time to tell others what they should or should not be producing. Truth be told, unless one has viticultural experience, he or she is off base to tell anyone what to produce. You may not appreciate the results, and you can say why, but it seems to me that is all that needs to be said as criticism.

After reading all these comments I think we need to coordinate some kind of New York Cabernet Franc tasting in NYC to highlight these wines from both the Finger Lakes and Long Island. Maybe in the fall?

True that the market determines price, however there are two markets for our wineries: tasting room sales and wholesale accounts. Obviously pricing is much more of an issue in the three-tier distribution model.

Morgen,

I'm not sure that I know what you mean concerning the pricing.

Generally, the tasting room price equals the retail price.

A winery selling direct to retailers sells at about the same wholesale price that a distributor in the 3-tier system would sell to retailers.

Is there some other formula?

Visitors to a tasting room are less sensitive to price and most people will purchase at least one bottle at a winery. Essentially there is an invisible mark-up for the tasting room/winery experience.

Distributors, retailers and restaurants are mostly concerned with margins, moving product through inventory, and making money.

In today's tough economic conditions if a California Cabernet Sauvignon is having trouble selling at $35+ per bottle it certainly will be harder to sell the more expensive New York wines through three-tier distribution.

On a related note, Finger Lakes Rieslings continue to offer incredible value but even then it has been hard to obtain greater distibution for them. In an encouraging development, in the June issue of Wine & Spirits, a Finger Lakes winery was selected as one of America's top value brands.

Unfortunately selling New York wines to a broader national audience still remains challenging regardless of price point. It is why programs like TasteCamp and the subsequent debates are vital to the long-term viability of the New York wine industry.

Oh, I see where you are going.

Still, I think Lyle Fass was referring to consumer resistance to a price that he feels does not compete. And in my experience in retail, I found the same issue came up not with Finger Lakes wines--those prices competed--but certainly with LI wines.

I mainly bought direct from wineries whenever I could--wineries without distribution.

Here we go again.
When we judge a wine from a region that has not yet reached cult status we want to get it at a discount, well because it is not a cult wine.
When we buy a cult wine price is no object, well because it is a cult wine. And we will brag that we were able to get a couple of bottles.

In many blind tastings our wines stood up very well against cult wines that were priced several times higher than ours. By that yardstick our wines are a great buy.

In the issue of the Robert Parker's Wine Advocate that reviewed LI and FL wines, when compared to similarly rated wines from elsewhere in that issue, our wines were not the least expensive but they were a lot less expensive than many wines with even lower scores.

From my point of view what matters is the quality of the wine. If a wine tastes good it is going to find a buyer. If LI wineries were so crazy as to overprice their wines, how come are they selling so early? That some people may find some of our wines as expensive is unfortunate , for both of us. We loose a customer and they do not get to enjoy our wine.

But can we instead focus on the wine? Because, as I said, the wines are selling well. Complaining about prices will drive me to drink...

Charles,

But there is a cult wine from LI, at least in my household! Do you sell library wines such as the 2000 Cab Sauv that won my heart?

Charles,

To be clear, I'm not endorsing the perception, only wondering what LI wineries do about a persistent perception like that, especially as it came up on blogs after a successful weekend with bloggers.

"From my point of view what matters is the quality of the wine."

I agree with your sentiment completely--now that I don't run a for-profit retail shop.

So, let's just drop the subject, then.

I think that as time goes on, and the bloggers who attended TasteCamp sift through their tasting notes, we'll start seeing more posts about the wine quality itself.

I know that as a fellow blogger, I'm curious to see what these guys think/thought about the wines we tasted.

Evan,

I am not sure what the protocol is on Lenndevours. If you send me an email at [email protected] we will discuss it there.

Thanks for a cheerful comment.

Charles

Man... I've been without a computer for 3 weeks because my motherboard blew and my wireless card crapped out... and I missed a lot.
I wish I could have attended this event - - it sounds awesome both for the wine and the spirited debates.
Lenn... do people who regularly post comments on your blog qualify for attending in the future??????

Anyway, I think there is a real price "issue" with LI and I think Evan hit the nail on the head with this comment:
"some are simply saying that the high-end wines are priced too high. I don't think they're saying the market won't bear it; I think they're saying a wider market won't take the time to try it, which limits their future to a tiny niche in the wine landscape."
I think the underlying message in that comment is that the high prices are not necessarily going to hurt sales of LI wine locally and in tasting rooms, but they are going to be a severe hinderance in garnering national (and world wide) distribution and acceptance.
I've brought dozens of friends down to LI for tastings and everybody was surprised by 2 things: the quality that exceeded expectation and the price that exceeded expectation.
Of course, LI doesn't (and likely will never) produce enough product to gain a huge national or global presence. I've always told my friends that, based on production levels, they had to consider LI to be an entire region of boutique wineries rather than a California-type region with hundreds of wineries and a handful of boutique wineries. I told them they were not going to come home from their trip with cases of every-day wine, but rather a handful of selections to share on special occasions.
A final note. I put the word "issue" above in quotes because LI seems to be doing fine in terms of selling out their product, even with prices that exceed $20 way more often than they dip below $12. Therefore, the issue with price wouldn't necessarily impact their ability to sell, but rather their ability to compete nationally against hoards of $15 and under bottles that flood the shelves.

Lenn,
Did any winemakers ever mention how they might price their 2007 reds? For example, most of the bloggers seemed to love the Shinn 07 Cab Franc. The 06 is currently selling for $39. In a normal year, I would expect the price to stay the same or go up no more than $2. It will be interesting to see how Shinn prices this. Will they chase a big payoff based on the quality by pricing it in the high $40's or even try to break $50?
I remember when Jamesport's Cab Franc was in the low $20's (I bought their '02 vintage for $24) and then they won a "best red wine" award for it and the next year it went right up to $40 for pricing and has never looked back.
With priciing already high in LI for many wines, I hope the winemakers don't use the quality of '07 to sneak in another 20% plus margin.
(I'm not picking on Shinn here as I think they do offer some well priced wines, I'm just merely using them as an example because their 07 CF seemed to be a unanimous hit.)

Just saw this. Lenn, Whenever you are ready a Lenn/Lyle/Brooklyn Wine Guy Riesling Extravaganza . . .hell if we did it in Germany, where I got the hookups it would even be better.

I am staying out of the fight as my internet battle days are behind me.

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