By Lenn Thompson, Editor and Publisher
As expected, TasteCamp EAST 2009 has initiated a flurry of blog posts by some of the best and brightest in the wine blogging world. I've enjoyed reading through all of the posts and commenting on many of them. I'd encourage you to do the same -- especially if you are one of the wineries that poured for the group last weekend.
One thing that has become clear is that I was blind to one pitfall as I put together the TasteCamp format -- it sent attendees away with only a snapshot of Long Island wine today, literally, a taste of what is going on here.
Joe Roberts' post over at 1WineDude and Lyle Fass's post at Rockss and Fruit have written some interesting posts. These are two of my favorite bloggers and I was thrilled that they were able to attend. What they say in their posts certainly has merit. They are interesting perspectives and I've said some of it myself both here on LENNDEVOURS and elsewhere.
That said, I think some of the absolutes they discuss might be a bit over-the-top.
Let's break this up into two primary points -- pricing and merlot vs. cabernet franc.
Taking them in reverse order, the argument for Long Island cabernet franc isn't a new one. Many have made it, and I've written about it several times, including this post almost 4 years ago to the day. I love Long Island cabernet franc. I'm a card-carrying member of the Franc Fanatics (a club I just made up 30 seconds ago). And, many of my favorite Long Island wines are cabernet franc or cabernet franc-dominated blends.
I wish it were true, but Joe's contention that (on Long Island) "Cabernet Francs will likely offer more consistent quality year-on-year" is off base. But once I thought about it for a few minutes, it's easy to understand why he'd think that.
This is where the timing of TasteCamp comes into play. These bloggers were not only here for a weekend, a weekend when 2005 cabernet francs were available in bottle and 2007s tasted from barrel. TasteCamp attendees tasted some of the best cabernet franc ever to come out of Long Island.
I'm making generalizations of course, but if they had tasted 2003s or 2006s, they may have come away with different feelings about the consistency of Long Island cabernet franc. As any winemaker or vineyard manager can tell you, Long Island cabernet franc can be a mess in lesser years. They can be overly green, thin and show little of the potential and intensity that these 05s and 07s exhibit.
Merlot, on the other hand, makes acceptable-to-good wines even in the worst of years. That is one reason that a lot of people here push merlot. They ability to ripen it well consistently. It is also the most-planted variety on Long Island. Don't let anyone tell you that isn't a driver as well.
Shifting gears and discussing pricing -- as the organizer of TasteCamp, I should have made sure that attendees got to taste a wide array of wines, instead of each winery's high-end wines.
Our experience at Wolffer Estate on Sunday is a perfect example. Winemaker Roman Roth poured a three-vintage flight of his $100 Premier Cru, his own $50 Grapes of Roth 2002 Merlot, and two dessert wines priced at $37 and $85. Looking back, I probably should have asked him to pour some of his reserve merlot, which is around $20 and maybe his $15 rose. Would the impressions left be different, with regard to price, if Shinn Estate had poured it's $15 "Red", $23 Estate Merlot and $15 white blend? Or if Bedell Cellars had poured its $25 merlot? Maybe.
Both of those points -- varieties and prices -- are still open for debate, 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 here might be a bit presumptuous. I think so anyway.
The Long Island wine industry learns something new every day.
One of the things that some people are finally coming around to is the potential of sauvignon blanc here. We tasted several good renditions over the weekend from a variety of wineries. But for now, there is a lot of chardonnay planted. It's the second most-planted grape here, after merlot. If there were endless amounts of money around, my guess is that at least a handful of producers would rip out some of their chardonnay and plant sauvignon blanc. I think the future of Long Island whites resides in sauvignon blanc, but there just isn't that much fruit available. I know of at least 3 people who wanted to make a sauv blanc in 2008 but were unable to buy fruit.
Again though, they are still learning and will continue to learn. Long Island's wine industry was founded in 1973, fewer than 40 years ago! In the early days, there was a lot of American oak, completely different vineyard practices and varieties like zinfandel being grown. Through research at Cornell and experimentation both in the vineyard and in the winery, wineries understand what is possible here now more than ever. They aren't trying to grow zinfandel anymore and American oak is the exception, not the rule, these days. They have learned and continue to learn.
I've learned something here too about the TasteCamp format. Next year, I'll make sure that wineries pour a better representation of their portfolio. And, I hope that attendees will remember that two and a half days in a region doesn't make you an expert. 5 years with a blog focusing on the region doesn't make one an expert either, by the way.
At the end of the day, I think that these exchanges can help push Long Island wine country forward. That's the power of blogs. Where else would these discussions be possible?