By Lenn Thompson
Photo courtesy of Dale Cruse
When Megan Witherspoon attended TasteCamp EAST 2009, she didn't have a blog. She was simply the better half to Virginia-based blogger John Witherspoon (that's the wine blogging power couple at right). But, not long after the event, she started her new blog, Wine Conscience, one of the few blogs that I read every day. She uses her blog to support and celebrate environmentally friendly winemaking.
Megan is a fine artist-turned-corporate workhorse, who maintains her sanity with the help of fine wine. Megan's family also owns, Woodland Vineyard, a small vineyard and winery in Virginia, and she occasionally travels under the alias Mrs. Anything Wine.
Was this your first time to Long Island wine country?
Yes, and it was not at all what I expected. For some reason I had envisioned Long Island as a big industrial suburb of New York City, but now that I’ve been there it is on my short list of vacation spots for next year -- I had no idea there were so many vineyards on Long Island!
Had you ever had any Long Island wines before? And if so, what was your impression of them?
Only one, and I’m not sure that was the best preview…
After tasting a larger sampling of the wines being produced on Long Island, what is your impression now?
I am very impressed by the quality of wines being produced on Long Island. For such a small, young and self-contained wine region, the wineries are producing some great wines.
The winemakers we met all seem to have a general understanding of the region’s key strengths and weaknesses, and all expressed pride in their wines and a dedication to continued improvement.
What, in general, impressed you the most?
I was very impressed by all of the winemakers we met and their willingness and excitement to share their knowledge and wines with us. The winemakers we met generally fell into two different categories:
- Those who embrace winemaking tradition and emulate Old World techniques (like Wolffer and Raphael)
- Those who are leveraging the “newness” of the region to experiment with innovative viticultural and winemaking techniques (like Shinn, Macari and Channing Daughters).
Both approaches have their merits, and both are producing some great wines, though I found this second group to be the most exciting and inspiring. I was most inspired by the efforts being put forth by wineries like Shinn and Macari to reduce the environmental impact of their winemaking and to advance general knowledge around “green” growing techniques.
What, in general, underwhelmed you the most?
My greatest disappointment with the region will come as no surprise, as it was echoed in nearly every other blogger interview--the price tags.
I think Virginia wines are often overpriced, but they pale in comparison to the prices being asked by Long Island wineries. While I do admit to buying a bottle of the Wolffer Estates 2004 Premier Cru Merlot ($85 with industry discount), it was a major splurge and we probably wouldn’t have bought the bottle without the special 20% discount they gave us. I recognize that land in the Hamptons costs upwards of $1MM/acre, and that summer tourists are willing to pay these inflated prices. However, if these wineries ever want to compete on a national scale, the prices will need to decline substantially.
Was there a winery or tour stop that stands out in your mind as the “best”?
The most memorable stop was probably the lunch at Shinn Estate Vineyards, which involved a sampling of wines from Shinn, Macari Vineyards and Jamesport Vineyards. While these weren’t all my favorite wines of the weekend (although the 2007 Shinn Estates barrel sample Cabernet Franc is vying for the top of the list), this lunch really gave me a feel for the character and ideology of the producers in the region, and this group’s dedication to eco-friendly winemaking. See my related post about this lunch called “Pass the Poop.”
The other stand-out would definitely be Channing Daughters. While John and I only bought one bottle at this stop (the cabernet franc rose was fantastic), I was truly inspired by their passion, creativity, and resourcefulness. They are creating very unique and exciting wines using innovative techniques, obscure grape varietals (at least in the U.S.), and with very limited space and resources.
If you had to pick one, what would your wine of the weekend be?
This is a tricky question, particularly because I wasn’t taking tasting notes. A few standouts would be the chenin blanc from Paumanok Vineyards, the Shinn barrel sample 2007 Cabernet Franc, and the Wolffer Estates 2004 Premier Cru Merlot.
I also really enjoyed two of the three roses that we tasted from Croteaux Vineyards.