By Lenn Thompson, Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Last week on Twitter, Morgen McLaughlin of Finger Lakes Wine Country said, referring to a short piece by Wine Spectator's Thomas Matthews, "This is why Long Island wineries need to submit wines for review to Wine Spectator."
As you can see, the story includes Matthews scoring at\ Lenz Winery 2005 Old Vines Chardonnay 90 points.
Morgen has done a great job getting Finger Lakes producers editorial coverage in the Spectator over the last year or so -- mostly by submitting a boatload of wine to the magazine (both current releases and library wines). In her words, "The formula is simple. Wine submissions = editorial coverage. End of story."
We discussed, all via Twitter, the advantages of her organization coordinating mass submissions (are you listening, Long Island Wine Council?), the differences in the two region's sizes and how great (and I agree) James Molesworth has been for the Finger Lakes. He covers the Finger Lakes for WS, by the way, with enthusiasm and fairness.
The discussion had me thinking to myself "Aren't most Long Island wineries sending wines already?" Matthews implies that they aren't in the story, and I have heard several winery owners and winemakers complain about Wine Spectator's "blind" tasting procedures, the perceived 90-point ceiling for New York wines, etc. But, I hadn't asked many of them in any sort of organized way, so I decided to do that.
I sent a quick, informal survey to the Long Island wine community that asked some basic questions: Do you send wines to Wine Specator? Why or why not? What advantages have you seen? Etc.
As one might expect, responses were mixed, though generally affirmative.
Most of the "on the record" responses painted a positive picture of the winery-WS relationship. Rich Pisacano, co-owner of Roanoke Vineyards told me that they've only sent wines "Twice in four years, but I plan to continue" because "We experienced a positive response and interest for our wines from an 88 point score for Roanoke Vineayrds 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon and more recently 89 points for our Roanoke Vineayrds 2005 Merlot."
Just a few miles east of Roanoke, Alex Macari of Macari Vineyards tells a similar tale "We have always submitted to Wine Spectator ever since we opened the winery. Great benefits! We have had customers walk in with the magazine requesting a case of a particular wine just because of a review."
Richard Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Raphael who has been making wine on Long Island since the 1980s does submit his wines, but added that "I would see a bigger benefit with a couple of 95s. Believe it or not it seems as if the scores we received for our wines years ago were more generous than they are today -- somewhat incongruous with the fact that our wines today are so much better than they were 20 years ago. I've truly been perplexed by many of the recent scores of very good local wines. I think many are much better than the scores in the context of their system. But hey I'm biased."
Michael Croteau, owner of Croteaux Vineyard (a rose-focused producer) doesn't sent wines to the magazine, however, telling me simply that sending wines to Wine Spectator is "Not a priority. I don't see the benefit for us."
For a small boutique winery only making 4 wines, all merlot-based rose, that's easy to understand. They don't need high scores to sell through their inventory. The same is probably true for many of Long Island's smaller producers
But the owner of a far larger (and we can assume profitable) winery, who would only comment off the record, told me that sending wines to Wine Specator held "no benefit" for his winery, saying "I have always thought that our wines and indeed all Long Island wines have been damned with faint praise by the 'Specter' -- and by many, many others who do not taste blind, or better, double blind."
Continuing to talk about the magazine's tasting procedures, he told me "The Spectator has always tasted un-blind. They may sometimes say that they taste blind but that means they assemble 50 Long Island wines and then taste them blind, obviously knowing they are ALL LONG ISLAND WINES. They may be better-than-average tasters but the literature on human bias is very, very extensive."
Part 2 of this post will focus on Wine Specator's tasting process and guidlines, with information direct from Thomas Matthews himself, as well as some brief analysis of New York wine scores over the years.
In the meantime, here are a couple of my own thoughts on the matter, after hearing from so many wineries:
- Long Island doesn't "need" to submit samples to Wine Specator. Morgen is wrong there. Several wineries are doing just fine without sending wines.
- If Long Island really wants to make an impact via the Wine Specator, they should work together, submitting wines en masse like Finger Lakes Wine Country has been doing. Again, are you listening Long Island Wine Council?
The last comment I want to make is more about the piece Mr. Matthews wrote. It strikes me as odd that he'd say "Few of the region's producers choose to submit wines for review, making it difficult to establish a comprehensive context." considering that all but four of the wineries I talked to do send wines (two said they didn't know they could just send them without them being requested) and that from the sounds of it, he hasn't visited Long Island wine country in years. One winemaker told me "I haven't seen or heard of him being out here in 6 or 7 years." I think Mr. Matthews is based in NYC, so it would seem that if he's going to cover the Long Island region, he could easily visit with some sort of regularlity.
I know that Mr. Molesworth visits the Finger Lakes more often than once every 6 or 7 years.
Stay tuned for more on the Wine Specator topic. Should be a fun ride.