I haven't tasted it yet -- no one not involved in the production has yet -- but Long Island's first brandy is here: Peconic Bay Spirits' Sono Rinata.
Technically, it's called "Immature Grape Brandy" because it was made with 100% finished merlot wine from Peconic Bay Winery, and wasn't aged for at least two years. That means they can't call it grappa.
Produced by Richard Stabile at Long Island Spirits from Peconic Bay Winery 2003 Merlot with Bernard Cannac (now winemaker at Heron Hill Winery) consulting, it should be available in the Peconic Bay Winery tasting room and at sometime within the next week. It will retail for $29 per 375ml bottle.
According to Peconic Bay's general manager Jim Silver, they decided to leave the brandy in a clear state like an eau-de-vie so that "the delicate fruit character was preserved, and not covered with oak character, or sweet, brown caramel coloring."
Silver says that the brandy "smells like cherry pie, with distinct red fruit in the nose and a gentle stinging alcohol bite.
"It is of course bone dry, and 42.5% alcohol. "At 40% it seemed weak, and at 45% a little too harsh. Right in the middle was perfect," Silver told me in an email.
They named the brandy Sono Rinata, which means “we are reborn,” because the finished product really is that 2003 merlot reborn as something new entirely.
"We plan on producing a full line of spirits products from various grape varieties in the future, including fruit brandies, under our Peconic Bay label," said Silver.
When I asked Silver about the regulatory issues surrounding Sono Rinata's production, he explained it pretty simply "We sold the wine to (Long Island Spirits), and they sold us the brandy back, a legal transaction. NYS ABC regulations article 6, subchapter 76-a, subsection 4(b)(6) passed in March of this year gave farm wineries the license to sell distilled products, so long as they are New York produced of New York ingredients. We can even taste the product in the Tasting Room, .25 oz maximum."
Without generalizing too much, there were an awful lot of 2003 reds that would have been better of being made into brandy.
I know of at least one other winery considering getting into the distilling and spirits game. It's an exciting trend that is worth paying very close attention to. It's also great to see Long Island wineries working together with Long Island Spirits to create more local products.
I should be able to taste this by next week, so look for a review sometime soon.