By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor
When you think about the Long Island wineries that have pioneered alternative energy and other "green" practices, do you think of Osprey's Dominion?
If not, you should. They kicked off their wind turbine project in 2000 and converted all of their farm equipment (tractors, trucks, etc.) to biodiesel in 2004. They aren't organic in the vineyard, but 60% of their practices are according to winemaker Adam Suprenant. He refers the rest as "reduced risk" treatments.
Suprenant (pictured right) also steers clear of most additives in the winery, only using SO2, acid -- if needed -- and bentonite for fining. "If we do it right in the vineyard (the) wines are easy to make. I don't need tricks," he said when I spent some time with him recently, tasting 2010s from barrel and tank.
Most winemakers say things like that though. "Wine is made in the vineyard" after all, right?
Suprenant isn't prone to cliche. In fact, this New York-born, University of California Davis-trained winemaker tends to do things his own way, even if goes against what some consider best practices for fine wines on Long Island.
And make no mistake, though his portfolio is large and diverse, Suprenant is making some good wines -- some very good.
When Suprenant came to the region a decade ago, he was seen by some as "the Davis guy" who surely must adhere to the teachings of Davis professors in all matters. Not so, according to Suprenant "Davis is science. It's good to know, but it's also good to deconstruct Davis."
Spending nearly three hours with Suprenant, I found him to be a much more an intuitive winemaker than a scientific one. He trusts his palate, his instincts and his experience.
He has a full lab at his disposal, but admits he's used it less and less in recent years.
Making His Wines His Way
Suprenant displays an endearing level of confidence in his kills -- and is clearly not afraid to apply techniques that fly in the face of conventional or local wisdom.
In the vineyard, where hang time is important for ripening, Suprenant doesn't see the point of pushing it too far. He's far more interested in healthy, sound fruit. "The object is not to be the last one to pick. The object is ripe fruit," he said.
He doesn't want brett in his wines -- though doesn't mind a little in the wines he drinks -- so in a region were most of the best reds are bottled unfiltered, he filters all of his reds except pinot. He knows that he's probably removing some color "you should see the filter when I'm done," he said with a smile adding "But, here I am breaking the 'filtration rule' and I'm getting away with it."
He feels strongly that -- regardless of what others are doing or say -- you can filter and still make great wines.
He also believes you can machine harvest and make great wines. His Osprey's Dominion 2007 Merlot Reserve was a NYCR 2010 wine of the year finalist -- and the fruit was all harvested mechanically. 80% of the leaf pulling is done by machine too. All this mechanization is why Suprenant's wines are among the most affordable for the quality in the region.
For many years, Suprenant crafted Osprey's Dominion's wines -- 10,000 to 12,000 cases annually -- by himself, without the help of an assistant.
"In 2007, I processed 200 tons of fruit myself," he said. That was the last time he'd do that. He hired an assistant in 2008 and hopes to add some more help in coming years.
With the help in place, he was able to create a private label that will be launched this spring, Coffee Pot Cellars -- named for a lighthouse just east of Greenport, using fruit purchased from top local vineyards.
Look for a post about that project soon.
As we talked about him making all that wine by himself for so many years, Suprenant half-joked that he's "making some of the best wines around... without a French consultant" a good-natured dig at local wineries who have invested heavily in such outside help.
We tasted more than a dozen 2010 wines from tank and barrel, but there were a few standouts and noteworthy wines. Note that none of the reds have seen any new oak yet:
2010 Pinot Gris: Barrel fermented and aged sur lie, the mouthfeel is is beautiful with a rich, slightly glycerin texture balanced by fresh acidity and an interesting briny-olive note on the finish. Will go into a new wine styled after Alsatian blends.
2010 Coffee Pot Chardonnay: Made with fruit from Sam McCullough's vineyard. Barrel fermented (old barrels) with bright fresh-cut apple and tangerine flavors, citrusy acidity and a lemon-orange finish.
2010 Malbec: Blueberry, graphite and cocoa beans. Mouth-filling palate. Firm, but ripe structure. Will be central in an homage to Cahors.
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon: Black currant and chocolate with hints of eucalyptus and sweet herb. Super-concentrated. Ripe and brawny.
2010 Merlot (South Block): Italian clone. Ripe, supple tannins. Ripe blackberry and very minty.
2010 Merlot (Mattituck vineyard): Davis 3 clone. Bigger, chewier tannins with dense cherry flavors. Great concentration.
Looking for Respect
When Suprenat talks about his wines and how far the winery has come, there is a tension in his words -- a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
He's intensely proud of the work he's done and the wines he's made over the past ten years. He points to the "Winery of the Year" awards, the Wine Spectator scores and the endless array of medals won at competitions, and wants to know why he, and the winery, don't get more and better attention.
He's eliminated the fruit wines from the portfolio. He only makes reserve wines in the best years. Heck, he only makes vintage-labeled wines in the years when the fruit is deserving. He seems to be doing everything right.
So what's holding the winery back? How does a winery transform itself and change how it is perceived by the public and the media? I'm not sure, but I know Adam isn't alone in asking these questions.
There is little doubt in my mind that Osprey's Dominion Vineyards deserves more time in the spotlight -- for it's practices and for its wines. Whether you care about awards and medals or not, it's undeniable that Suprenant is making some impressive wines -- particularly his Bordeaux-variety reds -- that are worth seeking out. The wind turbine and bio-diesel initiatives are an important bonus.