02/23/13 7:00am
02/23/2013 7:00 AM
Greenport Harbor

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Kaitlen Berry, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company’s tasting room manager, pulls a pint.

As the East End continues to polish its image as a leading wine region, a new effort’s a-brewing to turn the region into a destination for craft beer enthusiasts.

Last month, Wine Enthusiast Magazine named the North and South Forks one of the world’s top wine destinations for 2013. In concert with that, two new Riverhead breweries are in the works, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company is expanding, and local farmers have begun to grow hops, an important ingredient in beer.

“If you have three, four or five breweries out here, then people can make a day trip out of coming to the area for craft beer,” said brewer Greg Doroski of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company. “Its becoming a destination similar to the vineyards.”

Mr. Doroski noted that the expansion of the local beer industry is similar to what’s happened in Brooklyn, with its trendy craft beer scene. And, he added, Greenport and Riverhead seem to be developing similarly to the way Brooklyn has been gentrifying.

“Growing up out here in Greenport, I can notice the difference. Greenport and Riverhead used to be a little more rough around the edges, but things are changing,” he said. “In Riverhead you have the hotel, the aquarium, the apartments, Long Ireland Beer Company, The Riverhead Project and out here you’ve always had Bruce’s, but now you have places like The Blue Canoe and First and South — there’s more high-end farm-to-table stuff going on.”

When it comes to brewing, Riverhead has an advantage over the rest of the North Fork, Mr. Doroski said, because it offers sewer connections.

“Having sewers makes it an easier place to open breweries,” he said. “There’s also more commercial industrial space.”

Riverhead’s Crooked Ladder Brewing Company is well on its way to opening its doors. Digger O’Dell is about to install a new 16-beer tap system to serve Crooked Ladder and other local brews, and the people behind Moustache Brewing Company recently entered into a lease for a commercial building in Polish Town.

Does Riverhead believe it’s on its way to grabbing the craft beer crown?

“Absolutely,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said. “One hundred percent. There’s a method to our madness about how the downtown is coming up. Becoming a craft brewing mecca will have a positive effect on both Polish Town and downtown. I love the wineries and I do like my chianti or a glass of merlot, but I’m a beer drinker so I concentrate on what I know.”

Mr. Walter said he is happy to see the camaraderie between Long Ireland, an established local beer maker, and brewers just starting out. Long Ireland, which opened in 2011, seems to be thriving, he said.

The Central Islip couple behind Moustache brewery, Matt and Lauri Spitz, said they chose Riverhead over other Long Island locations because of the town’s encouragement.

“Riverhead was one of the only towns to welcome us with open arms,” said Mr. Spitz. “A lot of the towns we talked to weren’t sure what to do with a brewery.” But Riverhead, he said, “is trying to revitalize and pull small businesses in, which is great.”

Through Kickstarter, an online fundraising website, the couple pulled in more than $30,000 in start-up capital for their brewery, which Ms. Spitz said she hopes will contribute to the “blooming” of the East End as a craft beer destination.

“Now we have two breweries and a brew pub in Riverhead,” said Ms. Spitz. “Between that and the wineries, it’s going to be great.”

Growing along with the craft beer industry is its sister business, cultivating hops. Hops, the flower of the Humulus lupulus plant, are used in the brewing process to offset the sweetness of malt sugars and add aroma to beer. A century ago New York produced most of the hops grown in the U.S. Today, that distinction is shared by the Pacific Northwest and Midwest.

Wading River farmer John Condzella wants to change that and make the burgeoning local beer industry even more local.

However, the fourth generation farmer had a difficult time making the most of his farm’s first 800-pound hop harvest this past spring using nothing but human hands.

“We were even having hops-induced nightmares from the picking,” he said, laughing.

And because Mr. Condzella’s hops plants are still maturing, he estimates they will produce between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds next season.

“It takes about an hour for someone to harvest one plant and we’re going to be doubling our hop yard this spring,” he said. He plans to plant an acre’s worth of Willamette, Perle, and Fuggle hops varieties to bring his hop yard to two acres.

He is currently raising money through Kickstarter to import a Wolf WHE 140 Hopfen Pflückmaschine harvester from Germany for cooperative use among North Fork growers.

One of these growers is Peconic hops farmer Andrew Tralka.

“We just got our license for Farm to Pint,” said Mr. Tralka. “We hope to educate people about hops, to show them what they look like, and the North Fork is the perfect spot for it.”

A harvester would mean more local hops, enabling the growing number of local breweries to make a wet-hopped ale, which requires fresh hops.

“The Wolf has the ability to harvest an acre of hops in an eight-hour day with two people operating the machine,” Mr. Condzella said. “If hand-picking, it would take about 500 hours for the same two people.”

Mr. Condzella said he is in a rush to raise $27,000 to bring the harvester to the North Fork and eliminate “a serious barrier to producing local hops. We want to create a sense of urgency because we feel that sense of urgency and want to show we’re very serious in what we’re doing,” he said. “We want to show the local beer movement is strong. It’s an exciting time for craft and local beer on Long Island. The people involved are very passionate.”

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02/07/13 8:00am
Macari Vineyard, Long Island Wine Country

GIANNA VOLPE FILE PHOTO | Workers place protecting nets over vines at Macari Vineyards.

It was a time when potato farms were fast disappearing from the North Fork. Given the expense of farming on Long Island, growers found it all but impossible to compete with potato farmers in the Midwest, Canada and elsewhere. The days when potato fields covered 60,000 acres in Nassau and Suffolk became a memory as farm after farm, from the bay to the Sound, fell to development. It seemed as if the North Fork would soon be no different from Holtsville or most any other place on the West End.

Enter the grape — first planted here commercially by Louisa and Alex Hargrave in 1972. Forty years ago, the couple could never have imagined how those tentative first steps would transform, and help preserve, the region’s centuries-old agriculture tradition.

Many deserve credit for decades of work fighting to maintain the region’s rural way of life; civic groups, environmental advocates and government officials come to mind. But make no mistake, the economy always has final say. As Long Island Farm Bureau director Joe Gergela often says, the best way to preserve farmland is to keep farming profitable. Sure, pumpkins and agritainment have helped, but nothing’s done more for the region and local agriculture than the industry that gave the North Fork its other moniker: Long Island Wine Country.

Row upon row of grapevines, tasting rooms and other supporting structures — not housing developments — have now replaced the rows of spuds and potato barns that long dominated the landscape. Better yet, the vineyard operations have made the region a destination for tourists from near and far. Wineries employ local adults and young people alike and host weddings and other events that supply business for local florists, hotel owners, caterers and restaurateurs, bed & breakfast operators and others. A burgeoning craft beer industry complements the wineries and, with that, some local farmers are taking to growing hops and even barley so beer can be made entirely from local ingredients.

There’s no better time to remember the industry’s contribution to the North Fork and Long Island than now, during the annual Winterfest Jazz on the Vine festival, which kicks off this weekend and runs until March 17. The event was founded to help support the wineries during the slower winter months. Its success has helped Long Island Wine Country evolve into a year-round destination, helping our economy even further.

So here’s to another 40 years of ingenuity and success for the region’s wine industry.

11/22/12 5:00pm
11/22/2012 5:00 PM
Long Island Wine Country, North Fork, Hard Cider

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Bob Gammon in the Woodside Orchard barn’s hard cider tasting room in Aquebogue.

First came locally produced wine.

Then came vodka, beer and whisky. And given the number of East End fruit farms it seems only natural that list of alcoholic beverages bottled, brewed or distilled here would grow to include hard cider.

In October, Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue was the site of the area’s first “Pour the Core” hard cider festival, attended by an estimated 800 people.

Since the winery began making the area’s first hard ciders two and a half years ago, said owner Jim Silver, “hard cider has blown up across North America, including Canada.”

Others following this trend include Shinn Estate Vineyards and local winemaker Anthony Nappa.

Most recently, Aquebogue-based Woodside Orchard began its own foray into the world of hard ciders, currently offering two varieties of the sweet and tart autumn-through-winter beverage. Both are 6 percent alcohol, according to Bob Gammon Jr., one of the owners.

Woodside is a family business that’s had the Jamesport orchard since the mid-1980s, and the Gammons began selling hard cider at the Aquebogue location almost a month ago. First, though, came two years of wading through paperwork to get their farm winery license.

“One cider is a little drier because we used different yeasts with the same juice and one left more residual sugar than the other,” said Mr. Gammon.

The two varieties, he said, are made from a blend of eight different kinds of apples.

“We have a third variety we’ll release in another week and a half, just before Thanksgiving, that has cinnamon and other spices,” he said, adding that will also have 6 percent alcohol.

On Saturday, Peconic Bay Winery also released 600 bottles of a Thanksgiving-themed cider, called “Turkey Tom.” It is available for purchase at the winery and Empire State Cellars at Tanger Outlets in Riverhead.

Mr. Gammon estimated that Woodside Orchard should have enough hard cider to keep the Aquebogue location open until Christmas, and will reopen in May.

He added that the family is considering showcasing their ciders during a spring “apple blossom festival.”

Woodside Orchard currently grow 27 varieties of apples on 4,000 trees and offers pick-your-own apples in addition to prepacked bags of roughly 11 pounds and baked goods like pies and apple breads.

With hard cider now added to the list they are also in the process of developing another product — apple wine — and are currently waiting for label approval of their Woodside Orchard Apple Wine.

Mr. Gammon said that aromatically, the wine’s nose is reflective of the fruit it’s made from, though it is similar in taste to other white wine. “It fits in with other wines quite nicely,” he said. “It doesn’t stand out one way or another.”

The decision to make apple-holic beverages began with a suggestion by a local winemaker Mr. Gammon said wishes to remain unnamed, who has been a key consultant and a tremendous help in the operation.

“The process of making hard cider is not really that difficult, just time-consuming,” he said. “We press the juice at our Jamesport farm and then we bring it to Aquebogue to ferment in our tanks. It’s about a six-week process from start to finish.”

Mr. Gammon estimates that his business has already produced about 1,000 gallons of hard cider. Once another 250-gallon tank arrives in Aquebogue, the orchard will be able to ferment 1,500 gallons of the stuff at a time.

Hard cider is already for sale at Woodside Orchard’s Main Road location in Aquebogue.

In addition to tastings, $15 glass growlers can be purchased there and returned for refills.

“We’re hoping this could help bring our family business to the next level,” Mr. Gammon said. “It’s being received very well so far. Hard cider has its own niche following and we’re already getting return customers.”

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10/24/12 8:00am
10/24/2012 8:00 AM

GIANNA VOLPE  FILEPHOTO | Workers set up bird netting on a block of cabernet franc at Macari Vineyards in Mattituck in August.

Long Island’s wine region is one of the best in the country, according to TripAdvisor’s 2012 list of the United States’ top 10 wine destinations.

Sonoma and Napa valleys in California hold the top two slots, respectively, with Long Island trailing just behind Oregon’s Willamette Valley in third place and New York’s Finger Lakes region in fourth.

“This is a great thing for the New York wine industry,” Steve Bate of the Long Island Wine Council said of New York State’s performance in the rankings. “It shows how far we’ve come as a wine region and we’ve got our stalwarts with Sonoma and Napa Valleys that will always be very popular, but I think we will definitely climb up in the rankings.”

The top 10 were chosen based on reviews and opinions from “millions of TripAdvisor travelers around at the world,” according to TripAdvisor.com travel expert Lesley Carlin. “Winners are determined based on their popularity as wine destinations, taking into account travelers’ reviews and opinions for local wineries, restaurants, attractions and accommodations,” Ms. Carlin said.

A breakdown of the list on the company’s website begins its write-up of the Long Island wine region by anticipating reader confusion.

“We know what you’re thinking,” it reads. “Wine? On Long Island? And it’s good? Yes, yes and yes.”

But some local vintners said they’re not surprised to see Long Island noted as a leading wine destination.

“Of course, we’re very happy that they’ve recognized our region, but for us it’s not news,” said Charles Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue. “On weekends you can barely drive out here because there’s so much going on and I think it’s a testament to the quality of our wines and Long Island’s being able to support such a successful wine industry.”

Mr. Massoud said he believes there will always be detractors, whether one grows wine on Long Island or California or Bordeaux, for that matter, but added that naysayers’ attitudes don’t matter.

“What matters,” he said, “is what is happening on the ground. What matters is what the consumers are saying. The fact of the matter is nobody’s shelving anything that I know of, so everyone is selling everything they’re producing. Long Island wines are also being poured in New York City at record levels. They’re pouring our wines in their restaurants not because they like us, but because they’re making money doing so.

“The proof is in the pudding, as they say,” he said.

Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, agreed the region has become a major destination for its many wineries, farm stands and weekend events and added that the area has become so not only within the borders of the country, but outside as well.

“We’ve really grown every year as a grape wine region and I think it’s terrific that we have so many visitors,” Mr. Gergela said. “A while ago, I took the agricultural minister of Israel on a tour of the region.”

Mr. Gergela joined Mr. Bate Wednesday at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s annual beer and wine summit, which Mr. Bate said speaks to the growing importance of the local wine region.

“There’s a lot of recognition, not only of the products, but the value of the industry to the state’s local economy as well,” he said.

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09/30/12 12:00pm
09/30/2012 12:00 PM

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Some North Fork wineries are beginning to feature larger bottles, as detailed in a recent New York Times article.

Bigger bottles are more expensive and thus harder to sell. That’s the reason most Long Island vineyards say they don’t produce larger bottles of wine, known as magnums.

But that’s not to say no local wineries sell wine by the larger bottle size.

The New York Times recently featured several local wineries that sell wine larger bottles of wine, including Pellegrini Vineyards in Cutchogue, which sells a liter bottle.

Read the Times story by clicking here

09/06/12 10:00am
09/06/2012 10:00 AM
Massoud, Paumanok Vineyard, Aquebogue, Long Island Wine Country

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Paumanok vineyard manager Nabeel Massoud (right), helps crews pick chardonnay for a sparkling wine last Friday.

Though hopes have been high this year for a bone dry grape harvest on the North Fork, the rain did begin to fall this week, resulting in a total of about 2 inches in the 48 hours prior to Wednesday afternoon.

Jason Damianos, owner of Jason’s Vineyard in Jamesport and head winemaker at both Pindar and Duck Walk Vineyards, said the amount of rain is significant, but for now, he doesn’t see it affecting harvest.

“The fact of the matter is [our vineyards] not going to be harvesting for another two weeks,” Mr. Damianos said. “So I‘m hoping things will dry out, that we’ll get another spray in before harvest and that the water taken up into the grapes won’t be a factor.”

Harvesting has already begun of some white grapes, especially those used in sparking wines.

Grapes used to make red wines are picked last.

Kareem Massoud, head winemaker at Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, said though the rain is certainly undesirable for the vineyard, he said if these two days are the worst of the weather, the vintage may not be affected.

“We came into September in very good shape in the vineyard,” Mr. Massoud said. “While we would rather not have these two days of rain, we can certainly weather the storm and emerge in very good shape provided we get some good weather again. It’s unrealistic that we won’t have any rain. Even in a great vintage, there will be a few hiccups along the way.”

Mr. Damianos said berries can burst if they take in too much water while ripe, contributing to rot.

“Imagine a grape vine is a human being,” Mr. Damianos said. “To the vine, the grapes are like its babies. The plant is pregnant and conception occurs as the grape becomes ripe. It wants to release those grapes into the soil and water contributes to the bursting of the grape. It doesn’t bother the grape vine. They’re not making the grapes for us.”

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09/01/12 12:03pm
09/01/2012 12:03 PM
Lieb, Craft restaurants

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Lieb Cellars director of sales John Morales (from left), advertising consultant Peter Pace and owner Mark Lieb in front of the the new ‘Vineyard’ tasting room.

Something new is coming to the North Fork — and fall Wine Country visitors won’t have to wait long before it’s open to the public.

Lieb Cellars is days away from opening a second tasting room. This one is in a big red barn on Oregon Road in Cutchogue, abutting the winery’s vines and overlooking a sunflower field. The other tasting room is away from the vineyard, in Mattituck.

“Hopefully we’ll be open within the next week at the most,” owner Mark Lieb said Friday. “I’m very happy. This is something we’ve wanted for a long time. We built this building years ago. It’s a beautiful spot.”

The building, which features a patio, tasting room, conference room, offices and cold storage for wine, is a place Mr. Lieb said is not only nice to have, but has become necessary, as the business needed to add office space and provide more elbow room for Wine Country visitors.

“The offices needed to be expanded because we’re growing the business significantly,” he said.

Expansions include a partnership with restaurateur, celebrity chef and five-time James Beard award-winner Tom Colicchio, who chose Lieb Cellar’s pinot blanc for a private label sparkling wine called Craft by Lieb Cellars, Brut Blanc de Blancs. Mr. Colicchio is the founder of Craft and Colicchio & Sons restaurants, including Craftsteak at nearby Foxwoods Resort & Casino.

“The wine will be sold exclusively in Craft restaurants and the Lieb tasting rooms,” said director of sales John Morales.

Mr. Morales is responsible for some of Lieb’s largest clients, which now include Citifield, where two of Lieb Cellars wines are sold by the glass, and Terminal Five at John F. Kennedy airport, where Lieb is the only North Fork winery represented.

“It was hard selling Long Island wine in the beginning,” said Mr. Morales, who has been with Lieb Cellars for 12 years. “Tom [Colicchio] and one of his restaurants, Craft, were one of the first places to really open their doors to the local wine scene. There’s still some hurdles, such as Nassau County, but we’re extremely strong in the Hamptons and pride ourselves on New York City.”

Between the new partnership with Mr. Colicchio, the new tasting room and a mention this month in The New York Times (along with Lenz Winery) for having one of the 12 greatest American wines under $20, the team at Lieb Cellars is looking forward to a great year.

“You’ve got the sunflowers across the street, you’ve got Long Island Sound right over there,” Mr. Lieb said from the new tasting room’s patio. “I think it’s going to be a hot spot this fall.”

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09/30/11 5:00am
09/30/2011 5:00 AM
Wineries on the North Fork of Long Island

COURTESY PHOTO | A screenshot of the Long Island Wine Council's new website.

Have you noticed that the Long Island Wine Council’s website is looking a bit spiffier these days?

The wine council launched a new website Monday with larger images, more space for advertisements, and a link to download the wine council’s smartphone application.

Steve Bate, the council’s executive director, called the old website “an earlier generation site.”

“There were a lot of things that we weren’t doing because we didn’t have the technology in the old site,” he said.

Now, each time a new affiliate, like a restaurant or bed and breakfast, is added to the website, it will automatically be added to the Wine Council’s smart phone application. The website also has expanded social networking capabilities, which Mr. Bate said will likely increase traffic.

In addition to the new technology features, visitors to the site will also notice more color.

“We wanted to have something that was even more visual than the other site,” Mr. Bate said.

And visual it is.

Small pictures adorned the old website, but giant vineyard photographs, including one with an aerial view, now stretch across a large portion of the new site’s homepage.

And advertisers will find some changes, too. Those who wish to take out web advertisements can now opt for long, horizontal banners, while they could previously only be named in a listing.

The goal of both websites is the same: to inform visitors to North Fork wineries about where to wine, where to dine, where to stay and what to do.

The design and development, carried out by Michael Croteau of Croteaux Vineyards in Southold, began this past spring — and isn’t complete yet.

A section will soon be added on wine styles: dry; sweet or sparkling; something Mr. Bate said winery visitors often ask him about.

Another section on the technical aspects of vineyards, like horticulture and winemaking, is coming soon.

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08/02/11 4:18am
08/02/2011 4:18 AM
Martha Clara Riesling

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Martha Clara Vineyards winemaker and general manager Juan Micieli-Martinez holds up a bottle of the 2010 Estate Reserve Riesling

The soft white grapes used in the 2010 Estate Reserve Riesling at Martha Clara Vineyards are handled very gently.
Winemakers take special care to hide the grapes and their juices from oxygen to prevent oxidation. The grape juice is then fermented in stainless steel, and upon pouring a golden glass of the finished product, floral aromas with hints of white tea leaves waft through the air.

On the palette, a distinct sweetness is subtly balanced with acidity.

That’s why the winery’s riesling was rated the highest among 564 other wines at the 7th Annual Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association Competition last month in Haymarket, Va.

Entries were submitted by 118 wineries from 11 states.

“This is a big deal for Long Island and a big deal for the North Fork,” said Martha Clara Vineyards winemaker and general manager Juan Micieli-Martinez.

The wine’s victory — which won Best in Show and Best in Category, meaning it was the best riesling overall —  came somewhat as a surprise. The best riesling typically flows from the New York Fingerlakes region, which has a cooler growing climate conducive to producing that wine, Mr. Micieli-Martinez said.

“The Fingerlakes has always been given credit for their dynamite riesling,” he said. “For us to win down here on the island is even more of a special honor.”

He credits Martha Clara’s win to its location — its land and soil — as well as the management of the vines and careful attention to detail and the handling of the grapes and juices.

The competition’s 19 judges considered aroma, taste, structure and overall concept in each wine entered, according to Gordon Murchie, president emeritus of ASWA. Each judge had to be familiar with east coast wines, as grapes in the east differ from those in the west.

He said Martha Clara’s Riesling earned its honor by reaching a certain “level of sophistication.”

“It shows, in the factors of tasting the wine, that overall this is a top quality wine that is going to do extremely well in the consumer marketplace.”

Since the winery has won, it will only sell three bottles of its 2010 Estate Reserve Riesling to members of the public or six bottles each to Martha Clara Vineyards Wine Club members. One bottle costs $19.99.

Other North Fork wineries were bestowed with awards for their wines as well. Sherwood House Vineyards in Mattituck took two silver medals — one for a 2007 Cabernet Franc and one for a 2006 Sherwood Manor.

Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue won a silver for its White Table Wine and a bronze for its 2010 Riesling.

A bronze medal went to the Harbes Family Farm and Vineyard in Mattituck for the 2007 Blue Mack, and Martha Clara also won silver medals for the 2010 So Vin Yon Blonk — which also won Best in Category — and 2009 Cabernet Franc, as well as a bronze for the 2007 Clusters.

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