Local growers and farmers say climate change is creating new challenges, with extreme weather conditions, sudden storms, rising temperatures and drought making it even more difficult to cope with a perennially unpredictable Mother Nature.
Paumanok Vineyards celebrated its 30th anniversary Saturday night with a gala party to thank local chefs for their years of support. The Massoud family, owners of the Aquebogue vineyard, will donate all proceeds from the event to Peconic Bay Medical Center.
Several hundred guests gathered under a festive white tent at the edge of the vineyard and were treated to tastings from some of Long Island’s most celebrated chefs, including many from the North Fork.
Master of Ceremonies Doug Geed, anchorman for News 12 and host of The East End, spoke of his affection for the North Fork and for the Massoud family, whom he has known for over 25 years.
Peconic Bay Medical Center president and CEO Andrew Mitchell gave a short and sometimes funny history of the Massoud family’s journey and of winemaking on Long Island.
Suffolk County legislator Al Krupski presented the Massouds with a proclamation and brought the entire family up to the stage to receive it.
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.
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.”