03/02/12 12:37pm
03/02/2012 12:37 PM

Wine and music are often associated together in metaphor, in marketing and as means for mutual pleasure. With the Long Island wineries’ winter “Jazz on the Vine” series of concerts coming to an end March 18, I asked their owners and winemakers to tell me other ways that music plays a role at their wineries. Their responses showed me how important music is to all, whether it’s whistled by the winemaker, played over a boom box during bottling, used for inspiration during blending or to set a tone in the tasting room.

At Bedell Cellars, Rich Olsen-Harbich (who has been making wine on Long Island since 1981) relates, “During the long days and nights of harvest, music provides comforting entertainment, sets the mood of the crew and keeps everyone moving and focused. We’ll start the day with something quiet — that could mean anything from Jack Johnson, Sarah Vaughn or even some quiet Chopin. Once the day gets started, though, we need a more up-tempo beat, so we’ll listen to anything from the Clash, the Beatles and Rhianna to world music like Bachatas and Bollywood hits.”

Rich likes the metaphoric association of wine and music: “I like to relate to music during the blending process in particular. Great examples of varietal wines are often like a great solo artist, commanding a single instrument and creating soulful sounds. Blended wines, on the other hand, are more like listening to a symphony. So for blending, I like to use music as a backdrop. You can have lots of instruments playing at different levels and pitches and chords — when they are really working well together it’s a joyful moment. The great perfume makers do this all the time when they discuss base notes and treble notes. For wines I look at them the same way, often finding bass notes first (usually dark, deep, powerful red wines) and blending over these with treble notes.”

While the vintage of 2010 was defined for Rich by Lady Gaga, he says, “The music that defines the 2011 vintage for me is Mozart’s Concerto in C for Flute, Harp and Orchestra K. 299: Andandino.”

At Peconic Bay Winery, winemaker Greg Gove doesn’t often play music because, he says, “I usually have more than one thing going on at a time. Hearing a change in the pitch of a pump or the sound of a leaky door gasket as the head pressure builds is pretty important to me. When we’re labeling, however, music soothes the soul and reduces the repetitive motion sickness.”

Eric Fry at The Lenz Winery loves music but, like Greg, he finds, “Music is a distraction in the winery. I want to hear what’s going on. Barrels are bubbling. I want to hear that. If there’s a leak somewhere, I need to run and fix it.”
He adds, “Wine and music are so different. I find no analogy.”

At Paumanok Vineyards, Charles Massoud also likes it quiet. He says, “A good wine is like music to my ears. Adding other music creates a cacophony. So I prefer the wine to show off. And music cannot help a bad wine.”

Many tasting rooms do play music to set a tone. At Sparkling Pointe, it’s Brazilian. At Macari, it always “has a little ‘umph’ to it.” Paula Croteau of Croteaux Vineyards plays only French music (Edith Piaf to Carla Bruni), saying, “We feel the music ‘defines us’ and creates the ‘French escape.’ ”

At McCall Vineyards, Russ McCall remembers hearing “how Aubert de Villaine [of Romanée Conti] had a quiet evening with [cellist] Yo-Yo Ma at his home in Chagny. Well, at McCall tasting room we sip ’07 PN Reserve listening to Cat Stevens’ ‘Morning has Broken’ and ‘Father and Son.’ Cut­chogue wine trade is still like the Wild West compared to the historic French districts. Let’s have fun with it.”

Wölffer Estate winemaker Roman Roth (himself an accomplished singer) doesn’t usually play music in the winery but he said, “There is no good day without a song. So from time to time I do start singing. This is the secret why wines are so harmonious!”

He adds, “There is also a lot of whistling going on. For some reason the theme song of the 2011 harvest was Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ Other times it’s the tune of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’ Phy-phy-phy, wah wah wah!”
When asked if music influences the style of wine he makes, Roman replied, “Yes — a happy winemaker makes better wine!”

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

02/17/12 12:06pm
02/17/2012 12:06 PM

On Jan. 25, I attended a Wine Media Guild vertical tasting (multiple vintages) of two important Bordeaux wines, Chateau d’Issan and Chateau Rauzan-Ségla, introduced by their respective managers, Emmanuel Cruse and John Kolasa. A day later, at an event sponsored by the Long Island Merlot Alliance, I blind-tasted 12 merlot-based wines that included seven from Long Island. The results of these two tastings, both featuring wines made with grapes traditionally grown in Bordeaux and now commonly grown worldwide, were provocative.

The futures of both Bordeaux and Long Island as wine regions would not seem to be linked, but the imperative to make wines appealing to the next generation of drinkers while reaping high scores from more aged wine critics puts them together in the same quandary. A rift has formed in the wine industry between influential critics who reward jammy, inky, high-alcohol reds from hot climates, made for immediate consumption, and wine collectors who prefer more traditional, nuanced, cool climate wines that are more challenging when young but age with finesse and complexity.

At the Wine Media Guild Bordeaux tasting, we sampled five different vintages between 2000 and 2009, then had lunch paired with older vintages (1986-2001), three examples from each estate.

Both Chateau d’Issan and Chateau Rauzan-Ségla have existed for centuries. D’Issan was selected in 1723 for the Prince of Wales and admired by Thomas Jefferson in 1787, but was occupied and trashed during World War II by Nazi occupiers. Emmanuel Cruse told us his family bought it in 1945 instead of the more prominent Cheval Blanc because the latter “had too many mosquitoes.” D’Issan’s reputation has soared since Cruse himself took charge in 1998.

Rauzan-Ségla has been similarly rescued from long decline by the house of Chanel, who poached top staff from nearby Chateau Latour, including John Kolasa, and granted them free rein in upgrading the estate.
To me, the d’Issan and Rauzan-Ségla wines defined what I like about cabernet sauvignon and merlot-based wines: They had flavors that were hard to define, but balanced and dynamic at once, with extraordinary suppleness in the older wines. They were so fine, I was shocked when some of the journalists challenged the eminent, articulate and impassioned Cruse and Kolasa to defend their wines, indicating that the younger generation doesn’t consider them “benchmark” wines; they turn instead to California’s fruit bomb wines to define the form.

Kolasa noted that Americans prefer wines that are “easier to understand and consume quickly than Bordeaux.” His Chinese customers, a newly minted consumer group who buy Grand Cru Bordeaux for status, understand the benefits of aging wine even less.

He said, “I arrived at La Tour, where I could drink wine made 100 years ago … It’s a religious ceremony to drink it. It makes you aware you are just passing by. Thank Bordeaux for making wines that can give you pleasure over many years. … We are humble.”

He then acknowledged that high prices of top Bordeaux have led to ego-driven, nontraditional winemaking. To him, “The worst illness in the world is head swelling.”

There were no swollen heads at the next day’s Merlot Alliance tasting, just a room full of eager beavers keen to see how Long Island’s merlots stood up to the competition. In tasting the wines blind, I found samples of what I consider to be the traditional (Bordeaux) style and the popular (California) style but, really, it was impossible to guess where the wines were from. The next day, we had results tallied from all the tasters’ scorecards.

The first wine, which I thought was from Long Island, was from St. Emilion. The overall favorite wine was “Ben’s Blend” 2007 from McCall Vineyards in Cutchogue, but all the wines scored within 5.54 points of each other. A Pomerol came in second, and a Napa wine third. The message I took from this tasting, then, was that the controversy about style was absent here: Those wine professionals who attended this event like merlot, and appreciate both styles almost equally.

A week later, I went to another blind tasting, this time with some friends who each brought an interesting bottle from another region (Germany, Sicily, California, Tuscany and Portugal — the rule was they couldn’t be from Long Island) to taste and discuss while enjoying the fine food and comfort of The Riverhead Project’s private “vault.” Some were expensive cult wines but all but the German riesling were fruit bombs and, frankly, I wished I had a nice glass of Rauzan-Ségla, or Ben’s Blend merlot instead.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

02/04/12 12:00pm
02/04/2012 12:00 PM

Valentine’s Day is a delicious day to celebrate love. For those who have been blessed with a charming and romantic partner, it’s not difficult to find a way to spend Feb. 14 together. A huge industry is ready to reinforce your every passionate instinct by selling you roses, chocolates, Champagne — even diamonds. I can suggest a roster of appealing wines, too, depending on your pocketbook and proclivity, from insincere Prosecco to hearts a-flutter Côtes de Nuits burgundy to seal-the-deal Roederer Cristal.

But what if Valentine’s Day is difficult for you? If you are on your own, without a honey, this can be the loneliest day of the year. One solution is to get together with friends and drown your sorrows with beer. Another, if you are a true homebody who prefers an evening with your pet to a night out at Applebee’s, is to mellow out chez vous in sweet harmony with your furry, feathered or scaly pet companion. You’ll have a good time; the pet can watch you, and you won’t have to share the bottle because pets don’t drink alcohol.

Here is a guide to what type of wine to choose depending on what sort of pet you have, including specific suggestions from local wineries and/or faraway vineyards.

1. A sweetheart kitty who follows you around trilling: Raphael’s full-flavored but youthful 2010 Sauvignon Blanc; Guy Saget’s Les Perrières (Loire).

2. An irascible, hair-raised, skittish kitty: Peconic Bay 2010 Dry Riesling, with plenty of zesty acidity but enough enticing aroma to calm everyone down; Ravines Finger Lakes 2010 Riesling.

3. An old tomcat who would rather not sit with you but will just this one time: Grapes of Roth 2004 Merlot, dark and tenacious and extremely lovable despite its challenging character; Ridge Vineyards California Zinfandel.

4. A soft and purry cat who will sit on your lap but is somewhat elitist: Bedell Cellars 2007 Musée (Bordeaux blend), if you can find it, or a Chateau Beychevelle 2005, which is as velvety as your cat but far more expensive.

5. A playful kitten who will entertain you no matter what you drink: Channing Daughters 2008 Cuvée Tropical, a blend of chardonnay and muscat that reflects the playful nature of the winemaker, Christopher Tracy, or a light Prosecco, like Valdo Brut from Italy. It’s fizzy, fruity and not too, too sweet.

6. A fat, indolent Persian window-sitter: Pellegrini Vineyards’ Vintner’s Pride Finale, an “ice” wine made of gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc, with the kind of satisfying sweetness that will help you fall gently to sleep; Vignobles Dauré, Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls (south of France) which has similarly sybaritic qualities in a dessert wine.

1. A panting, wag-tail retriever: fresh, enthusiastically citrusy Castello di Borghese 2010 Chardonnay or Domaine William Fèvre 2009 Chablis (as energized as the pooch).

2. A protector dog, like a bull mastiff or German shepherd: There aren’t any Long Island wines I know of leathery or tough enough for this, but how about an earthy Napa cab like Chappellet? Or an insurmountable red blend, Orin Swift’s “The Prisoner”?

3. A jubilant, gamboling and uncontrollable Irish setter: frizzante sparkling merlot rosé from Croteaux or an aromatic Crémant d’Alsace sparkler like Lucien Albrecht’s Brut Rosé.

4. A wise, humorous standard poodle: the joyfully effervescent Sparkling Pointe Brut or the sophisticated but also joyful Pol Roger Champagne.

5. A hyper-blissful, peppy Jack Russell terrier: the lean, delicate and searingly fresh, disarmingly honest Macari Vineyards 2010 Early Wine or the Alto Adige Abbazia di Novacella Gruner Vetliner.

6. An old, faithful Labrador: choose the steady, reliable, fully satisfying 2007 Leo Family Red (mostly merlot) or the tummy-warming Château de Beaucastel from Châteauneuf-du-Papes’ sunny slopes.

Birds, Turtles and Fish
1. Tweetie Bird: This bright, cheery oiseau needs an equally happy wine: Lieb Cellars’ Pinot Blanc or Schloss Johannisberg German Riesling.

2. Turtle: The theme here is “slow and steady wins.” I choose Martha Clara “Bernie’s Rose,” a nice sipper even if it does have a dog on the label.

3. Goldfish, swimming mesmerizingly in a circle: Laurel Lake’s spicy 2007 Cabernet Franc will help you meditate with the fish.

4. Assorted tropical fish: If they’re frisky, try Palmer Vineyard’s lively 2009 Gewürztraminer; if languid, drink the blowsy St. Jean de Minervois Muscat.

5. Piranha: Do you have one? Really? Then get a bottle of Channing Daughters’ bizarro fortified “Pazzo.” If you can’t find it, try any big ol’ Australian shiraz.

6. Japanese fighting fish: No wine. Go for the LIV potato vodka. And btw, this is why you don’t have a girlfriend.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

01/22/12 12:03pm
01/22/2012 12:03 PM

Twenty years ago, Long Island’s wineries went into virtual hibernation during the winter months. Visitors who ventured here might find shuttered doors with a shivering winemaker behind them, or be invited into a dark tasting barn by a trio of cats.

Today, the wine scene has become positively lively after Christmas, with many interesting and alluring events planned to attract new visitors and reward returning friends.

Some of the changes were prompted by increased interest in the wines themselves. When international wine lovers fly into JFK, they often turn east to visit the wineries before inevitably going west to Manhattan. They need more to do once they get here than to follow a circuit of tasting bars.

During February and March, visitors now have many options to explore the region’s wineries while being entertained by top-notch musicians. The Long Island Wine Council in alliance with East End Arts and the Long Island Convention & Visitor’s Bureau have created Long Island Winterfest, with a series of “Jazz on the Vine” performances and other promotions. This year, on any given weekend from Feb. 11 to March 18, as many as six different wineries will host musicians ranging from Papo Vazquez Pirates Troubadour to Jazz on the Half Shell; from Nilson Matta Brazilian Voyage to New Mo Swing. Given the various layouts of the participating wineries, the experience may vary from cabaret to concert style, with intimacy given by the sharing of wine with friends.
The band Jazz on the Half Shell warns, “If anyone refuses to dance, we will take them home and make them wax the amplifiers” — so come prepared to groove if you attend that one. For a full schedule of Winterfest happenings, go to liwinterfest.com.

Besides Winterfest, several wineries offer interesting activities in tune with their particular styles. For example, on Fridays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Shinn Estate, you can see into your future with a palm reading by Joan Bernhardt, or go to Borghese’s rollicking open mic night with Cowboy Kevin from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Sherwood House has its own series of enticing evenings, including a cozy fireside winter wine dinner with winemaker Gilles Martin and chef Bennett Brokaw on Jan. 28 and a Valentine’s “Fond of You” fondue party on Feb. 11.

Wölffer Estate Vineyards has its own musical series of Candlelight Fridays, offering mulled or chilled wine, cheese/charcuterie plates and mellow music. Seeing a need to bring younger tasters into the fold, this Sagaponack winery has also created the Hidden Cellar Society – Millennial Wine Club “for ages 21-35 at heart.” Offering wine education and “pick-up” parties at Wölffer and meet-ups at local bars, the Hidden Cellar is social networking at its enthusiastic, energetic best. Photos of these events are on Facebook and ,yes, you can participate even if you are over 35 (as long as you don’t mention your “senior moments”),

Appealing more to mature wine sippers, but just as much fun, is Diliberto Winery’s Sunday Dinner with Grandma, a series of authentic Italian Sunday midday dinners accompanied by live opera music in Diliberto’s bellissimo Jamesport tasting room. Having tasted the Dilibertos’ cooking and heard Sal sing, I can vouch that it is an experience not to be missed at any time of the year.

Knowing that people are less mobile in the cold months, many wineries are taking their tastings west up the island or into Manhattan. Only for media and trade, but a preview for consumer events to come, is the Long Island Merlot Alliance’s Merlot Focus, an invitation-only comparative tasting of 2007 merlots from several regions, including Long Island, on Jan. 26 at Chef Tom Schaudel’s new restaurant, Jewel, in Melville.

Keith Luce, chef-owner of the renowned Luce & Hawkins restaurant in Jamesport, brought wines from Jamesport Vineyards, Lieb Family Cellars, Bedell Cellars, Macari Vineyards and Paumanok Vineyards to a special dinner at Manhattan’s James Beard House on Jan. 25. These pairings with local specialties like McCall Ranch Charolais beef and braised duckling-sauerkraut pierogi are sure to have enticed tasters out to the East End to explore further when summer returns.

If anyone needs more motivation to visit or just drink local wines, note this accolade: The Wall Street Journal’s panel of judges tasted more than 800 American wines blind to discover the best of the best. Among the top 12 was Long Island’s own Paumanok Vineyards’ Semi-Dry Riesling 2010. And that’s worth a jazz salute in any season.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

01/09/12 4:17pm
01/09/2012 4:17 PM

In this new year, Long Island’s vintners must plan for the next growing season while finishing 2011’s wines in the cellar. After a difficult growing season, local wineries have an unusual amount of rosé that otherwise would have been red wine. I predict some creative marketing as 2011 wines make it to consumers.

Just before Christmas, I had a fascinating dinner, hosted by some august producers from the northern Italian province of Asti, that highlighted the challenges of marketing new wines. Asti has been known for centuries for its sweet, low alcohol sparkling wine made from the distinctively aromatic muscat grape. For over 30 years, I have harbored a personal animosity toward this wine after suffering the worst hangover of my life following a multi-course dinner at which Asti Spumante was the only wine served. Although it was my own fault, I never wanted to see the stuff again.

It turns out that I’m not the only person who identifies Asti with its sweet Spumante and their own indiscretions. Karen MacNeil, author of “The Wine Bible,” calls it “a noxiously sweet poor man’s Champagne.” The producers know this and are making efforts to change both their product and its image.

Here on Long Island, we have a winemaking history that is so short, our winemakers are unfettered by longstanding traditions or restrictions on what grapes we can grow. In Italy, wine producers who want to modernize often must decide between growing grapes that don’t fit current consumer preferences or growing varieties that can only be marketed outside Italy.

The dinner I attended, held in an intimate dining room of the “Leopard” restaurant, was sponsored by the Cantina Sociale di Canelli, a cooperative of over 200 Asti growers who have taken the export option, selling 90 percent of their wines outside Italy in order to enjoy greater freedom with varieties and styles of wine produced. I and a dozen other wine writers and merchants were treated to a meal of Italian specialties paired with four excellent Asti wines that have yet to find distributors for the United States. Kevin Zraly (a wine expert about whom I wrote in November) led the tasting, inviting us to give honest appraisals of the wines and their presentation.

Usually, events like this are much larger, and the invited industry guests sip politely without giving feedback to the producers. But in this case, the room was so small, and the Italian producers so genuinely open, we had a vivid exchange about several aspects of the wines served.

The first wine, an absolutely delicious Brut sparkling wine made, like its sweeter Asti sibling, using Charmat process carbonation, created the most controversy — not for its quality, but for its name: “Pinot Chardonnay.” In Europe, wines are not customarily labeled with varietal designations, but here, they are. This wine is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, so the label should name both varieties, not conflate the name. “Chardonnay” used to be known in the U.S. as “Pinot Chardonnay” until sometime in the 1970s, when analysts proved that Chardonnay is not related to the Pinot family, though both are grown in Burgundy. We journalists told the producers that calling this Italian wine “Pinot Chardonnay” would thoroughly confuse the American market.

Next, we enjoyed a lovely, lemony and fresh Chardonnay made in an unoaked, dry style. With 12 percent alcohol, it was charmingly light, very comparable to our Long Island Chards. This prompted little controversy, though there was some discussion of whether it should have been aged in wood. Some wine critics always want wines to taste like they came from California, but I liked it the way it was.

Along with a superb loin of veal, we had a supple, pretty, 100 percent Barbera, a dry red wine that divided the room’s opinions. Zraly, who has spent his life buying wine for high-end restaurants, declared it “the perfect red for wine-by-the-glass.” I agreed, but Adam Strum, publisher of the Wine Enthusiast (a leading wine journal with 680,000 readers, plus a wine accessories catalog and online wine shop), found this Barbera unsuitable for the “American palate.” I think he meant that it should have more alcohol, tannin and extract.

It discouraged me to hear this yummy wine dismissed so easily by a top industry opinion leader. I hope the Asti producers will succeed in selling these beautifully balanced wines here and disregard the advocates of gigantic wines.

We finished with — you guessed it — Moscato d’Asti. I didn’t get a hangover.
Happy New Year!

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

11/20/11 4:00am
11/20/2011 4:00 AM

For the past few years, I have tried various alternatives to turkey for my Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not that I don’t like turkey, but I don’t love it, and love should be part of Thanksgiving. Once, I roasted a loin of pork, decorating it with a paper turkey head and tail. Another year I served lobster on the theory that any food consumed by the Pilgrims was fair game for Thanksgiving. I’ve made Peconic Bay scallops, too, as a turkey substitute. Notice how a scallop shell looks like a turkey’s array of feathers?

No matter what I serve as an entrée, as a wine writer I’m always faced with writing about wines that go well with turkey. Honestly, the topic frustrates me. Turkey is an ambiguous beast, with both dark and light meat, so it’s hard to match. Better to pair the wine with the style of gravy (cabernet franc with giblets, chardonnay with cream gravy) or the stuffing (pinot noir with sausage or mushrooms, sauvignon blanc with oysters and cornbread).
Truth be told, some wines really are better with turkey than others, but Thanksgiving is a celebration, not a wine class, so you might as well drink whatever you like.

For winemakers, Thanksgiving usually marks not just the end of harvest, but also the end (or almost the end) of fermentation and pressing. On Long Island, we usually have a hard frost in the second or third week of November. Once the leaves are off the vines, the grapes can’t ripen any more; even the latest-ripening varieties like cabernet sauvignon will have to be brought into the cellar.

White grapes are usually harvested before the reds, sometime in September or October, and are pressed as soon as they are picked. That means the winemakers are up late at night pressing out the fruit that came in during the day. The white wines ferment in closed containers for a few weeks and need to be monitored, racked and cold stabilized.
When the reds come in, they are simply crushed, then fermented on their skins for one to three weeks. They must be pumped over or punched down several times a day so that the skins, which float to the top under pressure of carbon dioxide released by yeast, don’t overheat, killing the yeast. Right about the time the winemaking team is exhausted from all this work, the reds need to be pumped into presses and moved to tanks or barrels. Pressing is slow, often dangerous work. Pumps inevitably fail, hoses burst, augurs jam up. November is often fraught with the major and minor disasters.

Winemaking has much in common with childbirth: It follows months of anxious anticipation; it causes pain and fatigue; and once it’s over there is little to be done to alter the result (except for upbringing, which may be why the French refer to what happens to wine after fermentation as “élévage”). There may be postpartum depression. But as every new parent and every winemaking community knows, the overriding expression at the end must be joy. Hide any disappointments; it’s time to celebrate and give thanks.

Ask a winemaker what he or she plans to drink for Thanksgiving, and it will probably start with beer. During harvest, the saying goes, “It takes a lot of beer to make good wine,” and many of the late nights throughout harvest have been fueled by beer, soda or water, not wine — and certainly not booze. Once the food comes out, there may be a special bottle from an old vintage that has been kept to share with friends.

Vineyard managers get to take it easy a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. Once the fruit is safely in the cellar, bird nets are tidied up and equipment cleaned. Preparations are under way for winter’s pruning, which may begin as soon as leaves are off the vines, though in this climate it’s better to wait until the vines are fully dormant in January. Once the sap retreats into the roots, there is less risk for plant diseases to be spread through pruning cuts.
Some of the growers I know like to take this pause between harvest and pruning to do a little fishing or hunting. People who work outside all year tend to want to stay there, even when it’s cold. Autumn on Long Island may lack the brilliant colors of New England, but the lowering light is still gorgeous. Taking a rest from the year’s labor, the vintner strolls through the vines, toward the woods … hey! What’s that? A wild turkey?

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

10/08/11 12:30pm
10/08/2011 12:30 PM

For Long Island’s vintners, the vintage of 2011 has been one of the most difficult in 30 years. Beginning with a fierce winter that made pruning vines in drifting snow a reminder that viticulture is a test of humans’ desire to dominate nature, the growing season proceeded with one challenge followed by another. Relentless spring rain followed by soaring heat spawned unfriendly fungi and delayed ripening. Localized hail damaged some clusters. Worse, the ripening ability of many vineyards was badly affected by salt spray from Tropical Storm Irene, which caused leaves to shrivel and drop while berry sugar counts were still too low to make wine.

However, much winemaking is romanticized. Ultimately it is like every kind of agriculture; growers must always countenance crop losses. Global climate change, as predicted, has brought heavier than normal weather events. Experienced winemakers become philosophers, taking the good with the bad and making the most of every situation. Some are luckier than others; where one vineyard is denuded by salt spray, another may be favored by a sheltered location and sustain little damage. Many fine wines will still result from this vintage; the lesser wines will be light quaffing stuff, consumed and forgotten by harvest 2012.

While vintners all over the world deal with the vagaries of nature, I found on a recent trip to far-flung parts of the world that some of the oldest wine-growing regions have different challenges, caused by customs, politics and religion.

In modern Turkey (a secular nation created in 1923 from parts of what used to be Byzantine and Ottoman empires), the wine industry has roots going back to 4000 B.C. Noah’s biblical vineyard was located there, and the Greek god of wine, Dionysus (or Bacchus to Romans), was born there. Although the Ottoman Muslims prohibited winemaking during the 500 years of their reign, Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, founded a commercial winery in 1925 in his efforts to westernize Turkey. By 2009, wine consumption in Turkey reached 20,906,762 liters, with national production currently at over 275 million liters.

Increased acceptance of and international investment in Turkish wine were spurred by the introduction of international grape varieties in the 1990s. But even as that wine industry has grown, the secularization of Turkey has met with fierce resistance from its increasingly radicalized Islamic community. Today, its government is run by a Muslim prime minister who has hindered the Turkish wine industry by taxing alcohol and prohibiting restaurants from serving wine in outdoor spaces. I was shocked to find the cheapest wines sold in Turkish restaurants priced at $40 and up due to exorbitant taxes on alcohol.

In contrast, in the (formerly Soviet) Republic of Georgia, the Western-friendly government encourages its wine industry, which has been favored by new infusions of capital. There, the obstacles have more to do with custom than religion. Georgians have made wine for over 8,000 years; their wines are part of their identity.

While it was a state of the Soviet Union, Georgia’s winemaking was centralized and production driven by volume, not by quality. In the Kakheti region, a broad fertile valley under the Caucasus Mountains, households historically made their own wines in buried pottery amphorae, kveris, which were filled with grapes and left to develop, unopened, for several years. Thus, traditional Georgian wines differ greatly from modern, stainless steel fermented wines. They are dry, textured and tannic. I found some I tasted to be compellingly complex and not as oxidized as I expected, but many are just plain funky.

When I went to Vinoterra Schuchmann, a new Georgian winery funded by German investors, I saw how difficult it is to merge this ancient winemaking technique with new methods. Their assistant winemaker, Roland Burdiachveli, grew up in a winemaking family and was educated in Germany. He showed me how new kveris are used to ferment some of the fruit, then removed to French oak barrels for finishing rather than being sealed up for years. The result is a hybrid style that needs to find understanding and acceptance both at home and abroad.

With 60 percent of its wine made in modern tanks, with new technology, and 40 percent made the old way, Schuchmann is betting on both sides of the fence. For them, the search for identity is as much a challenge as an opportunity. They have to train their workers to change both techniques and attitudes. And they, like vintners everywhere, have to contend with weather, too.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

08/26/11 10:53am
08/26/2011 10:53 AM

When wine grapes were first planted on Long Island in the 1970s and ’80s, most growers chose to plant the most important grape varieties of France, including chardonnay and pinot noir. The chardonnay was universally successful as a variety that consistently produced high quality fruit on plants that were easy to tend, but pinot noir proved to be far more challenging, and many acres of this grape were ripped out, replanted to merlot, cabernet franc or more chardonnay.

Experience here proved pinot noir’s reputation as the “heartbreak grape.” Even in Burgundy, where the medieval monks who cultivated the Cote d’Or selected, bred and celebrated pinot noir as their finest red wine grape, the variety is difficult to ripen and even more difficult to make into great wine.

The viticultural problem with pinot is that berries in its clusters are tightly packed, so that if one single berry is damaged by insects, birds or fungus, the entire cluster will quickly rot. It also ripens sooner than most varieties, which should be an advantage, except that it’s the first to attract marauding pests like finches, robins, raccoons and bees. Given a choice between ripe pinot noir and slightly unripe anything else, you can guess where the pests will go. This applies to people, too; pinot noir fruit is exquisitely delicious, and a vineyard planted along a road where pilgrims stroll will be soon denuded, as happened along the route to Santiago de Compostela in medieval times.

When pinot noir succeeds as wine, there is nothing to compare with its aromatic allure, its finesse, subtlety, complexity, silken mouthfeel and nuanced finish. Unfortunately, these qualities do not come easily or automatically as the fruit, even undamaged fruit, is transformed by fermentation into wine. In many ways, it is highly unstable, and the techniques that might be used to stabilize one desirable quality may harm another desirable one.

The deep blue-black color of pinot noir fruit is a cruel ruse because the pigments (anthocyanins) that give it this gorgeous hue exist in equilibrium with a colorless version of the same pigment. Pinot noir is different from most other black or red vitis vinifera wine grapes in that it lacks amylated (stabilized) anthocyanins. I’ve seen a tank of pinot wine that was pitch black when it was first crushed but transformed into the equivalent color of cranberry juice after six months’ aging.

To add insult to injury, pinot’s tannins (astringent particles derived from skins and seeds) have shorter molecular chains than most wine grapes, and are bitter. Many winemakers cold soak pinot noir fruit before fermenting it, in order to extract softer tannins. But in reality, heat and alcohol are needed to maximize color, and the extra time in cold soak also gives the fruit extra time in contact with its seeds, which are the bitterest part.

Most pinot noir is encouraged to complete a secondary fermentation, transforming its sharp malic acid into buttery lactic acid. This effectively softens the wine, but also raises the pH, which further damages its hue. Barrel aging smooths out the edges and adds the flavors and aromas of oak to the wine; it also steals some of the delicate fruit aromas, and accentuates harsh tannins, thus requiring more time in the bottle to soften again.

Despite these challenges, or maybe because of them, the temptation to make great pinot noir has obsessed many winemakers, myself included. After trying for 27 years, with a few years of triumph and many of settling for a blanc de noir or Beaujolais style, I am still obsessed with how to make what every pinot fancier wants — that “iron fist in a velvet glove.”

On Long Island, a few wineries (including Borghese, Laurel Lake, Jamesport and Osprey’s Dominion) persist in producing pinot. The Old Field, Lenz and Sparkling Pointe grow it for rosé and sparkling wines.

In Cutchogue, Russell McCall has 11 acres of mature pinot noir, planted 15 years ago. He believes that the cluster stems must be brown before he harvests so he waits, anxiously, while birds and botrytis threaten his crop. He sorts berries for soundness and ferments in small containers, with punch-down of skins also done by hand. Following the methods used by Burgundian monks in the 13th century has, for him, proved to be the best way to create wines that are subtle, meriting meditation.

What better way to explore one of the world’s most compelling wines?

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

08/15/11 2:35pm
08/15/2011 2:35 PM

On July 22, according to a press release by his office, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he has “signed legislation to significantly reduce the regulatory burdens placed on farm wineries by the State Liquor Authority.”

Why, you may wonder, is this state agency, the SLA, burdensome in the first place? To understand that, you need to understand how the agency was formed to regulate alcohol beverages after the repeal of Prohibition. Since all alcohol being sold before that was, by definition, being sold by criminals, all who made or sold alcohol were henceforth assumed to be criminals. At the very least, they were considered dicey individuals who needed to be monitored.

More importantly, the SLA was (and is) regarded as a source of state revenue. Therefore, it is charged with collecting fees and taxes on many sorts of alcohol-related activities.

The federal government also regulates wineries, but not because it cares about wine quality. It collects revenue, too. The Department of the Treasury regulates wineries via its Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. As you can see, the same people chase after illegal cigarettes and bootlegged hootch. Fortunately, a few years ago they took guns away from the TTB — it used to be the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Agents who make inspection visits to local wineries are delighted to be checking for errors in volume reporting in bottles of wine rather than chasing down illegal weapons.

Here is a quiz to see how much you know about the evolving burdens of these agencies (see answers at the end):

1. New York Farm wineries could not but now may:
a. give wine to more than five charities per year.
b. allow dogs in the tasting room.
c. serve children under the age of 18.

2. New York Farm wineries no longer need to:
a. keep records of out-of-state sales.
b. send records of out-of-state sales to the SLA.
c. pay taxes on wines shipped out of state.

3. New York Farm Wineries may now operate:
a. as many satellite stores as they want, but each must be separately licensed.
b. up to five branch stores, with the same restrictions as winery tasting rooms.
c. fairs and festivals without special permits.

4. Bars serving alcohol in New York must offer food for sale; farm wineries:
a. must also sell food.
b. must sell coffee.
c. may sell food, but (except at catered events) only those foods that can be eaten while walking around.

5. Wine sold in New York must have its label approved:
a. by the TTB.
b. by the SLA.
c. Farm wineries are exempt from label approval if they make under 2,000 gallons.

6. Several Long Island wineries recently needed to appeal for help from legislators to get label approvals because:
a. they neglected to pay an extra fee to a label approval expeditor.
b. their labels showed the net contents in ounces, not milliliters.
c. the TTB is understaffed since many employees were shifted to homeland security, and approvals are backed up.

7. A Health Warning Statement is required on labels of all beverages:
a. with over 0.5 percent alcohol.
b. with over 10 percent alcohol.
c. made from grapes.

8. The tax per gallon owed by a winery on wines with under 14 percent alcohol is:
a. $0.14
b. $1.07
c. $ 3.30

9. The tax per gallon owed by a winery on artificially sparkling wines is:
a. $0.14
b. $1.07
c. $ 3.30

10. The contents of a container of wine in bulk must be stated:
a. in gallons, but in milliliters once bottled.
b. in gallons, but in ounces once bottled.
c. in liters, but in milliliters once bottled.

11. Winery owners must be fingerprinted at the local police station:
a. False
b. True

12. Like wines from controlled appellations in the European Union, American wines are subject to quality assessment panels.
a. True
b. False

13. American wineries may make alcoholic beverages from grapes but not from:
a. corn, wheat or potatoes
b. hops, except in mead
c. pears

14. Wine production in New York State has increased in the past 20 years by:
a. 23 percent
b. 50 percent
c. 79 percent

15. A few years ago, Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue was shut down on an October weekend for selling:
a. vodka
b. bottled water
c. logo hats

Answers: 1-a, 2-b, 3-b, 4-c, 5-a, 6-c, 7-a, 8-b, 9-c, 10-a, 11-b, 12-b, 13-a and b, 14-b, 15-b (Some SLA laws were altered in response to the ridiculousness of that event.)

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

06/17/11 11:33am
06/17/2011 11:33 AM

Last year, Americans spent $2,026,986,920 in retail shops on chardonnay, making it by far the most popular white wine variety on the market. The dollar value of the next leading white variety, pinot grigio, was $751,972,054, followed by sauvignon blanc at $412,531,384.

While chardonnay’s appeal is broad and deep, there is a small backlash, the “ABC” (anything but chardonnay) movement. Chardonnay today is not the same as chardonnay was 40 years ago; some of this trend can be understood by looking at how this grape has grown in popularity while changing in style.

Before the 1970s, chardonnay was the predominant white grape of Burgundy, not planted to any great extent in other wine regions and not identified on any wine labels. Few people knew that their favorite French chablis or Montrachet was made from chardonnay. But when California wine had its post-Prohibition, post-war resurgence in the ’70s and ’80s, winemakers like Robert Mondavi transitioned away from jug chablis (which, coming from American appellations, could be a blend of anything, including apple wine, and rarely had any chardonnay in it) in favor of finer varietal wines, with the grape variety stated on the label to distinguish them.

Although chardonnay is considered a “noble” grape (along with sauvignon blanc and riesling, among white grapes), genetically it is related to a noble red grape, pinot noir, and a less-than-noble white grape, gouais blanc. “Gouais” means “peasant”; this grape was grown in the Middle Ages on inferior sites by peasants (as opposed to monks or nobles, who controlled the best land) in France. It was easy to grow and had high yields, but its wine was so coarse that it was banned several times.

Then, the peasant grape had a romantic liaison with the nobler pinot, yielding the bastard chardonnay, which was taken in and raised like a knight in shining armor by French monks and nobles. Sometimes, still, the gouais emerges, making for thin, sour and vile chardonnay.

Chardonnay grown on France’s Côte d’Or is traditionally fermented in small oak barrels, which were readily available and easy to transport by water before roads and rails were built. Burgundy is a cold region, and its vines rarely yield fruit with enough sugar to make more than 12 percent alcohol. There, chardonnay’s high acidity is naturally reduced in a secondary, malolactic fermentation, changing the apple-scented malic acid to softer lactic acid and creating buttery diacetyl (think of artificially flavored popcorn) along the way. The toasty vanilla aromas of these barrels augment the subtle citrus-pear qualities of chardonnay to make truly exquisite white burgundies.

In California, as chardonnay became more widely planted, the best winemakers tried to adapt Burgundian techniques to their own fruit. However, California chardonnay typically ripens with far more sugar and less acidity than in Burgundy. These wines therefore are more alcoholic, and are usually made with the addition of tartaric acid, which is sharper but more stable than malic acid.

After one harvest at California’s Kendall Jackson Vineyards, when there was so much sugar that it failed to ferment completely, the resulting sweet chardonnay caused a massive boost in sales to that brand; other producers began deliberately making slightly sweet, heavily oaky chardonnay with over 13 percent alcohol. This new style suited the barbecue-oriented American palate and has come to define chardonnay, though it has none of the subtlety and few of the refreshing qualities that originally made white Burgundies popular.

The backlash against big, fat chardonnay has led some winemakers, who don’t want to lose their customers or pull out their vines, to alter their approach to this variety. On Long Island (climatically more similar to Burgundy than to California), the grape is versatile, ripening well with a fine natural balance. Many Long Island winemakers are producing a range of chardonnay styles to satisfy different tastes.

Although oak-aged chardonnays are usually priced to reflect the high cost of barrels ($900 for a 60-gallon barrique), at Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue the consumer can choose either unoaked or “La Barrique” at the same price. There, manager Jim Silver wants to validate the taste preference of his customers, rather than signify that one chard is better than another by giving it a higher price.

At the Lenz winery in Peconic, winemaker Eric Fry has backed off oak aging; though his top-priced Gold Label Chardonnay still has the most oak, his own preference is for the less woody “Old Vines” labeled wine.

If you don’t like caramel custard chardonnay, try one of these lighter, fresher styles before you go ABC.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.