10/14/13 3:42pm
10/14/2013 3:42 PM

Sannino Bella Vita Winery in Peconic has been ranked third on TripAdvisor’s list of America’s Top 10 Winery Tours.

TripAdvisor, one the world’s largest travel sites, said it ranked vineyard tours across the country based on a simple but important criteria: “The opportunity for wine aficionados and novice tasters alike to enjoy sensational sips while learning the vine-to-wine story behind delicious vintages.”

Sannino Bella Vita took the third spot behind two California vineyards, Pride Mountain Vineyards in St. Helena and Hendry Ranch Wines in Napa. The Peconic vineyard beat out six other Califorinia wineries and one Wisconsin vineyard that made the list.

And you can take the top-ranked tour yourself. From now through Oct. 27, Sannino Bella Vita is offering winemaking tours, given by owner and winemaker, Anthony Sannino, every Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. Tickets are $25 and reservations are required. Call 631-734-8282 or email [email protected]

[email protected]


05/23/13 9:30am
05/23/2013 9:30 AM

northforkerlogoTimes/Review Newsgroup unveiled today its northforker brand, focusing entirely on tourism, lifestyle and leisure content from the North Fork.

Matt Kapelas

Matt Kapelas

Northforker.com will be updated multiple times each day with information on the region’s wineries, farm products, hotels and restaurants, real estate, arts and music scenes, as well as outdoor and educational activities for children and adults.

The newsgroup’s popular magazine supplements are also in the process of being incorporated under the northforker brand.

Leading these efforts is Matt Kapelas, former longtime managing editor of Long Island Pulse magazine, who was hired earlier this month. He started at Pulse after its fourth issue in 2005 and helped build the Patchogue-based publication into what is today one of the larger regional magazines in the U.S., with 100,000 monthly copies distributed across Suffolk and Nassau counties.

“As a lifelong resident of Suffolk County, I’ve always looked at the North Fork as the last vestige of true Long Island,” said Mr. Kapelas, who lives in Ridge.

“The potential of Northforker.com and Northforker magazines to enhance the lives of the area’s residents and visitors alike is something I’m grateful to be a part of.”

“We have published tourism-based content for decades in print,” added publisher Andrew Olsen, “and we are excited to package this content in a compelling way on the web with this new site.”

Sonja Reinholt Derr, the company’s sales and marketing director, said northforker.com will provide the inside scoop on everything there is to do on the North Fork, with the “when” and the “how” all readily available at readers’ fingertips.

Kael Goodman, CEO of BlankSlate, a tech company out of Brooklyn, developed the site along with Times/Review Newsgroup staffers.

“Our team really sees the potential in the Northforker website as people local to the community as well as tourists need a place to learn about all the great things happening in this area,” Mr. Goodman said. “The North Fork is incredibly unique and Times/Review is uniquely positioned to deliver a site like this.”

The company’s news editors and reporters will be involved in helping to grow northforker.com.

“Just like we provide timely, in-depth coverage of our schools, governments and neighborhoods in our papers,” said executive editor Grant Parpan said, “this website and the magazines will allow us to cover food, wine, real estate and tourism on the North Fork with a heightened focus and attention to timeliness.”

10/04/12 10:00am
10/04/2012 10:00 AM

A screen shot from a YouTube video promoting Vineyard 48′s planned lineup of DJ’s for this past summer.

Looking to attend the public hearing on the long-discussed changes to Southold’s special events law? Don’t bother, it’s been canceled.

Shortly after meeting with representatives of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, an agency with the power to overturn local laws it thinks place undue restrictions on farming activities, the Town Board shelved the code change and pulled the hearing from its Oct. 9 agenda.

“We recognize there’s work left to be done here,” said Supervisor Scott Russell. “This gives us the winter to work with the ag industry, ag and markets and all interested parties to get it better. It’s a work in progress.”

The code change, written to give the town greater control over special events like weddings and concerts on farmland and other large open parcels, ran afoul of groups such as the Long Island Farm Bureau and the Long Island Wine Council. Among their objections, critics say the town failed to clearly identify what a special event is and so could subject many “normal marketing practices” to onerous permit procedures.

Mr. Russell concedes that point. “That needs to be better defined,” he said. “We recognize that’s an issue that needs to be resolved.”

The supervisor said town officials had a “good, productive meeting” with ag and market representatives “and agreed to meet with them again to iron out any differences.”

He dismissed any suggestion that the town was acting arbitrarily without input from or concern for the farming industry.

“We presented ag and markets with draft language in April,” the supervisor said. “We don’t make decisions in a vacuum. We include everybody in the process.”

Wine council president Ron Goerler said the town made the right move in withdrawing the draft code.

“That’s a positive thing for all sides,” said Mr. Goerler, the winemaker for Jamesport Vineyards, which his family owns and operates. “It needs to be looked at further since the future of the industry is at stake.”

For growers, he added, the bottom line issue is their bottom line.

“We’re not doing this because we love throwing money into the wind,” Mr. Goerler said. “Whether you’re raising sunflowers, potatoes or wine grapes, we have to be profitable so the next generation sees there’s a viability in doing this.”

In the town’s deliberations, he added, “we need logic to prevail.”

Joe Gergela, farm bureau executive director, said, “Hopefully with ag and markets looking over our shoulders we can get a reasonable solution. With a lot of good minds around, it shouldn’t be so hard.”

The two farmers serving on the Town Board agree the town needs to find reasonable measures to ensure public health and safety for events outside traditional agricultural activities.

While wine tastings have long been accompanied by music, the town claims that Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue has become a de facto nightclub. The business has received numerous summonses this year for operating without town special events permits and for violating the town’s noise ordinance. The town’s state Supreme Court case against the vineyard is to continue Oct. 31.

“You don’t see a lot of establishments regularly in the news,” said Councilman Bill Ruland, a Mattituck farmer. “There are only a few and they usually impact neighbors to a great degree. What’s troubling to some people is the one-size-fits-all concept may not be appropriate.”

The supervisor and Councilman Al Krupski, whose family runs a Peconic pumpkin farm, argue that the draft code covered all agricultural lands and did not single out wineries.

“Yes, there are a few ringing the alarm bells, but the legislation would not change what takes place at the wineries one bit,” the supervisor said.

“It’s a quality of life issue,” said Mr. Krupski. “It comes down to what’s a proper use in an ag zone. What’s to stop someone from renting a farm to hold a carnival or put on a concert? I’m not going into the wedding business, but my kids may want to and that may happen on any farm. It’s a broad issue that goes to every farm parcel. We’re trying to find some balance that the community can live with.”

[email protected]

10/04/12 9:57am

Town officials and Cutchogue residents living near Vineyard 48 on the North Road must have been less than pleased, but not at all surprised, to read an online story about the vineyard that has been the subject of an ongoing legal battle with the town. In the account, a young Smithtown woman describes Vineyard 48 as “the Boardy Barn of wineries.”

For those unfamiliar with the name, The Boardy Barn is a less than genteel Hampton Bays bar/night club described in a New York Post story as a “massive guzzle-fest” that sells more cups of beer on a game-day afternoon than Yankee Stadium.

The Vineyard 48 story quotes a security guard as calling the place “the nightclub of vineyards.” When a girl with a British accent asked if she could check one item off her “bucket list” by streaking naked through the vineyard, he said, “I let her do it.”

The vineyard, which has withdrawn from the Long Island Wine Council in the wake of the dispute, destroys the image of quiet wine tastings by quiet folk, perhaps listening to acoustic guitar or a jazz trio. The court battle centers on whether the business has become a de facto nightclub, complete with all the accompanying headaches, such as disturbingly loud music and patrons under the influence wandering off the grounds and having sex in neighboring backyards.

When does a vineyard stop becoming an agricultural operation? And does the town have any say in that?

As the court case continues — too slowly, according to neighbors unhappy that the next hearing won’t take place until Oct. 31, well past the peak of the season — the town continues to grapple with draft legislation to tighten up rules covering special events, not just on vineyards but on all agricultural lands. Industry groups like the Long Island Farm Bureau and Long Island Wine Council fear the town will overstep its bounds with restrictions threatening the economic viability of farms and vineyards. After meeting with representatives from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which has the power to override local laws regulating agricultural operations, the Town Board withdrew the bill and canceled next week’s scheduled public hearing.

Board members still insist, however, that the town must exercise greater control over business practices that threaten public safety and residents’ quality of life. But as Wine Council president Ron Goerler said, “Logic must prevail.”

Surely there’s room for a meeting of the minds, if all parties are willing. It’s unrealistic to think that the town can ignore the very real question of what is an appropriate use of ag lands and what isn’t. The North Fork is no longer an undiscovered, sleepy little community out in the middle of nowhere. But like it or not, agriculture holds a special place in state law and farmers have a right to do business unencumbered by overly restrictive local ordinances.

It’s unfortunate that there is conflict now, at the height of the farm stand/pumpkin- picking/wine-tasting season, when visitors from far and wide make the trip here to enjoy the harvest bounty. There’s got to be a way to reach an amicable resolution before spring returns with a new growing season.

07/09/12 10:32am
07/09/2012 10:32 AM

When summer is in full swing, it’s hard to move off the patio at home. I can spend hours under my shady pergola, sipping something cool. Still, however much inertia takes hold, there are wine events coming up on the East End that are motivating enough to make me head on down the pike for some vinous entertainment.

As a devoted lover of bubbly, I never want to miss the James Beard Foundation’s annual summer celebration of all things sparkling: Chefs and Champagne at Wölffer Estate Vineyards in Sagaponack on Saturday, July 21, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Raising money for the ongoing mission of the JBF, “to celebrate, nurture and preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and future,” Chefs and Champagne is a gigantic, tented walkabout tasting representing the best of the best from America’s chefs. Coming as it does during New York City’s slow time, when anyone who can escapes to the country, it attracts an impressive array of foodie stars.

In past years, Chefs and Champagne has paid tribute to single celebrities like Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse, but this year JBF Award winners Ted Allen and the judges of Food Network’s Chopped — Maneet Chauhan, Scott Conant, Amanda Freitag, Alex Guarnaschelli, Marc Murphy, Marcus Samuelsson, Aarón Sanchez, Chris Santos and Geoffrey Zakarian — will all receive this honor together. These über talents of the food world are a spirited lot; their energy adds to the vibrancy of the evening.

Nicolas Feuillate is the official Champagne sponsor. I suggest you get there early, before the vintage Brut 2004 runs out, then hop on over to the Wölffer Estate table for winemaker Roman Roth’s divine wines, which this year will include the intriguing Diosa Late Harvest Chardonnay 2010 and Fatalis Fatum 2007.

Later this summer, from 6 to 9 p.m. on Aug. 25 (moved up from its previous September date to take advantage of a new location at the Hampton Classic’s Bridgehampton show grounds) the Wine Spectator will again sponsor Harvest East End, Long Island’s foremost celebration of local wine and food, benefiting East End Hospice, the Group for the East End and Peconic Land Trust. Organized by Merliance (an alliance of Long Island merlot producers) and the Long Island Wine Council, Harvest East End will offer tastes from up to 40 East End wineries and 30 top restaurants with an exciting array of award-winning wines — including barrel samples of not-yet-released wines — and local, seasonal dishes from some of the region’s finest chefs, using all locally sourced foods.

Harvest East End’s Festival Tasting (called “Fall for Long Island” even though it’s still summer when it takes place) is, like Chefs and Champagne, a walkabout event where you can graze to your heart’s content while schmoozing with chefs and vintners. If you want to hang out with the high rollers you can also buy tickets to the VIP section, which will get you in early and give you access to comfortable tables and, more important, a special “wine library” tasting of older vintages. These tickets are almost sold out, so act quickly if you want that extra dose of glamour.

Even more coveted are invitations to a handful of 10 Mile Dinners, part of the Harvest East End experience organized to raise money for its beneficiaries. Soon to be announced, these are dinners held at spectacular private homes and prepared by star chefs using food sourced from within 10 miles. Each dinner features the wines of a single Long Island winery. Most dinners will be open to only 10 invited diners each; invitations can be obtained by applying to [email protected]

Besides these two blockbuster events, many wineries offer delightful places to relax and enjoy a glass of wine, often with music. Among my favorite picks are Martha Clara’s Sunset Vines and Canines educational vineyard walk (the next one is on Aug. 1) — bring your dog down for a walk through the vineyards with winemaker Juan Micieli-Martinez and his dog, Satchmo; a sybaritic afternoon sipping rose on the barn swing at Croteaux Vineyards; and Baiting Hollow Farm’s pony rides added to the mix of music and wine, supporting its equine rescues.

On Aug. 19, McCall Vineyards will host the summer’s most singular event: an aboriginally inspired buffet cooked by local chefs, where you can cut your fish or meat with an Algonquin flint, all to benefit the Southold Indian Museum. This is your chance to taste samp (cracked corn) and squash where Cutchogue natives once grew similar crops.
Choose your favorite, get out of that hammock and go for some summer fun.

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

07/03/12 8:00am
07/03/2012 8:00 AM

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Salt at Shelter Island’s Island Boatyard opened “The Tasting Room” this week. Julia Hathaway pours a glass for proprietor Keith Bavaro. Jamesport Vineyards is partnering with Salt on this new venture.

Jamesport Vineyards brought the North Fork wine industry to the next level this weekend with its newest tasting room, a joint venture between the vineyard and Shelter Island’s new restaurant, Salt, located on the waterfront.

“This is the first tasting room you can reach by boat,” said Salt co-owner Keith Bavaro. “Opening weekend was fantastic. It was a big hit even though we haven’t done any advertising for it yet.”

Not only is the tasting room the first that can be accessed directly by boat, it’s also the first satellite tasting room on Shelter Island.

The genesis for the new tasting outlet occurred when Jamesport Vineyards owner Ron Goerler visited the restaurant with his retail manager, Jack Perdie. “[Mr. Bavaro] had a building that he wasn’t using,” Mr. Goerler said, “and he asked if we wanted to open a tasting room.”

He said the two looked at Mr. Bavaro as if he had two heads but agreed to look at the building anyway.

Once they saw the space, Mr. Goerler said everything began to “make sense.”

He said the waterfront view and the restaurant were just the icing on the cake. What really “made sense” to him was the island itself as an untapped resource for the wine industry.

“With our license we’re allowed to open up to five different locations under the Farm Winery Act,” Mr. Goerler said. “We felt that having a presence for Jamesport where restaurants support us is important because as business models change, retail continues to drive this all.”

Though the regular hours are still being worked out for the new tasting room, Mr. Bavaro said he expects it will be open from noon to 9 p.m. all week through the Fourth of July.

04/30/12 11:16am
04/30/2012 11:16 AM

Milla Handley has been making wine in California since 1975. Back then, she was one of very few women actually down in the cellar, dragging hoses around and monitoring fermentation temperatures. In 1978 she and her husband, Rex McClellan, moved to the remote Anderson Valley, north of Sonoma, where, over time, they planted 29 acres in chardonnay, pinot noir and gewurtztraminer. In 1982, she began to make her own wine in their basement.

At the time, Milla and Rex were true winemaking pioneers. While Napa was surging to prominence under the leadership of such wine greats as Robert Mondavi, the Anderson Valley was a little too far from San Francisco, a little too cold, a little too rural for the kind of investors who poured money into Napa. But Milla liked its isolation. She enjoyed the camaraderie of her hardscrabble farming neighbors. Even after Rex’s death, she continued making wine there despite its many challenges.

At Milla’s vineyard, heavy fog from the Pacific Ocean makes for cold nights (around 50 degrees during the growing season). When the fog clears, it can get as hot as 112 degrees. Most of the time, a 35-degree change in 24 hours is typical there. This makes the vines struggle to ripen, but it also conserves acidity in the fruit. Just when the fruit is almost ripe, autumn rains begin, sometimes forcing a premature harvest.

I met Milla in Manhattan at Keen’s Steakhouse, where a small group of wine writers was led through a retrospective tasting of 12 Handley pinot noirs from the 1997-2009 vintages. We tasted silently and seriously, then asked questions of Milla and her co-winemaker, Kristen Barnhisel. It was indeed a tasting worthy of focused attention; the wines were seriously good. But what I liked best about the tasting was Milla herself. She and I began making wine at the same time (1975), and she told stories that I could really identify with about raising two children while making wine professionally.

As much as Milla liked the remoteness of her Anderson Valley home, from a very early age her eldest daughter wanted to live in a more populated area. “Mom,” the child said, “Let’s move to New York.”

“No,” said Milla. “New York is too far away.”

“Then can we move to San Francisco?”

“No,” said Milla. “That’s too far, too.”

“Well then,” asked the child, “How about Booneville?”

My own daughter, at age 3, used to say, quite regularly, “I wanna go somewhere!” And we were already in Cutchogue, which was about as populous as Booneville back then.

Milla may live in the middle of nowhere, and favor a laid-back personal style, but she is sophisticated in the world of wine. She told me of her meeting with the cellar master at the famed estate of Romanée Conti in Burgundy. This man, revered for his wines but a notorious fanny pincher, encircled her shoulders with one arm, grasping her breast in one hand while firmly holding a bottle of 1966 Le Montrachet in the other. Being a true lover of wine, and not wanting to compromise her chance to taste one of the world’s finest white Burgundies, Milla ignored the inappropriate gesture.

“Hey, he’s French! And he was scheduled to have a triple bypass. He looked like a garbage man,” she told me. “Besides, the wine was worth it.”

Having survived this and other forms of disrespect familiar to many female winemakers (“We were once called a coven,” Milla says), Milla has expanded Handley Cellars, so that now she makes wines from several vineyards. Still, my favorites were those from her home vineyard, called “RSM” after her late husband. The 1997 had a wonderful subtlety rarely found in California pinot noirs. As old as it is, the wine still blossomed in the glass, with flavors of black cherries and allspice.

I also admired the 2005 RSM Pinot Noir, which had nuanced fruit and sweet, nutty wood.

Other tasters preferred the bigger, more extracted wines, like the 2009 RSM, with its brilliant color and lush fruit. But this is a style one expects from a California pinot. When Milla said, “New York has a European palate,” someone yelled, “No they don’t. They want fruit bombs!”

That’s an issue for Long Island’s vintners, too: Wine critics have led consumers away from subtle, cool-climate wines. I sympathize with Milla, who said, “I’m trying not to be a bitch. I’m trying but I fail sometimes.”

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.

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.

08/30/11 12:38pm
08/30/2011 12:38 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Many vineyards on the North Fork took precautionary measures that may have saved local grapes from Tropical Storm Irene's wrath.

Local farmers say corn crops took a hit during Tropical Storm Irene, but grapes appear to have made out fine.

In the days prior to then-Hurricane Irene’s arrival, farmers expressed fear that sustained winds could do millions of dollars worth of damage to North Fork crops.

“We dodged a major bullet,” said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau is working with Cornell Cooperative Extension to chronicle the damage and send that information to U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is preparing a disaster declaration request for Long Island and the Hudson Valley, Mr. Gergela said.

“Corn crops were hardest hit, they got hurt pretty bad,” Mr. Gergela said. “Tree crops, like peaches and apples, also got hurt. There were some broken trees and fruit on the ground. The grapes appear to be OK. A little bruising of the fruit.”

Charles Massoud, who owns Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue said his crops held up with the exception of about six rows of vines, which he thinks may have been hit by a small tornado, because of the way the half of them were flattened in one direction and half in the other.

They posted a short video of the damage on the Vineyard’s Facebook site.

“It was very localized and very symmetrical,” he said. “It certainly looks like a twister.”

Mr. Massoud said they didn’t report it to the National Weather Service and have since begun repairing the damage.

Other than those six rows, the grapes were all right, he said.

One other potential issue of concern to vineyards that has yet to be assessed is salt water carried by storm winds from local waterways and potentially sprayed on crops, which can be fatal to vineyard leaves, Mr. Massoud said.

“We don’t know to what extent we have any salt in the spray that was blown by the wind,” he said. “I’m assuming we didn’t get much, but if we did, it will show up in two or three days.”

That happened in Hurricane Gloria, which fortunately occurred after the grapes were harvested, Mr. Massoud said. The current grapes will be harvested in about 10 days, but he said he’s optimistic the salt spray won’t be a problem.

Ed Harbes of Harbes Farms in Mattituck and Jamesport said his corn crops were “roughed up a bit” by Irene.

“It could have been worse,” he said. “We had some corn blown down, but it will probably stand back up. And the pumpkins might be OK, they don’t like excessive water.”

He said it’s too soon to tell the full extent of the damage but he’s happy the storm wasn’t worse, and that no people were reported injured or killed on the North Fork.

“Not every area can say that,” he said.

George Gabrielsen, the Riverhead Town Councilman who owns a farm in Jamesport, said about half of his corn maze was knocked down by the storm.

“We were lucky because we had a north wind come back the other direction from the hurricane winds and pushed the corn right back,” he said.

He said the corn can be salvaged.

“I think overall I’m lucky,” he said.

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