Last year, my wife and I traveled to the North Fork of Long Island to attend wine camp– 3 days of access to some of the best winegrowers in the area.
If you love wine and have never been to a wine growing region- plan a trip, now!
It is enlightening to see how wine grapes are grown. Visiting a winery allows you to appreciate the effort required to produce wine and to enjoy the passion, of everyone involved in the process.
Every glass of wine you drink afterwards will taste better.
What I learned at wine camp:
Wine growing is FARMING. It it is HARD work and a difficult way to earn a living.
Most wineries are not chateaus but rather modest, generally clean environments for producing a reliable, consistent product.
Wine people (producers, owners, tasting room managers) are fun, patient people who LOVE to talk wine and answer questions, so feel free to ask away.
Vintage does Matter
The vintage year (the year listed on the bottle) is ALWAYS the year the grapes were harvested, not when it is released (available on shelves). Therefore it is a snapshot of what happened in the vineyard during that growing season.
The North Fork has a cool, sometimes cold, maritime climate. Similar to Bordeaux it is greatly influenced by dramatic, unpredictable weather shifts. In 2010 when we visited, winemakers were anticipating a fantastic harvest. For the entire spring, temperatures were moderate, they had plenty of sun, and the grapes were ripening very well. Literally the day we left, a hail storm hit and some wineries lost as much as a third of their crops in one day!
Check your grapes! Europeans have spent thousands of years determining what grows best in a certain area. Most have laws that restrict what can be grown, and how it can be grown, to maintain the integrity of a specific region.
We do not have many of these laws in the United States so you will be well served to ask winemakers what grows best in their region, and stick to wines made with those grapes.
The PRODUCER is important (Look at the name of the winery)
A good producer provides quality and consistency. Many factors are out of their control: weather, temperature, hungry birds, etc. But a good producer can make a good wine in a not so good vintage. And a reputable producer won’t even make wine in a poor vintage!
Read on for some of my favorite producers from the trip:
LENZ– their tasting room is a little less elegant than some of the others- we sampled some wines outside and were encouraged to spit wines on the ground at our feet. But, they produce some of the best Merlot blend wines in the country, maybe the WORLD. They actually compete with some of the finest wines in the world– the right bank Bordeaux wines of St. Emillion and Pomerol.
Castello di Borghese– down to earth royalty. Prince Marco and Princess Anne Marie Borghese are excellent hosts, and extremely dedicated to producing the finest wines. Their Chardonnays and Rieslings are elegant and extremely well made. If you can’t find their wines at your local wine shop they have a wine club.
Paumanok– This family winemaking team produces some very nice Chenin Blanc as well as Sauvignon Blanc. Mother Ursula was running the tasting room while son Kareem worked the blending and barrel ageing. They are a very warm and caring group who will make you feel welcome during your visit.
Jamesport- demonstrates integrity- very environmentally conscious father-son team that does the “right things” in the vineyard to ensure the best grapes go into the final wine. They make a nice Sauvignon Blanc (Estate Series) and have an entire line of wines (East End Series), that contributes a portion of the proceeds to preserving the local sea life. They walked us out into the vineyard and explained canopy (vine and leaf protection) management and pest control.
I was blown over by the world class quality of many of the wines we tasted on the North Fork and will be returning soon to sample some newer vintages and to try some other wineries.
Here are some links for those looking to explore more…