Papa Was a Rolling Stone

“The scent of wine, oh how much more agreeable, laughing, praying, celestial and delicious it is than that of oil!”

- Francois Rabelais

There’s no denying the importance of Merlot and Chardonnay in the success of Long Island wine. But in the last few years, no grape has garnered more interest and attention on the North Fork than Cabernet Franc. Merlot may be the most widely planted and red grape on Long Island but to me, the most intriguing red variety is Cabernet Franc.

Through years of research it’s been determined that Cabernet Franc is one of the world’s most ancient varieties. It was once assumed that Cabernet Franc was an early offspring of Vitis biturica. Ancient writings from Pliny claimed that Vitis biturica developed from a cross between an imported Roman variety and a vine growing in the wilds of Iberia – what is today Spain and Portugal. However recent genetic and historical analysis points to the Spanish País Vasco – better known as Basque Country – as Cab Franc’s place of origin. As of today, the trail ends there leaving Cabernet Franc an ancient orphan.

Cabernet Franc is not only old, but extremely procreant. Recent DNA analysis shows that a wild cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc resulted in Cabernet Sauvignon. Another wild date with an ancient grape called Magdeline Noire des Charentes resulted in Malbec while other flings with unknown suitors produced Carmenere and Petit Verdot. When one drank red wine in the Middle Ages, it’s quite possible that much of it was Cabernet Franc or something very similar. One thing is clear – Cabernet Franc is truly the gran padre of Bordeaux varieties.
Any mention of Cabernet Franc as a distinct variety doesn’t appear in the French literature until sometime in the 17th century when it is believed to have been discovered in the region of southwest France by Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu was a French clergyman, noble and statesman who was consecrated as a bishop in 1608. Richelieu was often known by the title of the King’s “Chief Minister” and is considered to be the world’s first Prime Minister, in the modern sense of the term. As the story goes, the Cardinal was also a wine aficionado and loved drinking Cab Franc. He felt so highly of the grape that he arranged cuttings to be transported to the Abbey of Bourgueil in the Loire Valley in the 17th Century. These vines were planted at the Abbey under the care of an abbot named Breton, whose name became associated with the grape. (This story is disputed somewhat by the writings of Francois Rabelais, the 16th-century writer who was born near Chinon, who wrote of ”the good wine of Breton” 200 years before the abbot came on the scene).

In any case, the Loire became famous by making extraordinary wines from this distinctive variety which remains the primary red grape in the region. By the 18th century, plantings of Cabernet Franc (also known as Bouchet) made their way south and west throughout Bordeaux into Fronsac, Pomerol and St-Emilion, where the grape eventually crossed with Sauvignon Blanc to produce their most famous progeny: Cabernet Sauvignon. By the end of the 19th century, Cab Franc was relegated to a supporting role in the blended wines of Bordeaux.

Cab Franc has the reputation of being a sturdier and hardier variety that its progeny – hence it’s great success in the cooler climate of the Loire and the Right Bank. For decades in Bordeaux, plantings of Cabernet Franc were treated as an “insurance policy” against cold weather and frost that can damage plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon. Research done by Cornell University discovered that Cab Franc was not only hardier than most other red vinifera varietals, but had more tolerance for cold than even Riesling. Today it remains one of the hardiest of the noble grapes and a steadfast red wine option for many cool climate wine regions.

The first Cabernet Franc on the Island was planted in the early 1980’s, with vines going in at Bridgehampton, Bedell, Hargrave and others. Cabernet Franc seems to feel very much at home on the North Fork of Long Island and grows easily in our maritime terroir. With 275 acres on the ground, it’s a mere drop in bucket when compared to Bordeaux (36,000 acres) and the Loire (5000 acres) but the resultant wines are truly elegant and intensely reflect our terroir. Direct fruit aromas and flavors of cherries, strawberries and raspberries can jump out of the glass while a tender mouth feel is wrapped around soft velvety tannins. There’s often just a hint of leafy, savory herbs which is an inherent quality in this grape even at the peak of ripeness. As it ages, the wine can have aromas of a coastal forest floor after a rainstorm. These qualities – along with sturdy natural acidity and refreshing mouth feel – allow it to be served with just about any cuisine.

In many respects, Cabernet Franc is the quintessential Long Island red as it epitomizes our east coast style. It’s moderate in alcohol with a lightness and delicacy that’s surrounded by loads of red fruit. It doesn’t require much oak and when it does, it’s best to keep it in older, neutral barrels to allow the graceful fruit to shine through. The result is a red wine that is unlike any other. It can be a little shy at first but as the great New York Times wine writer Frank Prial once told me: “Cabernet Franc is like any truly interesting friend, it takes time to get to know.”

I think everyone should take his advice to heart.

-roh

Franc Noir

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Cutchogue. North Fork of Long Island. The dimly lit, smoke filled office of private detective Haven S. Loam. Light coming in through venetian blinds at the end of the day. A fan turns lazily overhead casting shadows. Slow jazz plays in the background.

HL:          It was another beautiful day on the North Fork. I’d had enough of the sunshine and was in my office going over my client list – a grand total of zero. I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a day in the city. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. Plus one bottle of some red wine from a friend of mine down the road. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober and I didn’t care who knew it. I lit myself a Lucky.

All of a sudden there was a knock at the door. I took a sip and told whoever it was to go away. The door swung open.

HL:         Hey what’s the big idea?

She stood in the doorway, a good looking brunette. From twenty feet away she looked like a lot of class. She gave me a smile that I felt in my hip pocket.

SB:          May I come in?

HL:         Looks like you already have. Take a seat.

SB:          My uncle said you were the best in town.

HL:         That depends what you’re talking about and who your uncle is.

She held out a gloved hand. I expect she wanted me to shake it. She was a great looking dame, but I’d seen plenty of great looking dames before and they were nothing but trouble.

SB:          The name’s Blanc.  Sauvignon Blanc. But my friends call me Kitty.

 HL:        French huh?

I stood to shake her hand.

HL:         Nice to meet you.

SB:          Tall, aren’t you.

HL:         I didn’t mean to be.  So what can I do for you Ms. Blanc?

She sat demurely and I could see that she was upset.

SB:          It’s about my husband, Franc.

HL:         Oh, you have one of those?

SB:          Yes.

Her lips started to tremble. I could see the water works were going to start any second.

 SB:         I haven’t seen him in years and I need your help to try and find him.

HL:         Drink?

SB:          That would be swell Mr.?

HL:         It’s not important. So when was the last time you saw your husband?

SB:          It’s been years. We met many years ago. I thought he was French but I found out later he was from the País Vasco –you know, Basque Country. He was going with some floozy from Brittany – Magdeline or something like that. He could be so wild and verdurous back then. Mon Dieu, it was all so long ago. We weren’t supposed to be together but…you know how things can go.

HL:         Yes, ma’am I do.

She lowered her eyelashes and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain. I was paying close attention. I needed a job and she was dressed like a million bucks. I was so broke that lately I’d been rubbing 2 nickels together to see if they could mate. I took a deep drag off my Lucky.

HL:         Tell me about him.

SB:          He has other children you know, with her – before he met me of course. She gave them some crazy names like Malbec and Merlot. She had quite a reputation – children all over France with different fathers. Quite a scandal. I’m afraid that maybe he’s gone back to her. I brought a picture…

She reached into her bag and slid a photograph across the desk, a five-by-three glazed still of a beautiful blonde.

HL:         She looks like she could make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.

SB:          Apparently she’s very lovely and passionate.

HL:         And exclusive as a mailbox. But enough about her. Tell me more about this Franc.

SB:          Well, years ago some American friends of ours had an idea that he would be a huge success out in California – just like our son. We argued about it but one day I woke up and he was off. I haven’t seen or heard much from him since.

California – I’d been there. The winds come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. It’s the kind of place with ugly homes, too much sun and lots of alcohol. A guy could get tired from all that sunshine.

HL:         You and this, Frank…

SB:          Franc

HL:         Right, Franc – you said your son is out there with him?

SB:          Yes my son –we call him Cab. He’s such a nice boy. He was born in France. He went to California first and I think Franc wanted to be closer to him. Once Cab moved out west he became so full of himself – I think all the alcohol had a bad effect on him.  If you saw him today you’d think he wasn’t even related to us.

The tears started to fall again. I gave her a tissue.

SB:          Do you think you can help me?

I looked at the bottle I was about to pour. The label read “Cabernet Franc.” I had to do a double take. Sometimes old habits can help you when you’re not looking. I realized I just hit the jackpot.

HL:         I think you came to right place Ms. Blanc. Fact is, he’s been making quite a name for himself out here. Allow me?

I poured her a glass.

SB:          No it can’t be. Really?

She took a taste, swirled it around in her mouth and her eyes got as big as saucers.

SB:          It’s him! My Franc! And he’s just like I remembered him. In fact he’s better than ever. How did you ever find him?

HL:          I do a great deal of research – particularly in the apartments of tall blondes.

SB:          Oh please I need to go find him now. I don’t ever want to lose him again.

HL:         I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding him. He’s about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food. He’s all over the North Fork. In fact, I think you both could be very happy here.

SB:          I think so too! Thank you mister..?

HL:         Loam. Haven Loam. But all the dames call me Terry. It’s short for Terroir.

(Special thanks to Raymond Chandler for the inspiration and dialogue.)

A Seal of Approval

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

-          Margaret Mead

This past December, Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing (LISW) sponsored a very special visit by one of the world’s leading experts in the field of sustainable viticulture – Dr. Cliff Ohmart.  Dr. Ohmart has been working in the field of sustainable viticulture for over 20 years and is one of the earliest innovators in the field of Integrated Pest Management, designing the first computer database system for commercial agriculture. Most notably, Cliff is the senior author of the Lodi Winegrower`s Workbook which is used in the famous Lodi Rules sustainable certification program in California. Today he is the vice president of SureHarvest, a private company that provides solutions for growers and food companies pursuing sustainability strategies and third-party sustainability certification. He’s also the author of the “bible of sustainable viticulture” entitled A View from the Vineyard. It’s a book everyone interested in sustainable winegrowing should read.

With a grant from NYS Wine and Grape Foundation, LISW enlisted Dr. Ohmart to review our program and provide us feedback. According to Dr. Ohmart, his review of LISW was the first time a sustainable certification program in the United States was analyzed by an outside party. He was also impressed that the LISW was formed “from the bottom up” as our program was developed through input from growers and wine producers. Most sustainable programs are not begun in this way – they are started either by private companies or formal grower organizations without a great deal of input from the stakeholders themselves. After a careful analysis of the entire program, here are Dr. Ohmart’s most important conclusions:

“LISW is a robust and well-constructed program that compares very well to other existing sustainable winegrowing certification programs, which are all located in the western US. Its goals are clearly stated and the farming practice standards are aligned with most of them.”

“LISW’s certification process is straightforward and the website provides all of the information necessary for a grower to apply for and accomplish the steps required for certification. The LISW website is well designed and easy to navigate, both for the visitor as well as a LISW-certified grower. It contains links to all of the important information about the LISW certification program, the forms required for certification, and how to become certified.”

Why is this important? For one, it validates that the guidelines we laid out for LISW are correct and are working to help growers achieve more sustainable goals. We’re on the way to making the sustainable practices required by LISW the standard in the region. We also feel strongly that by following LISW guidelines we will help protect our sole source aquifer as well as improve the environmental conditions of our surrounding creeks, bays and ocean. Many of us feel we will also make better and more distinctive wines by following these guidelines.

This spring for the first time, many members of LISW (including Bedell Cellars) will begin to use a sustainable certification seal on their labels. This logo can only be used by those member vineyards that have completed and passed a rigorous vineyard inspection. It’s an important thing to look for;  when you see it on a wine you’ll know that the grapes were grown under the LISW program. Certified member wineries can begin to use the LISW seal beginning with the 2012 vintage.

In just two years, LISW has emerged as a legitimate and serious program that already compares very favorably with programs that have existed for a much longer period of time. The 2014 vintage will mark the third season of LISW with 10 vineyards achieving certification in 2013. Current membership consists of 18 vineyards and wineries with over 700 acres under the LISW certification program.

The East End of Long Island is renowned for its bucolic beauty and our wine is distinctive for its purity, vibrancy and intensity. By embracing sustainable practices, we will help to ensure that our quality of life as well as the quality of our wines will improve for many years to come and help lead us to a cleaner, greener island.

For more information on Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing visit www.lisustainablewine.orgLong Island logo

Lucky 13

The 2013 vintage season marked the 40th anniversary of Long Island winemaking and it began like so many others before – with cold temperatures and lots of rain. Breaking with the early warming trend of the past few seasons, the buds opened up around the historical norm of May 1st and grew slowly during the first weeks of the spring. June remained cool and brought a record amount of rainfall leading to a dubious start to the vintage. The real heat didn’t arrive until the end of June and continued throughout the entire month of July. High temperatures accompanied by turbulent weather patterns and sporadic rains had vineyard crews scrambling to keep up. In spite of the July heat, we were still behind previous years in heat accumulation (GDD) and winemakers were bracing for a challenging end to the season.

Then as if someone flipped a switch, the weather changed completely. The rain diminished, temperatures dropped and clear blue skies became more common. By the end of August we were looking at a potentially good harvest. A truly great vintage seemed like a long shot but there was still a slight chance – as long as it didn’t rain anymore. This is something we wish for in every vintage – but this was the year it actually happened.
From past experience and weather data we know that the greatest Long Island vintages occur when the combined rainfall in August, September and October is less than 10 inches. All the best seasons have followed this rule. By the end of August, with less than a few inches on the books, our cautious optimism began to grow.

It’s best to pick ripe fruit before a prolonged rain when color, aroma and flavor are at their most concentrated. As rain approached and our anxiety grew, we were both relieved and amazed to see the storm fronts break up and disappear, leaving us with beautiful weather for days on end and longer hang time for the fruit. The sun continued to shine brightly and with healthy leaves working at full capacity, the vines soaked it all in sending tons of sugar to the fruit. In September our vineyards in Cutchogue collected a total of one inch of rain and in October essentially none at all.

During harvest, the sun stayed out and the rain stayed away. Every day was joyful as we unloaded basket after basket of beautifully ripe grapes and celebrated their delicious perfection. It was as if some heavenly force was keeping away all the rain clouds. Each day was better than the next – not a cloud in the sky, warm temperatures and not a drop of rain in sight. The results were dramatic. By the time October was over, all of our fruit was inside the winery – all of it harvested without a drop of rain. It was an extraordinary end to a vintage – the ultimate come-back season which Michael Lynne dubbed our “Lucky 13.”

The 2013 vintage showed the profound importance of solar radiation. It was the ability of the sun to continuously radiate down upon our vines – unimpeded by cloud cover – that shifted the momentum of the season. I’ve seen this before – but in reverse – in years like 2003 and 2011 when we had lots of heat but also lots of clouds. The quantitative measurement of solar radiation is something I think we need to pay more attention to in the future.

From what I’m tasting in the tanks and barrels, 2013 will go down as one of the finest vintages the North Fork has ever seen – ranking right up there with 2007 and 2010. It was truly a magical run and we will be enjoying these wines for many years to come. From whites to reds, all the wines are singing out and showing their full colors. In fact, it reminds me of a song…

The Soil of Long Island Part 2 – There’s No Place Like Loam

“To be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil.” — Xenophon, Oeconomicus, 400 B.C.

“Consider what each soil will bear, and what each refuses.” – Virgil

 

As a student of agriculture and viticulture, I’ve been studying the topic of soils for a very long time. They’re usually not described with the same romantic language as say, the wines that are produced from them, but they carry a profound importance. To me, soil is the most influential factor in defining a wine region’s terroir;  however their influence greatly transcends wine. Wendell Berry, the American novelist, poet and environmental activist, said it best:

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, and death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

Books on wine are littered with in-depth descriptions of the soils of the Old World and the huge effect they have on wine quality. The French in particular are extremely well-versed about their vineyard soils and have done more than any other country in studying them. Their work led to one of the earliest approaches to soil classification, known as the French Soil Reference System (Référentiel Pédologique Français.) French winegrowers have known longer than anyone else how much influence a particular soil can have on wine quality.

When much of the New World talks about their winegrowing districts, there is often a dearth of information regarding soil types and their influence on wine. This is a distinctly New World philosophy where winemaking techniques often take precedence over inherent vineyard characteristics. Of course in the Cool New World we look at things much differently. In temperate winegrowing regions, soils can make or break a vintage. Although locally, many winemakers seem to talk more about the weather, the soil of Long Island is just as important – if not the most important factor in our regions’ success.  Over the years, while wine writers swirled and spat over the famous Kimmeridgian chalky limestone of Chablis or the Yellow Tuffeau of the Loire Valley – I realized that little was being said about the soils of Long Island. I made up my mind a while ago to learn as much as I could about our local soil and the effects they produce on our wines. In my opinion, the understanding of our soil – and its expression in the glass – is the sine qua non.

Unlike most of the winegrowing soils of Europe, the soils that make up Long Island are (geologically speaking)   relatively new – the last glacier of the Wisconsin Age receded from the region about 11,000 years age at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch. During this period the glaciers carried large quantities of rock, much of which was ground into gravel, sand and silt-sized soil particles. When the advancing ice stopped and began to melt, enormous quantities of water ran from the glacier, carrying and sorting the particles. Most of the material was sand and gravel which was deposited on a broad area in front of the moraine known as the glacial outwash plain.  As the ice kept melting, most of this plain was covered by water or wind-deposited silt, clay and fine sand, making up the topsoil of the island.

The South Fork (The Hampton’s AVA) was made from the first glacial event formed by the Ronkonkoma moraine. South Fork soils are made up of 2 main associations – the heavier Bridgehampton-Haven association and the lighter, sandier Carver-Plymouth-Riverhead association. Carver soils are located along the northern edge of the South Fork near Peconic Bay and are mostly sand and gravel. The southern edge of the Hamptons contains the rich and darkly colored Bridgehampton Silt loams which have a much higher water-holding capacity and are considered the best soils of the Hamptons AVA.

The soils of the North Fork were created through the action of the Roanoke Point moraine which happened a few thousand years after the Ronkonkoma moraine.  The North Fork is made up of two main soil associations: the Carver-Plymouth-Riverhead association which makes up the coastal perimeter along the Sound and Peconic Bay and the Haven-Riverhead association which makes up the heart of the region. It is in this central area of the North Fork where most local agriculture is found and where the majority of vineyards are planted. Haven-Riverhead Associations consist of Riverhead sandy loam and more importantly, Haven loam.

(You can see these distinctions on the USDA soil map: http://www.bedellcellars.com/images/Bedell_SoilMap.pdf.)

Haven Loam is the ascendant soil of the North Fork AVA and was formed when sand, silt and clay washed down from the top of the moraine towards Peconic Bay. The heavier sand dropped first making up most of the underbelly of the region. The lighter silt and clay remained closer to the surface and mixed with the remaining sand to form our topsoil –officially classified as a loam. Haven loam is slightly heavier and has a higher water-holding capacity than Riverhead sandy loam. Both soils lay over a bed of stratified sand and gravel, are well drained and have low natural fertility- the perfect soil for growing fine wine grapes.  This layer cake of geology controls and limits the impact of the periodic summer rains, controlling vine growth and promoting grape ripening in the fall. It also acts as a purifying filter in our regional water-cycle.

Most vineyards on the North Fork are planted on Haven loam and to a lesser extent, Riverhead sandy loam. These soils provide significant differences in vine growth as well as wine style. Red wines grown on Haven loam have an expansive mid palate and can be dense and powerful while reds made from Riverhead sandy loams are often lighter in body and color with a pronounced elegance. Both these soils are naturally acidic and contain substantial amounts of aluminum and iron, lending to the minerality and “steeliness” tasters often find in our red wines. Some grape varieties will also show their preference for a particular soil with Merlot and Cabernet Franc growing better in Haven loam while Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon excel on the more arid Riverhead soils.

Major influences can also occur from subterranean stratification. In some vineyards, Haven loam is close to 4 feet deep while in others it’s barely 6 inches to the subsoil. This heterogeneity in the underground character of our land can create compelling differences in wine quality and style. For example, in vintages with lots of rain, vineyards growing over thinner topsoil will produce better wines than those grown over deep topsoil areas. In dry years, deep topsoil vines receive more water resulting in outstanding quality. Bands of clay scattered throughout the subsoil can also influence water relations to the vines. To know all the locations of these areas and understand their influence isn’t simple, but we’ll get there in time.

The reputation of North Fork wines is literally rooted in our soil. They are the result of thousands of years of deposition – made of particles that were brought here from as far away as northern Canada. The confluence of events that occurred during the glacial period created a soil that is completely unique. This place in time – this convergence of water, ice, sun and rock has left us the soils we live on. No other place in the world can duplicate what we have. The world renowned Australian viticulturist Dr. Richard Smart, on a rare trip to Long Island in February of 2000, stated that the soils of Long Island “are among the finest soils for grape growing that I have ever seen in the world.” With a benediction like that, we as winegrowers are obliged to learn as much as possible about our soils while simultaneously cherishing and stewarding this precious natural resource – the haven of where we live.

Definition of HAVEN       (courtesy of merriam-webster.com)

1: harbor, port

2: a place of safety: refuge

3: a place offering favorable opportunities or conditions (a haven for artists)

The Rating Game

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“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When it comes to things such as music, cars, sports, food or even clothes, Americans are adamant about their likes and dislikes. Why is it when it comes to the subject of wine, so many Americans act like a deer in the headlights? How often have you heard someone say, as you pour them a glass of wine – “I’m not connoisseur” as if the need to have a specially accrued knowledge was necessary. It’s probably partly due to the fact that most Americans aren’t exposed to wine as kids like they are in European countries. The “foreign origin” of wine creates a disconnect within our culture, resulting in having to fight an elitist image. A lot has to do with the fact that we as a culture are assaulted with lots of misinformation about wine. The blogosphere has no doubt added to the confusion. This and the vast number of wines available to us – especially here in New York – can make the world of wine a difficult thing for the average American to understand. The bottom line however is that anyone, anyplace, has the tools necessary to judge and appreciate wine – they’re called your own taste buds.

Most Europeans are raised with at least some understanding of wine from their own local region or country. Most are not formally schooled in the wines of the world. That’s something that takes time. Maybe the lesson is we should simply start by appreciating the wines from our own region first before trying to understand the rest of the world. We’ve seen the slow changes occurring in American wine consumption, much of it due to the well-documented health benefits of wine as well as the plethora of good wine available at good prices. Still, the average consumer remains somewhat intimidated with the world of wine. Over half of all wine consumers report that they would like to learn more about it. This brings me to the topic of wine ratings.

Much has been written regarding the use of the 100-point scale for wine evaluation. The amount of space needed to discuss the merits and failings of this system doesn’t exist on this blog – but I would argue that most, if not all consumers could do better all by themselves. More and more wine pundits are telling us the 100-point scale is fast becoming a relic of decades past, when Americans needed the advice of an “expert” to tell them what they should like. The New York Times covered the topic by interviewing a number of major players in the wine ratings world.  Most agreed that the 100-point systems used by Robert Parker and The Wine Spectator can be important to a wine producers’ commercial success. At the same time however, most of these critics tell us they would like to see the system disappear altogether – that it has become in essence, a necessary evil in the wine world. Joshua Greene, editor and publisher of Wine and Spirits magazine states that “on many levels it’s nonsensical. I don’t think it’s a very valuable piece of information.” This comes in part from understanding that the 100-point scale is not an exact science. It’s actually not a science at all – it’s just a matter of opinion. The system used by Parker is different than the one used by the Wine Spectator in that the style and type of wine held up to the 100-point standard is different for both. The fact many of these evaluations are not done “blind” also leaves much up to the taster’s preconceived opinions. Add to this the fact that the vast majority of tasters used by most of the 100-point publications are middle-aged, white males. A recent survey by Rossman, Graham and Associates found that while women account for 70% of the shopping for households, only 5% are influenced by advertising or wine ratings. I can only believe that some of these publications are missing are huge part of the equation.

The potential “dark side” of the wine rating game was detailed a few years ago when the New York Times ran a story about Enologix, a consulting company in California set up specifically to help producers manipulate wines in order to achieve higher scores. Enologix claims to have supposedly “solved the math of flavor for wine” and figured out how to break down all the chemical components of wine in order that they may be reproduced anywhere. Sounds like a “terroirist’s” worst nightmare. Somehow this approach reminds me of the music industry’s formula for a producing a hit single. Find out what is selling, put together the right faces and voices and give them the perfectly crafted song to sing. Creative?  – No, but it does make a lot of money for the people involved. It also begs the question – is this really all you want to listen to?

We’re now seeing that more importance is being given to how wine is actually made. What kinds of vineyard management were used – was it sustainable to the surrounding environment? How and under what conditions was it harvested? Does it embody the local conditions of the region? What if any, additives were used in the production of the wine in the cellar? And ultimately, does it taste good to you?

As consumers continue to become increasingly aware of the origin of what they put into their bodies, the where and how of winemaking will become more of an issue – which also could lead one right back to their own backyard where producers are known, techniques are verified and fruit origin is validated. The recent Long Island sustainable certification program (LISW) precisely addresses these very issues and is one of the many reasons why this new local program is so important.

I would ask one final question. Since when did you need anyone to tell you what you should and shouldn’t like? After all, who knows your taste buds better than yourself? The best way to learn abut wine is to try lots of different kinds. “Practice makes perfect” they say – and it’s a heck of a lot more fun than those piano lessons you had to take. All you need to do is find out what styles of wine you enjoy, and most importantly, learn to trust your own opinion. It’s fun, and really not all that complicated.

Revenge of the Clones

clone-troopers-imageBack when the first vineyards were planted on Long Island, many people “in the know” didn’t believe our region could successfully grow European wine grape varieties like Chardonnay and Merlot. After all, before Long Island, all of the wine produced in New York was in the upstate districts of the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley – places that had trouble growing European varieties in the past. Forty years later, we have proved the critics wrong many times over. Today Long Island remains one of the most innovative and creative producers in the world of these two wines. We started producing Chardonnay without oak on the East End long before the trend took hold in the rest of the country. The North Fork was also early to the Merlot dance, planting the first vines in 1974.  For a time in late 1980’s, Long Island was not that far behind California in total acres planted to Merlot.

Merlot is the grape that put Long Island wine on the map, has generated the highest level of critical acclaim from local and national critics and was even the wine selected to be poured at the last Presidential Inauguration – a profound achievement for our industry. Chardonnay remains the highest scoring wine (red or white) from Long Island in the Wine Spectator and has achieved more 90-point ratings than any other white grape grown in our district.

Without these two varieties, the face of Long Island wine would be far different and in my opinion, much less successful. Both of these classic varieties have provided a foundation of excellence on the East End, whether as single varietals or as the consistent, solid base onto which many of our best blended wines are crafted.

Any lover of Long Island wines will tell you that the wines we make today are better than what we made in the past. The fact is, even with all of our success, our wines will continue to improve in quality in the coming years. The reason?  Some of it of course is due to experience and know-how and an ever increasing understanding of our terroir. But there’s another big reason – clones.

Over the past 10 years, grapevine clones have shown themselves to be of increasing importance in our vineyards. Simply put, clones are a genetic variant of a particular variety. The Chardonnay grown on Long Island decades ago is not the same vine we have today. Plantings since that time – especially in the past 10-15 years, have benefitted from a wider selection of available plant material. Back in 1990, if you wanted to plant Chardonnay, you had one choice. Today there are more than 70 registered clones of this noble white grape being grown throughout the world and they all have their particular nuances and characteristics. Many of these clones are already in existence in Long Island vineyards – from the tropical and aromatic Musqué to the classic and alluring Dijon clones from Burgundy. Although these are all Chardonnays, each exhibits their own distinctive character.

This fact is also true of grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Franc, where profound differences in wine quality can be seen between clones grown in the same vineyard, on the same soils. Over 50 clones of Merlot have been identified in Bordeaux. Pomerol alone has over 35 clones of Cabernet Franc. Newer French clones, long kept overseas as tightly held trade secrets, are finding their way into the United States. In most cases these new clones are better suited to our maritime climate. Often these clones will ripen earlier than the older selections we used to have. Some are more resistant to disease. The ultimate result is higher quality wines. I’ve seen clones so different from each other that you would think the wines were made from another variety entirely.

All this brings me to my point. Long Island has recently been criticized for producing “too much” Chardonnay and Merlot. Some have said these grapes just “aren’t sexy right now.” Although I don’t think one should need a grape to ignite their libido, I believe there is much to say in defense of a stable, long term varietal relationship. This is especially true when there is so much more to do, so many more clone/rootstock combinations to explore and so many more wines to make. The best is truly yet to come.

Don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of great wines being made on the East End from other varieties. It’s always exciting to have something fresh and new to the market – especially with a name that no one can pronounce. But let’s not forget the partner that we first went to the dance with – who’s a pretty good dancer by the way.

Chardonnay and Merlot remain the most popular and best-selling wines in the world for good reason.  These grapes are known as classic noble varieties – a moniker attributed to only a handful of varieties in the world. Most importantly they’re delicious and when done well rank among the best (and most expensive) wines in the world. These are the wines that helped make Long Island famous and they continue to produce some of the best wines in the world. In particular, Long Island remains one of the only places on the East Coast that can successfully grow and ripen Merlot on a consistent basis, producing extraordinary wines – something that was unheard of in this part of the country before we did it. There’s something to be said for new and fashionable – but there’s also something to be said for steadfast dedication and time–honored success.

I think it’s important to recognize that from a vineyard and winery perspective, wine fashion is something we need to be careful with. Chasing fads is a consistent approach for many New World regions –a strategy that is surely lucrative for wineries in the short term but is not a sustainable pathway to maintaining a quality wine district. Let’s be honest, the big reason Chardonnay and Merlot have lost some of their trendiness is because of overproduction (and resultant overexposure) in New World areas like the West Coast and Australia. Millions of gallons of plonk made from these two grapes have flooded the marketplace over the years –a greedy response to the growing demand.

The latest fad (inspired by the rap artist Drake) is Moscato. Do we really want Long Island to go after this trend? What’s after that? Port? Wineries that chase fads are like a dog chasing its tail – in doing so it can be easy to forget what made one successful in the first place. Thankfully, we’re not making these kinds of wines and have instead gone in the other direction, focusing on sincere and real wines that are original works – not copies. We encourage low yields, minimal use of oak, elegant extraction and in particular, creative blending that allows our fruit to truly sing a local song.

Its true there is lots of Chardonnay and Merlot made in the world – but not with the tastes and style that only we can make on the North Fork. These varieties are popular here for a good reason – they grow well and have shown they can thrive and succeed year after year in our

sometimes harsh maritime environment. Merlot and Chardonnay are survivors and they’ve been grown long enough that it is from these 2 varieties that we can begin to describe the characteristics of our terroir. Most importantly, with the availability of new clones, these wines can be looked at in a new light. Their success and affinity for the North Fork will just continue to increase alongside our ability as winemakers to bring out the best in the fruit. Oh yeah I almost forgot – they also make some really tasty wines!

Of course there’s plenty of room for diversity. The fact remains that our North Fork climate can support a number of different wine grape varieties from all parts of the globe.  I’m especially excited about Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc – two other classic varieties I believe make some of the best wines on Long Island. (more about them later) We’ve also had great success with Malbec and Petit Verdot – two varieties that will make our red wines even better going forward. Other less renowned varieties can be grown with success on the East End. These can be delicious and fun and give the wine drinker some new taste experiences. However there are good reasons why we don’t see more obscure varieties in the greater wine marketplace. Some are very difficult to grow, are highly susceptible to disease or are inconsistent producers. Others simply make wines that just aren’t very interesting.

Instead, I would argue that it’s not the grape alone that provides a unique wine drinking experience – the main quality that sets Long Island wine apart is not varietal makeup. It’s not the fact that we can grow lots of different varieties. On the North Fork, it’s our overall regional style that sets us apart. It’s about the flavors derived from the East End environment and how this is reflected in the wines that we make – no matter what that variety or blend happens to be. These are wines that can be made with moderate amounts of alcohol, crisp, juicy acidity and intense aromatics – wines that are not following a fad but are instead, finding their own voice. With our interpretations of the classic varieties of Chardonnay and Merlot, we’ve helped create a whole new sound.  But no matter what the variety, our terroir will always provide the loudest instrument in the ensemble.

Spring Forward

It’s hard to believe tomorrow is the first day of March and we have already enjoyed so much excitement this year. Earlier in January, we were honored and humbled when our 2009 Merlot was poured at the Presidential Inaugural Luncheon in the U.S. Capitol, making it the first New York wine in history to be featured at an Inauguration of the President of the United States. The overwhelming response resulted in intense media coverage in print, web, television, and radio, including major publications like The New York Times, Huffington Post, Wine Spectator, The Washington Post, Fox News, and more.

Owner Michael Lynne, CEO Trent Preszler and Winemaker Rich Olsen-Harbich were all interviewed on national news.

Bedell CBS interview

Senator Schumer speaks at the 2013 Inaugural Luncheon

If you’re interested in watching videos of these interviews they can be found on our website, http://www.bedellcellars.com or our YouTube channel, user/BedellCellars. The high point of all the excitement was on the day of the Inauguration when we welcomed a large crowd into our tasting room for our simulcast event to watch this proud moment with us on live television; we are so grateful to have shared this milestone achievement with our fans and Wine Club members.

Looking back at the exhilarating past couple of months, we couldn’t ask for a better way to begin celebrating our 30th Anniversary, which began this year. We are thrilled to follow up the historic 2009 Merlot by releasing our 2010 Merlot bearing its own commemorative label by acclaimed artist Eric Fischl. This wine has already received praise from The New York Times wine critic Howard Goldberg, who says “it seems possible that the 2010 Merlot from Bedell may ultimately outshine the charming 2009 Merlot, which was served at the Congressional lunch after President Obama’s inauguration.” in this article in The New York Times.

We are working hard to make 2013 our best year ever with many events, wine dinners, and unique occasions planned specially for celebrating our 30th Anniversary. The first such event is a special vertical tasting of 10 Merlots with Founding Winemaker Kip Bedell at the Bedell Cottage. In addition we have an excellent winemaker dinner planned for April 9th at David Burke Kitchen in NYC as well as one on April 30th at Tellers Chophouse in Islip.

We wish all of you a fantastic Spring and look forward to seeing you in our Tasting Rooms!

The Cool New World

From Dictionary.com: Cool: adjective 1. moderately cold; neither warm nor cold: 2. not excited; calm; composed; under control.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Cool : (aesthetic) “Something regarded as cool is an admired aesthetic of attitude, behavior, comportment, appearance and style, influenced by and a product of the Zeitgeist. It has associations of composure and self-control and often is used as an expression of admiration or approval.

In his seminal text Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America, Dr. Daniel Richter presents an intriguing narrative of early colonial history from the Native American point of view. The reader is asked to imagine what Native Americans thought when they first saw European settlers coming ashore. Richter essentially turns the tables on the Euro-centric version of American history. From their perspective, the native peoples lived in the familiar Old World and the strange white-skinned visitors were the ones from a brand New World, building on historian Carl Becker’s famous assertion that history is often “an imaginative creation.”

The dichotomy that exists between the Old and New World has been ingrained in the wine lexicon for decades. Old World wines are the product of European experience and taste, grown in less than perfect conditions dictated by agricultural evolution, terroir and tradition. Rather than referring to a homogeneous style, the term Old World describes an eclectic category, with grape varieties, viticultural techniques and winemaking practices adapted around their unique climates and landscapes.

Conversely, New World wines are described as grown in warmer climates, with dark, inky extraction, high levels of alcohol and overtly ripe fruit. New World philosophy generally places less emphasis on terroir, and more on the preservation of varietal fruit character, believing that the appropriate use of science and technology in the vineyard and winery can fix any flaws. Compared to New World wines, Old World wines tend to be lower in alcohol and hence more elegant and refreshing, with less extraction and a natural balance. Old World wines have been around a long time and are considered the archetype for many grape varieties. But like the Eastern Indians that Dr. Richter envisioned, East Coast winemakers are beginning to turn this long held state of affairs upside down; the wine districts in region of the New World where our country began cannot be considered “New” anymore.

Often, the cultural zeitgeist in the U.S. drifts from west to east – with trends developed and designed in California eventually making their way to the right coast.  With wine however, the West seems to be more of a follower than a leader. We’ve seen it before, with California producers looking for love in all the wrong places – from the barrel-fermented Chardonnay euphoria of the 1980’s to the steamy yet doomed love affair with Merlot in the 90’s and more recently, the geeky young-love nerd fest with Pinot Noir. All these dalliances collapsed eventually, with California leaving each of their old flames crumpled in a heap on the bed, never once taking any responsibility for the failure of the relationship.

Over last 10 years, California seemed to be maturing and looked like it was going to settle down with a full-blown commitment to terroir and to furthering their fruit-forward, extracted (and often delicious) style. But the wandering eye of the West Coast now has a new muse – one that is the complete opposite of their long term partner. She is ethereal and elegant, refreshing and low in alcohol; she is European in style and grace, reminiscent of the Old World. One would have thought California was just too old for this anymore. They now claim that these are the kinds of wines they are supposed to make and can make better than anyone else – and we’re supposed to believe it.

Why is this happening? Simply put, wine consumers have become tired of high alcohol, overly extracted wines. They want variety and choice, but mainly they want sincerity, purity and something they can actually drink with a meal. I describe this trend as a maturation of the wine consumer – they’ve become secure enough in their own taste buds to no longer impress anyone. We’re seeing a higher evolution of the consumer palate leading to a more serious level of wine (and food) appreciation. This trend is especially strong in younger wine drinkers who are unimpressed by the Robert Parkers and the Wine Spectators of the world but instead want to explore and make up their own mind.

Ironically, nobody’s covered this phenomenon better than Matt Kramer at Wine Spectator. In 2011, Mr. Kramer stated that America’s wine palate is slowly trending toward lower alcohol, crisp and elegant wines.  More recently, he wrote:

“California wines have changed…emerging from a longstanding and still powerful culture that prized power over finesse, strength over subtlety. As a culture begins to both value and pay for nuance, refinement and subtlety—wines change too. Anyone who visits California’s or Oregon’s best wine producers cannot help but notice that discussion about just these sorts of wines now is universal. This change is in the air.

He goes on the state quite assuredly:

“We’re seeing this in a growing interest in, and celebration of, wines made from grapes picked at lower ripeness levels (which consequently means lower alcohol levels, as well). Do such wines dominate? Not yet. But are they, however slowly, beginning to transform the wine culture? Count on it.”

The big problem with all of this is that the climate of California, Australia and other New World regions can’t easily produce this style of wine. In fact it’s getting more difficult to do so as our climate continues to change. Mind you it can be done – but not naturally. The West Coast push to produce lower alcohol wine started in the 1990′s with the use of spinning cone technology, eventually evolving into the now common practice of adding water to grape juice. But let’s be honest – the current trend in California (and other historically hot-climate regions) to produce wines lower in alcohol and higher in acid is based not on a dedication to terroir, but on a calculated, cynical manipulation of wine in the cellar that will meet the new market expectations. It seems the more things change in the New World, the more they stay the same.

The grand irony in this discussion is that East Coast regions like the North Fork of Long Island have produced aromatic, elegant, and low alcohol wines for almost 40 years – completely naturally – with ever increasing quality and little need for winemaker intervention. Our style has never wavered – we have a dedicated, monogamous relationship with crisp aromatic whites and soft, elegant reds – all with moderate amounts of alcohol and refreshing minerality. Thankfully for us, we don’t have to change to become fashionable. It’s what our vineyards genuinely produce and the wine we sincerely create. It’s what our terroir does all by itself – and it’s the coolest wine style going at the moment. We may not always be hip, but we’ll always be steady. It’s a long-term commitment we have going.

New York has always been where the best information, inventions, food, and fashions have come to be tested and accepted. The growing popularity of low alcohol, cool climate wines continues to rise in this country and is not going away. We know from our great reception in the New York City marketplace – and because our wines are now being copied by our friends in the West – that we have passed the test. Now we need more people to learn about what we do.

Perhaps there is a lesson we can learn from the Native Americans of Dr. Richter’s text – that the New World is not quite what it seems to be. We make wine in the oldest part of America – our country’s historic birthplace – in an entirely new style that is all our own.  This requires a new definition along with a new nom de plume – one that breaks with the common dogma and accurately describes our region. It’s an edgy, temperate zone of four seasons, unpredictable rainfall, and cool ripening conditions.  It’s a place near the sea with fertile soils, mild temperatures and lots of sunshine – all wrapped up in a distinctive New York groove. It’s a place like nowhere else on earth.

I like to call it – the Cool New World.

-roh

A Bold and Beautiful Aria

Harvest 2012 is over and what a year it was! A year that started early and ended early with ripeness levels not seen since the great vintage of 2010. All varieties came in extremely ripe and flavorful – from the Chardonnay to the Petit Verdot – we have bold and beautiful melodies coming from every tank.

With the exception of a few blocks of late ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, most all of the fruit on the North Fork has been harvested. For the past three years in row, Long Island vineyards have finished harvesting fruit before the end of October – something that in the previous 20 years was unheard of.  Is this a new trend for our region going forward?

There’s no question that our climate is changing – we are seeing earlier starts to our season, hence earlier ripening times. This is nothing new in the wine world as vintners from around the globe have discussed seeing this same trend for years in Europe, especially in the cool climate areas of France, Germany and Northern Italy. I think it’s generally a good thing for us as a wine producing district; the more time we have for ripening the higher the quality our fruit will be. As in all things relating to making wine however, time will give us the answers.

Another interesting phenomenon we witnessed this season is the increasing importance of ultraviolet (UV)  light penetration. We saw almost identical levels of warmth (calculated as Growing Degree Days) in 2012 as we did in 2011 – but the two years couldn’t be more different from each other. While the reds from 2011 showed themselves to be more delicate and less extracted, the 2012 reds generated higher sugar levels and are already showing much more intensity and power. The difference?  – 2012 had a far greater number of clear sunny days than 2011, as well as much less rain. During the growing season (March 1st – Oct 31st) of 2011, we accumulated about 35 inches of rain – in 2010 we had 28 inches.  As of Oct 24th, 2012 has seen about 25 inches of rain – the lowest of the three. The lesson here? Great vintages are not always about heat but the confluence of heat, sunlight and dry weather that lead to truly extraordinary wines. We had enough of all three this season and the quality in the tanks shows.

The season took off in early April after a mild, almost non-existent winter. The vines grew quickly and the sunlight and heat worked together, bringing some fruit to maturity as early as September 1st. The cool and dry days of late September and early October allowed the fruit to race across the finish line, with sugars rising quickly and maturity levels advancing rapidly by the day. Some days the grapes seemed to jump out and sing to us that they were ready. The final reds were picked in a fury, with our crew working hard to avoid the oncoming rains. The results were amazing and now we can take care of the bubbling wines inside our tanks and barrels over the next several months.

I want to give hearty congratulations to our vineyard and cellar crew who handled this harvest as smoothly and efficiently as any I’ve ever seen. They endured long hours, cold wet conditions and grueling work day after day in order to get all of our fruit inside the winery. It takes a lot of hard work (as well as lots of coffee) to make great wines. Our labors will no doubt be rewarded when these wines are released and the quality of the vintage makes itself known.

I’m so excited about the wines we have in the tanks right now. The whites are full of vibrant aromatics and zesty acidity, the roses are lush and flowery with waves of saline minerality and the reds are dark, bold, and velvety, with lovely savory, gravelly depth and lots of earthy spiciness. All of them sing loud and clear and represent what the North Fork can do best – and I can’t wait for you to try them.

In the meantime, if you’d like to get a feel for what the 2012 wines will be like, close your eyes and listen to this…

 

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