This month, I am going to outline the reasons to support our local Long Island wines and even those from other parts of New York, but first a little correction. Last month, I wrote that Kendall-Jackson produces 2,000,000 cases of Chardonnay. I lied. They actually only produce 2,000,000 bottles of that wine which is equal to about 170,000 cases—oops!
As a wine writer, sommelier and wine educator here on Long Island, I am often asked my thoughts on Long Island wines. I usually respond with a statement about it being a young wine region, one that is planted on very valuable land with incredibly low yields and difficult growing conditions. But a region with tons of potential. No longer. It’s time for Long Islanders to support our local wine farms!
Does Long Island make wine that can compete with some of the best produced? Yes, if you consider a Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate rating of 89 points and above a high score. The Wine Advocate’s most recent issue included 43 wines from Long Island rated between 89 and 92 points, illustrating the drastic increase in the quality of Long Island wines in the last decade. The vintners have worked hard and vigorously studied their environment, and the results are worth exploring for any wine enthusiast; Long Island’s top wineries are producing wines that can stand next to those from more established regions. But beyond the increasing quality, another reason to support our region is the small, artisanal and family run wineries. Today, there are 41 wine producers on Long Island’s North Fork and four on the South Fork. Even the largest winery, Pindar, is tiny in comparison to wineries in California and Bordeaux. Vineyards in warm growing regions can produce eight or more tons per acre of land, while Long Island vineyards struggle to produce more than two tons per acre. This is due to many factors including, mold and mildew, pests and producers seeking to produce high quality wine.
I have been involved in many small and large blind tastings of Long Island wines since I began formerly teaching wine classes in 2002. One of the earlier tastings illustrated to me the potential Long Island had with wines using Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. But during that era, only a handful of producers focused on these two grapes. Today, most Long Island wineries use both grapes with great success along with the continued success producing wines from Merlot and Chardonnay. The region continues to experiment with many grapes that are suited to the climate and soils, and there are some interesting opportunities with Syrah, Malbec, Chenin Blanc, Rielsing, Refosco, Blaufränkisch and many others.
One of the arguments for not drinking local wines is the price. They are a bit more expensive, but that is a function of quality, land costs and the small quantities that are produced. But to drink local wines saves a wonderful, historic culture, and saves the East End’s vineyards. Most, but not all, Long Island wineries can be found on the Long Island Wine Council website liwines.com. Naturally, I have my personal favorite producers, but I’d recommend you find your own path and own favorites. Start tasting wines from the producers just outside of Riverhead and head east till you’ve tasted wines from producers near Greenport. But be sure you don’t miss those on the South Fork.