Articles by

Louisa Hargrave

01/22/12 12:02pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/17/11 3:33pm

Every year in early December, the Wine Media Guild of New York’s monthly luncheon tasting features prestige cuvée Champagnes, the best of the best French Champagnes. This is always the year’s most popular tasting. Hosted by “Champagne for Dummies” author Ed McCarthy (himself, no dummy at all), this group of journalists (myself included) loses all its usual professional restraint in enjoying these uniquely enticing wines.

Last year, one of my favorites among the group, Brian Freedman, was giddy not only from the wines; he was also expecting the birth of his first child at any moment. This year, he was ready to celebrate again: It was his daughter’s first birthday. She already has a discriminating palate, favoring dry, complex red wines (tasted from Daddy’s finger). Cheap merlot makes her scream.

My own delight in the wines can be sensed from my notes, below. I only felt like screaming when all three courses at lunch featured salmon: smoked salmon with mayonnaise; pasta with salmon in cream sauce; roasted salmon on whipped potatoes. But no Billecart-Salmon Champagne! And this was a $65 lunch at Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s famous eatery. Maybe the chef was tippling, too.

As for the wines, any one of these would make an outstanding contribution to Christmas or New Year’s. In order of tasting:

1. 2002 Ayala, La Perle d’Ayala Nature, $150. A light and elegant style: nutty, pure, austere, sophisticated, delicious.

2. NV Alfred Gratien, Cuvée Paradis, $130. From a small house with a particular style. To me, it was tightly wrought, with a singular acidity, quite phenolic, definitely a food wine.

3. 2000 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, $130. Scrumptiously delicious, with floral, lemon aromas. Very pure, like looking into a deep pool and seeing a reflection of someone more beautiful than oneself.

4. 2002 Perrier-Jouet, Fleur de Champagne, $165. Too soft for my taste; designed for movie stars, I suppose. Slightly herbaceous. Like a friend who will gossip behind your back.

5. 2002 Piper-Heidsieck, Rare, $180. Ed McCarthy was impressed with this but I found it to be a repressed old lady in satin and pearls. Dickens’ Miss Havisham?

6. 2004 Louis Roederer, Cristal, $200. The hip-hop world’s favorite. I didn’t want to love it but was enchanted. Of all the wines I tasted, it was the most exquisitely balanced, full of complex, perfect harmonies; a vivacious wine with the intricate quality of a Bach sonata. Forget hip-hop.

7. 1998 G.H. Mumm, Cuvée Rene LaLou, $175. I was disappointed by the bubblegum quality of this august bottle.

8. 1998 Gosset, Célébris, $160. Ed McCarthy thought this wine was still young, but I found it somewhat oxidized. However, I did enjoy its perfumed, walnutty aroma and delightfully creamy mouth feel.

9. NV Laurent-Perrier, Grand Siècle, $120. A monolithic, clumsy, yeasty entry. It lacked distinction.

10. 1999 Deutz, Cuvée William Deutz, $175: This brand is owned by Roederer. Many at the tasting loved it, but I found it tired, with a distinct bruised apple aroma that put me off.

11. 1999 Pol Roger, Cuvée Winston Churchill, $200. I am a huge fan of Pol Roger’s wines. This is Pol’s flagship (battleship?), carrying Churchill’s blessing. It had a nuanced yeastiness, slightly reductive in a yin-yang dynamic with its clean, bright and fresh side. The finish was a bit sweet for me, but I suppose Winnie needed that to offset the aftertaste of his cigars.

12. 1995 Bruno Paillard, N.P.U., $240. This was not to everyone’s taste, but I found it round and vibrant, full of life, with a distinctive butterscotch and cream quality.

13. 1995 Charles Heidsieck, Blanc des Millénaires, $190. Always a great wine. This one had chardonnay blooming all the way to the bank, with a delicious, tangy approach and a huge, broad finish.

14. 1995 Henriot, Cuvée des Enchanteleurs, $150. Truly enchanting; a rich, opulent wine in gorgeous balance, cushy like a pasha’s pillow. We all tried to steal the last bottle for our tables.

15. 1999 Pascal Doquet Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs, $80. In this context, an incredible bargain. This brilliant wine, by a pioneering biodynamic grower-producer, has a distinctively deep flavor and high energy, wonderfully textured and creamy. It’s a paean to Mother Earth.

16. 2004 Nicolas Feuillate Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs, $40. This was not part of the lunch; it’s from one of Epernay’s best and largest producers, sent to me as a sample. Accessible for its price and lovely, fresh lime and pear aromas; highly quaffable.

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

12/02/11 11:51am

While I was leafing through the December issue of Food & Wine magazine, an image of a pretty Gwy­neth Paltrow lookalike in an ad for Rutherford Hill Napa Valley Merlot caught my attention. The woman is posed with her chin resting on her hand (referencing Rodin’s “The Thinker,” no doubt). With bare neck, arms and shoulders, she wears large sparkly earrings, false eyelashes and a dinky little ring on her right hand. We can’t see her left hand to know if she is married or engaged. In a separate image, we see a bottle of the Rutherford Hill wine.

The text of the ad reads, “If he brings the Rutherford Hill it’s a yes.”

So I asked myself, “yes” to what? She’ll go to the movies with him? She’ll marry him? She’ll sip the wine while she texts her girlfriend? Or … well, she is already half-naked, after all.

Down at the lower outside corner, next to the image of the wine, the ad reads, “It’s a sure thing.”

But I’m not convinced that she would be so easily tempted by a bottle of California merlot, even Rutherford Hill, which has been an important producer of Merlot since 1976 and has 8,000 oak barrels of wine aging underground.
Rutherford Hill is owned by Terlato Wines International, one of the largest wine companies in the world. They must spend millions of dollars on advertising; surely they know that women buy more wine than men, so why is this woman waiting to see what “he” brings before deciding “it’s a yes”?

I’m glad the Terlatos are so confident. Good luck with that. But I can’t blame them for trying to get an angle on how to influence wine consumption. Marketing wine ain’t easy. Tasting wine has been shown to be an “ambiguous experience.”

According to two scholars who reported on their experimental wine tasting in the latest edition of the Journal of Wine Economics (Vol. 6, No. 1, 2011), “most people do not prefer expensive wine [to cheap wine]” when they taste them blind. Yet this experiment indicated that when women who are told ahead of time that a wine they are about to taste is expensive, they will rate it higher than when they tasted it blind. If the woman in this ad knew that the Rutherford Hill costs only about $25 (not cheap, but not expensive either), she might have been less eager about it.
All of us are influenced by “consuming expectancies.” Although I am not immune to being influenced by brand or price, I like to think that I can detect quality. Influenced or not, I offer you a brief 2011 roundup of some wines (cheap and expensive) I’ve tasted that are worth remembering.

From Long Island, a few of many to try:
• Palmer Albariño: first of this variety planted on Long Island — the grape of northern Spain, equally suited to our maritime climate, with intricate fruit aromas.
• Coffee Pot Merlot: winemaker Adam Suprenant’s personal take on this svelte, harmonious Bordeaux grape.
• McCall Pinot Noir: luscious red berry aromas, exciting expression of this classic grape, with serious aging potential.
• Peconic Bay Riesling: Great purity with wonderfully fresh acidity.
• Borghese Chardonnay: shows the best of unoaked chardonnay, dynamic and luscious.
• Lenz Cuvée: Long Island’s answer to Champagne; an intricately complex, distinctively dynamic sparkling wine, properly aged on fine lees.
• Macari Sauvignon Blanc: shows what can be achieved by assiduous attention to soil quality. This SB is full of life, beaming energy in the glass.
• Paumanok Petit Verdot: Deep as a bottomless pit, with beautiful blackberry/cassis aromas and addictive flavors.

More recondite international picks include:
• Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina, Italy: Shows that modern techniques can bring brilliance back to grapes with a legacy. This wine had an intriguing herbaceous quality, layered onto pineapple and hibiscus aromas.
• Regis Minet’s 2009 Pouilly-Fumé Vieilles Vignes, Loire Valley: Here is a sauvignon blanc with extreme complexity, beautiful fruit, odd minerality and intriguingly long finish.
• Reisten Pinot Blanc 2010, Moravia: supple, gorgeous — all finesse.
• Les Deux Rives Corbières Rosé, from the south of France, but not sun-baked. It’s lively, fresh, with pretty red fruit aromas and even a touch of plum. Not at all sweet, not at all harsh.
• Champagne R. Pouillon Cuvée de Reserve shows every attribute of first quality champagne, with far more character than the bigger houses offer in their anchor wines.
• Muller-Catoir Haardt Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2009 has a delicate citrus and pear aroma with a hint of white flowers. What makes this wine outstanding is its incredible elegance, and its evolution in the mouth, which goes on and on — lovely!
• Peay Vineyards, Pomarium Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2009: A favorite California pinot. Spicy, peppery, full of fruit and intriguingly complex.
• Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge Cuvée des Cadettes 2005: like the shower of Danae. Imagine a languorous woman on a velvet sofa, suddenly invaded by an intensely stimulating deluge of sensation.
• DiamAndes Gran Riserva 2007, Argentina: Whatever French winemaker Michel Rolland did here, it worked. This wine is delicious. A Parkerized wine? Yup. But delicious.

Say “yes”? I’ll leave that to you.

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

11/20/11 4:00am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/27/11 12:01am

When Moravian wines took top gold medals this year at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition, most people had to run to a map to locate Moravia, at the far southeastern corner of the Czech Republic, on the border with Austria. But wine has a long history in Moravia. The 10th Roman Legion made wine here around 89 A.D. Pruning knives left here by fourth-century Roman settlers, echoed by two pruning knives on the 17th-century crest of the noble Moravian Dietrichsteins, also attest to the vine’s importance here.

The Lichtenstein family, under the fiefdom of the Hapsburgs, also cultivated vines in Moravia’s gently rolling hills, around spectacular gardens, fish ponds, follies and castles (later mimicked by Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom).
Wine has thus been central to the culture and economy of this part of Europe except during such times of extreme political disruption as the Thirty Years War (1618–48). Occupation by Hitler’s army during World War II, and the subsequent domination of the region from 1948 to 1989 by Soviet communists, reoriented Moravian vintners away from quality toward quantity, and it is only since the Czech “velvet revolution” of 1989 that Moravians have been able to reclaim their heritage of fine wines.

The difficulties inherent in changing from the communist centralized system to individual and corporate capitalist control are more complex than simply handing the property deeds back to whoever owned the land before the communists claimed it. The Moravians detested their Soviet-dominated government, and did their best to subvert it. Although known in the 1930s for their dynamic, industrious creativity, under a communist system that massed all their properties into huge, government-owned and managed collectives, Moravians learned to feign work, cripple productivity and disable equipment. They also leaned how to frown, avoid eye contact and say “No” with a satisfied smirk.

Under communism, Moravians could produce wine for family use, but they couldn’t sell it. The rural roads around the vineyards of Mikulov and Valtice are lined with odd, bunker- or mausoleum-like stucco buildings that are still family-owned wine cellars, with ancient brick caves containing old barrels and little hand-operated presses. These roads are also lined with fruit and nut trees, numbered and rented to families that can still be seen picnicking under the boughs while harvesting the apples, pears, walnuts or plums for their own use.

It has taken time for the Czechs here to open up, smile and gather the resources, both economic and psychological, to recreate their once-great wine region of Moravia. But a popular biking and hiking Prague-Vienna Greenway; a new National Wine Center and Wine Salon located in the Lichtenstein’s family seat, Valtice Castle; the restoration of hundreds of gorgeous castles and gardens; and the revitalization of many village wine festivals have opened the region to new visitors whose expectations have raised the standards and the mood of viticultural Moravia.
The adoption of European Union winemaking standards and the designation of several UNESCO Biosphere reserves have helped growers and winemakers here make the transition from a communist to a free-market economy. While there are still some extremely large, production-oriented wineries, the best wines are being made by a handful of producers who are aware of international winemaking trends and have invested in new technology while also limiting crop size, picking and sorting by hand and fermenting in small batches. They respect their traditional grapes like Veltlínské zelené  (Gruner Vetliner) while understanding that the international market wants pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc (which, incidentally, they have grown for over 40 years).

I recently visited several Moravian wineries. Most impressive were Sonberk, a new 150,000-bottle winery in one of the most stunning winery buildings I’ve ever seen, with stylish wines to go with the modern image; the larger, cutting-edge Nové Vinarství, whose delicious unoaked chardonnay could set the standard for the variety; and the widely applauded Reisten, whose vineyards benefit from a rare form of Palava chalk soil (biomorphic metamorphic calcium).

Reisten is owned by Radek Nepras, a leading Czech architect and visionary who has played a formative role in revitalizing Moravia’s wine and tourist industries. His wines are made in a traditional, ancient cellar, but Radek’s viewpoint is truly contemporary. His pinot blanc has extraordinary depth and texture; his pinot noir, while deceptively frail, yields all the velvety dimension pinot lovers seek. The day I visited, he and his son broke ground for a new winery.

Wine judges love these wines and, soon, the rest of the world will, too.

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

10/09/11 12:32pm

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.

09/26/11 9:45am

In a recent wine quiz I included a question about the change in State Liquor Authority regulations regarding how many charities a New York farm winery may support with donations of wine. Although New York law had limited these donations to five per winery, per year, the state Legislature recently changed the law so that wineries may now support an unlimited number of charities via wine donations for charitable events.

For those of you who are heading for the phone to ask a winery to donate to your own favorite cause, please pause a moment to consider that there are still many hurdles posed by the SLA to wineries and charities that wish to join forces for a noble purpose. The winery must give the SLA 15 days’ notice of any “off premises” event being held away from the winery. Furthermore, at a charitable event, an official agent or representative of the winery must do the pouring. If you figure that the retail value of most of these wines is around $18 a bottle (often much more), and any employee sent to pour will cost the winery a minimum of $10 per hour, it’s not an insignificant cost for a winery to donate and pour its wines at any charitable event.

Even the donation of a single bottle for a wine raffle bears a requirement that the charity accepting the donation must obtain a permit to raffle it off.

Most charities are well intentioned when they ask wineries for donations, and have no idea how much cost and effort are involved in these donations. The usual request for a donation goes something like this: “Hi, I’m calling from United Tearjerkers. We’re having a bike-a-thon tomorrow and we’d like to serve your wine to the bikers as they wobble en route. It will be great exposure for you. We only need 50 cases. These are real connoisseurs, so we’d like you to send your Exquisite Reserve Merlot.”

If you are chuckling now, you probably think I’m exaggerating. If you work for a winery, you know I’m not.
At Roanoke Vineyards, Scott Sandell says, “We get a lot of requests for donations, mostly from Wall Street and the film industry.” Those would not ordinarily be considered “charitable” organizations, yet their principals still feel somehow that a nice little (10-acre) family winery like Roanoke is just waiting to give away wine to people as rich and powerful as they are. (Remember, celebrities rarely pay for anything.) Like most wineries, Roanoke is selective. This year, they have chosen to provide wine for Sag Harbor’s John Jermain Library’s “One for the Books” dinners, and are “absolutely ecstatic about the contribution.”

McCall Vineyard is also small, with only 10 acres of merlot and 11 of pinot noir grapes, yet owner Russell McCall — who says, “Land preservation is my favorite project” — gives wine to several local charities, including Peconic Land Trust and Eastern Long Island Hospital. He also hosted this year’s ELIH benefit at his ranch.

A representative of Macari Vineyards — which is generous with donations, giving wine or gift certificates for wine tastings especially to local businesses, charities and schools — told me, “We receive fax/email/phone solicitations about 20 times a week. We also receive quite a bit of walk-in solicitors that are visiting multiple wineries.”

Because there are so many requests for donations, many Long Island wineries prefer to work cooperatively with their colleagues and give wine to events coordinated by the Long Island Wine Council. The Sept. 17 “Harvest” event, for example, featured auctions to benefit three local charities: Peconic Land Trust, East End Hospice and the Group for the East End.

Apart from the wines given to charitable events, most winery owners have personal pet charities to which they give money. For example, Ursula and Paul Lowerre of Peconic Bay Winery have for several years sponsored Kebba, a African boy whose schooling in Gambia ended when he was orphaned and could no longer pay for school. Kebba lived literally on Gambian garbage, hunting for addresses of Americans or Europeans whom he randomly wrote to requesting assistance. When his letter reached the Lowerres, they checked out his story and found it was entirely true: Kebba was young, brilliant, abandoned and destitute. Now, with the Lowerres’ help, Kebba has finished high school and college, and entered business school in Switzerland. Meeting him recently when he came to Cutchogue, I saw in him the true value of charitable giving.

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

08/31/11 11:25am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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