11/04/11 7:00pm
11/04/2011 7:00 PM

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Empire State Cellars tasting bar server Lucinda Bonilla serves a tasting glass of 2010 Vignoles from Hunt Country Vineyards to Lenn Thompson, executive editor of the popular wine blog, New York Cork Report.

After months of pouring, swirling and spitting wines from across the state to select bottles they consider the best, Peconic Bay Winery manager Jim Silver and his staff opened Empire State Cellars at Tanger Outlet in Riverhead on Friday.

The store is stocked with 400 different wines and spirits from New York vineyards, and Mr. Silver hopes to grow that number to 600.

“We really tasted everything we could get our hands on and selected what we thought were the best wines in the state,” he said.

Check out our Wine Press blog to read the complete story

10/25/11 4:00pm
10/25/2011 4:00 PM

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | James Ehrlein of Franklin Square and Yesenia Vasquez of East Meadow shared glasses of a 2008 Grapes of Roth Riesling and a 2007 Roanoke Vineyards Gabby’s Cabernet Franc in the wine library at Roanoke Vineyards in Riverhead.

James Ehrlein and Yesenia Vasquez spoke softly in the wine library of Roanoke Vineyards on a recent rainy afternoon as they sipped aged wine and nibbled on goat cheese drizzled with honey.

The two had come from Franklin Square and East Meadow, respectively, where they were working for Global Partners: Running Waters, a charity raising money for flood damage repairs in Central America. They said they were taking a break from fundraising in the Riverhead vineyard’s wine library, a wood-pannel room adjacent to the tasting room in the vineyard’s main building.

“Today we’re relaxing — and learning,” Mr. Ehrlein said, gesturing to his glass of Roanoke Vineyards’ 2007 Gabby’s Cabernet Franc.

The wine library, which opened this past May, is reserved for archived wines that date back to 1994 and are no longer for sale in most tasting rooms.

The library’s collection is comprised of 75 local wine bottles, tucked inside rectangular shelves, from vineyards including Roanoke, Wolffer Estate and Waters Crest Winery. Also available are bottles of Grapes of Roth, a wine company founded by Roman Roth, Roanoke’s winemaker.

“It’s a pretty serious collection,” said Steve Sandell, Roanoke Vineyards’ media and creative director. “It goes back to the Roanoke identity and philosophy — we’re really interested in and really focused on the wine,” he continued, noting that the vineyard seldom holds live music or other events that aren’t specifically focused on wine.

Mr. Sandell said the library is so far attracting people who want to learn more about the wines they’re drinking in a quiet, relaxed setting.

“We think it’s kind of cool to have a place where people can come and select an esoteric bottle of wine and enjoy themselves with it,” he said. “It’s a unique thing out here.”

Wine library patrons can purchase wine by the flight, glass or bottle. Flights, which consist of three tasting portions of different wines, are available for $16 to $18; glasses range in price from $7 to $18; and bottles can cost between $18 and $140.

The library also has its own food menu with suggested wine pairings and the wine librarian, Amanda Fortuna, who is in charge of acquiring and cataloging the bottles, is on hand to answer questions.

A series of winemaker’s roundtable events will be held throughout the year in the library where a small group, limited to 30 people, will taste and discuss wines from across the country.

The first tasting and discussion, on Nov. 19, will be led by Russell Hearn, founder of SUHRU Wines and winemaker at Pellegrini Vineyards in Cutchogue.


10/21/11 12:13pm
10/21/2011 12:13 PM

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Ever feel inadequate during a tasting? Maybe its because you didn't know what everyone was saying? Our glossary should help you with the basics.

We at the Wine Press believe wine tasting experiences are as individualized as the tasters themselves.

Local tasting room managers often tell their customers that tastes and smells are incredibly subjective. Some suggest closing your eyes and letting your senses take in what they may.

Check out our Wine Press blog for our glossary of tasting terms and we hope they help guide you through your next winery tour.

10/19/11 6:00pm
10/19/2011 6:00 PM

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | A new sign directing drivers along the wine trail on Sound Avenue, just east of Northville Turnpike, in Riverhead.

Fifty new Long Island Wine Country signs were recently posted throughout the North and South forks, Long Island Wine Council president Ron Goerler said.

He said the green signs direct drivers through both the North Fork and Hamptons wine trails and will be useful to Wine Country visitors, especially those who come from out of town.

“It was important for us to finish our wine trail off,” he said.

The signs were printed and installed with a $100,000 state grant secured three years ago with the help of former assemblyman Marc Alessi, Mr. Goerler said.

The cash also covered fixing up smaller signs that designate individual wineries.


10/18/11 4:00pm
10/18/2011 4:00 PM

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard owners Sam Rubin, Sharon Levine and Josh Levine.

Sam Rubin knew he wanted to work on a farm when he planted his first garden in the mid-1940s during World War II. He was 16 at the time, and people were encouraged to plant what were called “victory gardens” to grow their own food.

Mr. Rubin went on to own two farms in upstate New York and in Vermont, and in 1988 he purchased a 17-acre farm on Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow.

Read the complete profile on our Wine Press blog

10/13/11 11:00am
10/13/2011 11:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | Renowned wine educator and author Kevin Zraly will speak at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue Sunday.

Renowned wine educator and author Kevin Zraly, the 2011 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award winner, will give a free lecture at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue.

Mr. Zraly began Windows on the World Wine School in the mid-1970s at the restaurant that sat at the top of the World Trade Center, where he worked as cellar master and later wine director. The wine course is now held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. He distilled his courses, which still run today, into a best-selling book, “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course,” about a decade later.

Additional honors bestowed on Mr. Zraly include the Society of Wine Educators’ Lifetime Achievement Award, the European Wine Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Food and Beverage Association’s Man of the Year Award.

At Sunday’s lecture, Mr. Zraly will speak about his career experiences, Long Island wines and nationwide changes in the wine industry.

Guests will receive a tasting glass of 2008 Bedell Cellars Musée and 2009 Gallery wines. A question-and-answer session and book signing of Mr. Zraly’s recently released “Complete Wine Course,” 2012 edition, will follow the talk.

To RSVP, email Molly Deegan at molly@bedellcellars.com or call 734-7537.

10/11/11 12:00pm
10/11/2011 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Juan Lopez harvests chardonnay grapes in Paumanok's Tuthill Lane vineyard last Wednesday afternoon. They have to be hand-picked to remove the grapes that have rotted in the clusters.

Grape growers on the North Fork have been hit hard by the wet weather of the past few weeks, which damaged thin-skinned white grapes just before they were due to be harvested.

“Some of the fruit deteriorated and had to be cleaned up before it was harvested. It was more work and a reduced yield,” said Charles Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue.

“Before the hurricane, we were looking at a beautiful outcome, but this year has been a little bit more eventful than we imagined,” he added.

Sal and Maryann Diliberto of Diliberto Winery in Jamesport told a Times/Review photographer this weekend that this has been the worst year ever for farming their grapes, and that they are looking to buy chardonnay and sauvignon blanc grapes to augment their harvest.

The timing of the deluges of late September was near perfect, however, for growers at Sparkling Pointe in Peconic, who harvest their grapes for sparkling wine earlier than most producers, in order to produce wine with more acidity and less sugar content than non-sparkling wines.

“We got lucky,” said Sparkling Pointe winemaker Gilles Martin. “We started on the 10th [of September] and finished on the 21st.”

“We had an excellent crop in terms of yield and quality,” he added.

Mr. Martin said he has heard from other growers whose grapes were not ripe enough to pick before the rains that the rain had swelled the grapes to the bursting point, and in some cases had led to a fungus known as “sour rot” that further damaged the fruit.

But he said most growers who were fighting the fungus have gotten a reprieve from Mother Nature this week, as the hot, dry weather has helped to dry out the fruit.

“They’re doing way better now,” he said.

Mr. Massoud, of Paumanok Vineyards, said rains during warm weather are particularly damaging to grapes.

“If it rains a great deal and at the same time the weather is warm, the vines pull the water from the ground and dispatch it to the fruit,” he said. “It ends up essentially diluting the wine and reduces the intensity of flavor. In extreme cases it causes the fruit to pop.”

Mr. Martin said that sauvignon blanc grapes, in particular, were likely to be damaged by heavy rains, because they have very thin skins.

Mr. Massound said his vineyard started picking red grapes on Saturday, and that the crop seems to be decent.

“Reds are tougher. They usually have thicker skins,” he said. “We may end up salvaging some very reasonable red wines out of what was a difficult year.”


10/07/11 5:40pm
10/07/2011 5:40 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Calverton farmer Rex Farr in his vineyard checking on the cabernet franc grapes Friday afternoon.

A crop of certified organic grapes is ready for harvesting for the first time in Long Island history, according to one Calverton farmer who claims to have successfully pulled off the challenging feat.

Rex Farr, owner of The Farrm on Youngs Avenue in Calverton, said he planted vines on his farm in 2005 and planned to harvest his first crop in 2009 before severe summer rains destroyed 15 percent of the vines and most of the grapes.

Now, he says, he finally has a grape crop ready for harvest.

Starting Friday, Mr. Farr said, he plans to pick 10 to 12 tons of four grape varieties — merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petite verdot — making him the first farmer on Long Island to successfully grow certified organic grapes.

The Farrm was certified organic in 1990 by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York. The organization, accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since 2002, inspects annually. Mr. Farr said NOFA inspectors most recently combed his property in June.

The Farrm does not have a wine production facility, so Mr. Farr hopes to partner with a local winery or community-supported agriculture network to produce and bottle organic wine.

“We are the only [local] vineyard with a certified organic grape,” he said. “I’m offering an opportunity for whomever. They all realize the marketing value of an organically grown grape.”

Mr. Farr said he’s already spoken to a half-dozen wineries about a possible partnership.

Long Island Wine Council president Ron Goerler said other local farmers have failed in their attempts to grow an organic grape, something he said is “extremely challenging.”

“Hats off to him,” Mr. Goerler said. “If he can grow grapes out here organically … God bless you if you can do it.”

Barbara Shinn of Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck said she applied for certification last year through the National Organic Program, which is run by the federal Department of Agriculture. That program requires three years of participation before land is certified organic.

“We’re in the process,” Ms. Shinn said. “It’s very challenging all over the East Coast. The weather conditions have to be pretty good to successfully do it.”
She said she “commends” Mr. Farr for his success.

Fred Lee of Sang Lee Farms, a certified organic farm in Peconic, said he has never attempted to grow grapes and agreed that growing grapes organically is “very difficult.”

“The timing of the application of materials, the health of the plant and the cultural practices are all very important,” he said.

Mr. Lee, Mr. Goerler and Mr. Farr all said harvesting certified organic grapes this year, in a rainy season when many local vineyards have struggled to produce a healthy harvest, makes Mr. Farr’s feat even more impressive.

Mr. Farr attributes his success to a touch of luck, his farming practices and his 20 years of organic farming experience.

“I like to think good farming practices help to enhance Mother Nature,” he said. “I’m a neophyte when it comes to the growing of grapes, but I’m an expert when it comes to organic farming.”

The fact that he only attempted to grow red grapes, which hold up better in the rain than white varieties, may have also played a role. But the Calverton farmer is also quick to admit his first crop won’t be perfect.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “We could have taken fruit off for the last four years. This is the first year the grapes are ready.”