Some time in the dead of winter, when the snow covers the vineyards and the wind blows in from the Long island Sound, there’s not much to do but hunker down in a cozy tasting room with a nice bottle of wine. And sometimes, when the moment is just right, it can turn a quiet Sunday afternoon into something much more.
Such was the case a couple of weeks back when the crew from A Vintners Tale ventured out to share a twenty-year-old bottle of Jamesport Merlot with Ron Goerler, president of Jamesport Vineyard. Ron mentioned it to Kip Bedell, the original winemaker from Bedell Cellars, who quickly said he would come along…and bring some old wines of his own. Into the mix came Anthony Sannino, the owner/winemaker of Sannino Bella Vita Vineyards, and the afternoon was started.
Along with veterans Ron and Kip, and relative newcomer Anthony, Dean Babiar (the new winemaker at Jamesport) and Nick Mellilo (wholesale at Sannino Bella Vita) joined the festivities. As did wines dating from a 1986 Bedell Merlot and a 1988 Merlot Reserve to several other Bedell vintage wines, a 1990 Merlot Reserve and a 1993 Merlot from Jamesport, and the two surprises of the day, Gristina1993 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In all there were thirteen vintage wines, mostly merlots, running up to a 1997 Bedell Merlot. Many of the wines were supplied by A Vintner’s Tale’s own Bruce Stevens, but he was not alone in his offerings.
The only glitch of the day came when there was no heat at Jamesport on Tasting Day; however, Paul Helbig at Sherwood House came to the rescue and graciously allowed us to use the front room on the otherwise quiet day. Soon, it was off to the tasting.
The decision was made to go in chronological order, so first up was the ’86 Bedell. Kip cautioned against high expectations as the first pour was commencing; however, to everyone’s great, pleasant surprise, the wine had held and was quite drinkable. Next, the ’88 drew the most interesting comment: It has a nose like bacon fat! But again, it was remarkably drinkable! We came to the first of the Jamesport wines, the ’90 Merlot reserve, and had the same revelation….the wines had held up! As we progressed, the ’93 Gristina Cab Sauv both pleased and surprised, prompting Ron to observe that it could last another twenty years!
Comments abounded as we progressed down the line, and the discussion brought up an interesting historical point. In the ‘80s we were still at the beginning of the Long Island wine industry. Knowledge now common about growing seasons and harvesting was in its infancy, and so the practices were different. Grapes were harvested based on a shorter season, and the winemaking science of the region (as well as the vines themselves) still had much maturation to go. And yet, here were wines from “the dawn of time” (relatively speaking) that held their own, and could continue to do so!
At the end of the day, only one of the wines seemed a little off, but still had enough to get a passing grade. Consensus in the group fell to the ‘93s as the champs, with plaudits landing on the ‘80s vintages for staying power. With kudos to the veteran winemakers, we realized that a high bar had indeed been set…a task that the current winemaking industry seems more than able to meet as shown by the current world-class wines coming from Long island.
But if you can find yourself on a winter Sunday afternoon when all is quiet and the spring season still seems a long way off, head to the wineries, sit with a winemaker if you can, and soak in the history, both the stories and the wines. Nothing better!!