A few days earlier on March 22nd, the presidents of the United States and Cuba sat together watching the Tampa Bay Rays play the Cuban National team, only the second time that an American team has played baseball in Cuba since 1959. Something that would have seemed improbable just a few years ago. But that’s the way it is with baseball, the improbable is not just possible but often happens.
I was reminded of this at Jason’s Vineyard (on the main road in Jamesport), the first stop on Day #6 of my grand tour of the wineries of Long Island. Upon entering the tasting room, I was greeted by the crying of a day-old alpaca. Not something you’d expect to see at a winery. Jason’s Vineyard was planted in 1996 and uses a Bordeaux style dense spacing of the vines in order to reduce grape yields and intensify wine flavors. Owner Jason Damianos, son of Long Island wine industry pioneer Dr. Herodotus “Dan” Damianos of Pindar Vineyards, has been involved with the wine industry his entire life. The first thing you notice about the tasting room, besides the crying of the alpaca, is that the room invokes the Greek heritage of the Damianos family and looks like a giant ship evoking the “Jason and the Argonauts” movie. Playing on this them, I was first offered a glass of the Golden Fleece, a white table blend comprised mostly of Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc and Cayuga. A bit sweet for my taste, so I moved on to the reds. We tasted the Malbec and Meritage from 2010, then two older vintages: the 2006 Merlot and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was rare to see a 2005 still for sale, so I grabbed a bottle of the Cabernet Sauvignon to include in one of my blind tastings.
Back tracking a few miles west on the Main Road, the next stop on the tour was Sherwood House Vineyards. Upon entering, I headed directly to the roaring fire in the tasting room, a very welcoming sight on a rainy chilly afternoon in March. Sherwood House was founded by longtime North Fork residents the late Dr. Charles Smithen and his wife Barbara when they acquired an 1860’s farmhouse and 38 acres of former corn and potato fields in 1996. The Smithens wanted to make the same kind of wines that they enjoyed while traveling to France, so they planted Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Gilles Martin, who is also the winemaker for Sparkling Pointe, was a perfect match to be their winemaker. Gilles had previously been the winemaker at Macari Vineyards. His 1997 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay from Macari was served at the White House at state dinner for Chinese Premier in 1999. Gilles also worked in the Rhone Valley, Champagne and California.
First I did a comparison of two Chardonnays: the 2012 oak and the just released 2014 stainless steel. Next was the 2013 White Merlot, a wine that I often like to taste, but am not always happy with. This one was excellent, crisp, refreshing with subtle flavors of apricots. I finished with the 2011 Cabernet Franc, a hearty red made in the Chinon style. While not tasted today, I highly recommended the Sherwood Manor Bordeaux blends. At my visit, they were pouring both the 2007 and the 2008.
There are numerous questions you often hear when visiting a tasting room: Any new releases? What’s tasting good today? I like only dry wines, what should I taste? Do you have any sparkling? But, “Do you have any milkweed saplings?” is not one of them. Nor is “It’s a bit warm in my car, do I have to worry about my bee larvae hatching on my drive home? But then Coffee Pot Cellars is not your average everyday tasting room. How many other tasting rooms do you know that have a dinosaur (Winasaur) guarding the entrance? Named after the distinctively-shaped Orient Point lighthouse, Coffee Pot Cellars was started in 2008 by Adam Suprenant, the winemaker of Osprey Dominion. The tasting room is staffed by Adam’s wife Laura Klahre, a marine scientist by training and a beekeeper by trade. So, while there are plenty of discussions about the wine, there are also conversations about monarch butterflies, bee ranchers and pollination. Since this was my first visit to Coffee Pot since they reopened for the year, I did the entire flight of wines.
I first did the three whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. All from 2013 and all quite excellent, especially the stainless steel Sauvignon blanc which held the promise of being a wine that could be cellared for quite a few years. Half way though the tasting, winemaker Adam ventured into the tasting room from his day job at Osprey Dominion just down the road. The conversation took an unexpected turn to the Bay Area music scene of the 1970’s: Jerry Garcia, The Rowan Brothers and The Grange VFW Hall in Fairfield, California. After a short discussion of the music scene on the North Fork, we moved on to the reds: 2011 Merlot, 2010 Meritage and Beasley’s Blend (the non-vintage Bordeaux blend named after their fun-loving pug who is a staple of the tasting room).
Because of the coffee-house atmosphere of the tasting room (no coffee, of course, but great conversation to accompany the great wine), it was difficult to drag myself away. But I finally did. Time was running short, so a quick stop next door at Michelangelo of Cutchogue for a slice of pizza . Back to Jamesport, for a visit to Jamesport Winery. As I was standing at the tasting bar about to check out their current offerings when I noticed winemaker Dean Babiar working in the barrel room. A quick hello to Dean led to a tank-tasting of the about-to-be released Sauvignon Blanc and Rose, both from 2014. After receiving a degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Maryland, Dean learned winemaking in Sonoma and Napa Valley. He then fine-tuned his craft working in South Africa, Italy, Bordeaux, France, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand before returning to the states where he was hired by Jamesport. A trip down to the barrel room for barrel samples of the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. While all the wines held the promise of another great year on Long Island, the Petit Verdot was sensational. But it will be in the barrel for at least another 14 months, so it will be a while before I can actually taste the finished product
Jamesport Vineyards is a father-son collaboration that began in 1981 when the Goerlers acquired Early Rising Farm in Cutchogue, making them one of the oldest vineyards on Long Island. In 1986 they acquired the 150 year-old barn that houses the tasting room in Jamesport. A lot has changed since then, both aesthetically and agriculturally. The tasting room has increased in size to accommodate an ever growing number of visitors. The expansive lawn behind the winery provides the perfect setting where people can gather to enjoy good wine and light snacks, including pizzas cooked in their wood-fired oven. In the vineyard, Ron Jr. continues to overhaul the vines, ensuring that the vineyard produces the highest possible quality of fruit.
A newly born alpaca, wine tasting by a cozy fire, a discussion about pollination and the survival of the Earth and an impromptu barrel tasting with the winemaker. All in all, it was a most improbable day out east!
Today’s Line Score: 4 wineries, 19 wines and 140 miles.
Season Statistics: 19 wineries, 68 wines and 731 miles
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To read the next blog in this series: click here