There is no simple answer to the question “Where should we go?” when asked about visiting the wineries of Long Island. First, you need to consider personal preferences. Red, white, rosé or sparkling? Dry or sweet? Do they also want to taste spirits? Are they looking to simply taste wine or are they looking for an experience? Also, how much time do they have? Currently there are over 40 tasting rooms on Long Island, so, when planning a day, you need to consider logistics. North Fork vs South Fork. Sound Avenue vs. Main Road. Eastern wineries vs. those tasting rooms further west. Which got me thinking: How long would it actually take to visit all of the wineries on Long Island? An interesting question. And a road trip worth considering.
After a few days of contemplating the idea, I decided on a chilly Wednesday morning in February to embark on my quest. On the drive out east, I was debating how much time I should give myself, when I heard on the radio that pitchers and catchers were reporting to Spring Training. That was it; I’d give myself until opening day to complete my mission. And to buy a little extra time, I’m defining opening day as Friday, April 8th when the NY Mets open at home against the Phillies. I started at Palmer Vineyards on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. Robert Palmer purchased some farmland back in 1983 where he established Palmer Vineyards, one of the oldest vineyards on Long Island. Because I was planning to hit five wineries, I decided to stick with just two wines at my first stop. My first choice was the Albarino (the only one grown on Long Island) but unfortunately last year’s vintage was sold out. My next choice was a wine called Aromatico, a blend of Muscat Canelli and Malvasia, but that too was unavailable. One disadvantage of visiting wineries in the off-season is that many wines may not be available. But as detailed in Steve Bedney’s blog “Wine Tasting in Winter”, there are many advantages in the off-season. One of which is the ability to have leisurely discussions with the winery staff while sipping wine. And my first stop was no exception. I was able to sit down with Miguel Martin, the veteran winemaker at Palmer, where I got a heads-up on what was in the works for 2016. Miguel learned the joys of wine at an early age from his father and grew up in Madrid with wine as an integral party of the meal. He has worked in California, Australia, Chile and his native Spain. Since 2006, he has been the Winemaker and General Manager at Palmer Vineyards. As for the wines, I choose the White Riesling and Gewürztraminer, both from 2014. Both were light, refreshing and, like a great appetizer, prepared my palette for what was to come.
Continuing down Sound Avenue, my next stop was Macari Vineyards. The Macari family has owned the 500 acre farm for over fifty years, with the vineyard established in 1995. They take their responsibility of being stewards of the land very seriously and work hard at maintaining a sensible and environmentally friendly eco-system. In 2014, they were named New York State Winery of the Year. There were quite a few new releases since my last visit, but decided to go with a pair of Cabernet Francs: the 2013 vintage and Horses, an absolutely sensational Sparkling Cab Franc. I finished off with their 2015 Early Wine, one of the first wines released for the new vintage that I like to call a “Nouveau Chardonnay”. It had a touch of sweetness, so was a nice way to end the tasting. As for conversation, I hit the jackpot and was able to chat with the entire Macari team. Not only were owners Joe and Alexandra holding court in the tasting room, but two of their children (vineyard manager Joe Jr. and NYC marketing Rep Gabriella) were also in the house. As well as winemaker Kelly Urbanik Koch. Kelly, a California native, received a degree in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis. After jobs at Beringer in California and Maison Louis Jadot in France, Kelly relocated to the North Fork of Long Island in 2006, where she has been the head winemaker at Macari.
After a quick stop for lunch at Wendy’s Deli in Mattituck, I headed to the main road for a stop at Clovis Point, an 8-acre boutique winery in Jamesport. The name refers to the arrowheads and tools of the early inhabitants of Long Island 10,000 years ago. Here I was able to have a long chat with General Manager Bridget Micieli-Martinez, who was pouring wine. During the peak season from Memorial Day to Columbus Day weekend, wineries can get crowded. But during the off-season, when things are slow, you can gear your tasting to your particular desires. So, I decided to do a side-by-side Chardonnay tasting and compared the Black Label (70% steel) and the Barrel Fermented, both from 2014. While both were great wines, I preferred the Black Label. The wines at Clovis are made by John Leo, a native of the Hudson Valley. After a degree in journalism, John decided to wander around the world, where he gained an appreciation for wine. He started working in wine in 1982 and moved to the Long Island in the early 1990s. He became the winemaker at Clovis Point in in 2004. John also works at the Premium Wine Group, a custom crush facility in Mattituck.
Further west on the main road is Paumanok Vineyards, which like Palmer, was founded in 1983. Paumanok, which is the Native American name for Long Island, was named Winery of the Year at the latest New York Wine & Food Classic. They are a 127 acre family-run winery that specializes in premium vinifera wines and is managed by Urusla and Charles Massoud and their three sons. The tasting room is in a turn-of-the-century barn and features a large deck where wine can be enjoyed with spectacular views of the vineyard. Kareem continues the old world tradition of winemaking that his father started. While known in the Industry for his support of screw tops, a subject he can talk about for hours, he is also known for consistently producing some of the most respected wines on Long Island. They are also the only winery on Long Island that does a Chenin Blanc, a stable of the Loire Valley. Which would have been my first choice, but the current release was sold out. But no problem, there was much to choose from. After perusing the tasting sheet, I decided to do a comparison of two Cabernet Sauvignons from 2013: The regular vintage and the Tuthills Lane vintage.
Back to Sound Avenue for my fifth and final stop: Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard. The Rubin family moved to Suffolk County in the 1960’s and bought a parcel of land on the North Fork. They planted a small section of grapevines, which was gradually expanded and Baiting Hollow Farm eventually became Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard. In addition to producing wine, they also offer pony rides and run a successful horse rescue program. On weekends, the winery is usually filled to capacity with revelers enjoying live music. As I already had quite a few tastings under my belt and still had a long drive back to Nassau County, I decided to try just one more wine: the 2010 Red Velvet. This blend of select Estate Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes is their premium wine and a great way to end my afternoon.
While there’s no guarantee that you’re going to run into two winemakers. Or that a general manager will be pouring wines. Or that the owners will be holding court in the tasting room. But regardless of who you see, you’ll certainly have ample opportunity to have some fascinating conversations. All in all, it was a rather satisfying day: 5 Wineries, 10 wines and 137 miles. 52 days to the Mets home opener!
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