casablancamoviescene2Casablanca has more memorable quotes that any other motion picture.    That is not just my opinion; it is also the opinion of the American Film Institute.   In a listing of AFI’S 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All time released in 2005, Casablanca has six quotes on the list, more than any other movie.  In the last scene where the characters played by Humphrey Bogart and Claude Raines are walking away from the airport to join a Free French garrison, Rick says “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Not only is the final scene from Casablanca one of the most memorable movie endings in the history of the cinema, but it is also one of the most quoted lines.  As I watched Roman Roth (winemaker and partner of Wolffer Estates) walk in the Wolffer vineyard with Richard Pisacano (vineyard manager at Wolffer and owner of Roanoke Vineyards), I could not help but be reminded of this scene.    Not that Roman and Richie were ever adversaries like Rick and Captain Louis Renault.   And they were walking in the rain through the vineyard in Sagaponack, not away from the Casablanca airport and into the fog.  But it just seemed to fit.

Unlike Italy where neighboring wineries have been feuding for 500 years; the wineries of Long Island exist in a spirit of cooperation.   If some piece of equipment breaks at one winery, another winery will step up and loan that piece of equipment.   And if a winemaker has a question about a tricky vintage or a vineyard manager is wondering when to pick grapes, their counterparts at other wineries are only too eager to share their opinion.  I’ve interviewed dozens of winemakers, vineyard managers and owners and they all say the same thing:   We all belong to the same wine region and what helps one helps the others.   The idea is to create a positive identity not just for an individual winery but for the entire area; whether it’s the North Fork, The Hamptons or simply the East End.

Of course, each individual winery wants to put out the best product they can.   But there’s none of the cutthroat competition of some regions or the centuries-old feuding you find in Italy.   The wineries of Long Island share resources, they share information and occasionally they even share personnel.   This spirit of cooperation has now morphed into a spirit of collaboration, with numerous joint ventures.     The latter was showcased at the Project Seven tasting at Roanoke Vineyards.  As Scott Sandall, the Director of Chardonnay Development at Roanoke Vineyards explained: “The Project Seven series focused on what we consider to be the seven key elements that make Roanoke unique. We collaborate with three winemakers, and we have long term relationships with three growers who not only allocate specific blocks in their vineyard for us, but also let us come in and work those blocks all season.”  The seventh project is the Sound Avenue vineyard, which had been meticulously managed for the past ten years by Richie’s father, the late Gabby Pisacano .

At the Project Seven workshop, we discussed (and tasted) wines jointly produced for Roanoke Vineyards by Roman Roth (Wolffer Estates), Miguel Martin (Palmer Vineyards), James Waters (Waters Crest Winery) and Richie Pisacano (Roanoke).  The highlight of the evening for me was a vertical tasting of Bookends, a joint venture between Roanoke and Waters Crest that is distributed almost exclusively to their wine club members.   So, tasting these wines was a rare treat.   The makeup of the wine changes each year, depending upon the harvest and what grapes are available.   2008 and 2009 were both Cabernet Sauvignon, while 2010 was Cabernet Franc.   What doesn’t change is the quality of these wines, which is consistently outstanding.

As I listened to the friendly banter among the participants, you got the idea that these guys were more than just business colleagues, but friends.  On and off the vineyard.   As a consumer I find these collaborations interesting, exciting and something to be sought out.  And while there was never a sequel produced for Casablanca (thank goodness!), I hope there are many sequels to these kinds of collaborative efforts.    And to paraphrase Rick, “I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Roman Richie BW


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