Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The way I see it.

B and I had the pleasure of meeting up with a band of East Coast wine bloggers last weekend, exploring the Long Island North Fork region. Lenn did a wonderful job putting this together and setting up a weekend stuffed with meeting other bloggers, wine makers, growers and producers.

This is the way I saw the event. I was coming off of a bout of springtime allergies and was not top tasting form, yet this event provided me an opportunity to experiment with other styles of photography which was equally important to me as trying other styles of wine. The weather was cloudy, slightly foggy and drab. Not a good time for shooting outdoors, but we do need photo content for SLG so a healthy self-dosing of quityerbitching tonic was in order. Let’s see what came through the lens toss in some observations about the area.

The first challenge was the available light shots of Raphael which has a wonderful open, spacious tasting and function room beautifully appointed with wood, tile and marble. The textures were fabulous and proved irresistible for playing with the existing light.

Mid spring in the North East is a time when the leaves emerge on the trees. The trees are not only spring green but also many pastel shades. The vineyards are devoid of greenery other than the green cover crop.

Long Island is flat. The soils are sandy-loam. The water is plentiful. Grape vines do very well in these conditions, too well. It can be difficult to get the vines to shut down and produce quality fruit. It is a struggle for the vineyard to keep the canopy in check while preventing too much moisture on the vines. Because the land is flat, the breezes are primarily from the ocean and are damp. This is tough on the growers because diseases are a constant threat. Thus, Long Island producers must be vigilant for molds and apply fungicides. This fact alone has made it difficult for farmers to go completely organic.

You will see dandelions in the vineyards of Long Island. Dandelions have deep tap roots that naturally till the land, keeping the soils open and aerated. This is a shift in thinking and may freak out those that are addicted to having putting greens for lawns, but dandelions are a beneficial force of nature. The experience of the growers and studies by Cornell University labs in these very vineyards have shown that the natural cover crops of grasses, dandelions, clover and other plants have not caused deficiencies in the vines.

This is the time of bud break on Long Island.

The wines have wonderful colors, winemakers can get a beautiful extraction. Merlot is the major crop and Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and a little Pinot Noir are also grown as well as other blending varieties.

There are less than ideal growing conditions on Long Island. Mid-Atlantic coastal weather is fickle. Merlot seems to be doing the best. I see a region trying to become an entity on its own, yet still align themselves with Bordeaux and trying not to be another California.

I was having a hard time accepting the quirkiness of the Long Island wines. I fully understand the desire to be unique and a wine region of stature. I was having a difficult time with the funk that sat on top of many of wines and the unbalanced tannins. This funk may be part of Cab Franc’s green, cabbagy reputation, but it is a distraction for me that was creeping into the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

At long last, it came to me. These Long Island wines are not wines that stand on their own. More than any other region I’ve explored, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, California, Argentina, Chile, Australia, these Long Island wines need to have food eaten with them. Yes I know, you should generally have food with wine but there are wines that I like without food. During the Merlot Alliance dinner, a wine was poured that I tasted earlier and was dreading tasting again. But paired with food, the fats cut down the tannins and helped balance out the wine. The same thing happened at lunch the next day. Then all of the sudden, I got it. These wines need food.

Talking with the producers in the area, I see that they are emerging in a region that they are still figuring it out. They are trying to mend the farmlands beaten by the prior agri-chemical farming. Those that want to do away with chemicals are making inroads and are on the correct path. There is a strong desire to have a distinct style as well as improving sustainability. I’m sure that they will figure it out.

In the mean time, I’m looking for my next shot. Hey, there's a cool truck.


Rob Bralow said...

Good write up B! I love the random red truck.

Taster B said...

Thanks Rob, it was actually Taster A's write up :) The truck is cool.

Lenn Thompson | LENNDEVOURS.com said...

Great post, Steve...and some great shots too. Great meeting you and let's do it again next year!

Rich Ritter said...

Glad you were able to find some positives about the Long Island region. I'm very proud of our Merlots and Cab Francs. You got some nice images. and I peresonally like overcast days for shooting. Come back soon.

Steve B said...

Hi Rich, My take-away on this trip is that LI had a rough and shaky start and that there are a lot of people that really want to produce quality wines. Everyone I talked to from Long Island was friendly and helpful. And let’s face it. You have to have b@#ls the size of grapefruit to let a bunch of East Coast blogger come in and sample your hard won products.

Lenn, you put on a hell of an event. Thank you for your hard work in putting this together. I’m very glad that I got to meet a great bunch of hard working bloggers.

Hi B! I used to ride in the back of trucks like this when I was knee high to a grasshopper. They were cool then too.

Rob, I’m so glad that I got to do some sipping and spitting with you!

Rob Bralow said...

AHCK! Sorry about that A! I need to pay more attention to the end of your posts!

Diane Letulle said...

I enjoyed the photojournalistic post. I don't know if I would call it a funk in the merlot, but there was a distinct flavor that I have never tasted in any other merlot. By the end of the weekend,no one had to tell me that we were drinking merlot, I had memorized the LI Merlot's unique taste. The point about needing food is an interesting one--I didn't bring enough home to experiment much. By the way, it was great meeting & hanging with you both. Cheers, Diane