The secret to great winemaking revealed
Story and photo by Christopher J. Davies
On February 15, 2003, I had the pleasure of hosting our "Wine Lovers" tour for 41 wine & food enthusiasts from the New York metro area. The tour visited three wineries; Lenz, Wolffer Estate and Duck Walk. Attendees were treated to great wines, a delicious meal at the Seafood Barge restaurant and an un-anticipated delay on Shelter Island due to a problem with the ferry at low tide.
Narrowly escaping a snowstorm, and delays withstanding, we managed to keep our itinerary and taste a wide range of wines while learning something at each stop.
The Secret of Great Winemaking Revealed
How is good wine made? Can the Winemaker miraculously conjure up good wine, by altering ingredients like a Chef does to create a delectable meal? Are Winemakers mad scientists? When a wine is described as having hints of apples or berries, does this mean that the Winemaker has chucked a couple of apples or other fruit into the fermentation tank? The answer to these questions is NO.
Many people have heard that what really counts in winemaking is the quality of the fruit (grapes). Fact: Without good grapes, the winemaker cannot make good wine, plain and simple!
During last weeks barrel tasting at Lenz, Winemaker Eric Fry taught us that the age of the grape vine plays a major role on the taste of wine. Wines produced from grapes that are grown on younger vines have less flavor and mouth feel than those produced from mature vines. (This would account for the early impressions some folks had about Long Island Wines in the late 1970's).
Barrel tasting is a very special way to get a glimpse at how a wine tastes in its pre-release stage. I was astounded by the taste differences that we discovered from tasting three different Barrel samples of 2002 vintage Lenz Merlot:
3 year old vines
10 year old vines
25 year old vines
Even though these wines were only a few months old, they were full of fruitiness and flavor. The wine from the young 3-year-old vines was most likely the first wine produced from these vines. This wine reminded me of a fall Noveau. Barrel aging will help this young wine mature in flavor and finish.
The wine from the 10-year-old vines displayed deeper, more intense flavors, like those found in a nice Bordeaux blend. This wine could survive an early release satisfying most consumers taste buds.
But most impressive was the Merlot tasted from Lenz's 25-year-old vines (Some of the oldest Merlot vines in the US). This Merlot was bright with flavors, taste and had already developed a great finish. Judging by the taste of the barrel samples, Lenz 2002 Merlot will be a great vintage. Add this wine to Christmas list in 2005, because it will be slowly aging in oak barrels until then.
As the Long Island Wine Industry has just celebrated its 30th year, consumers and wine professionals are taking notice. And while great investments have been poured into the region, fueling new technology, Internationally bred consultants and winemakers have taken the helm, but it's really the age of the vines and the region's Bordeaux-like micro-climate that enable the making of great wine.
Earlier this month, Long Island Wine made a quantum leap into the world of wine success. The place was Manhattan's highly regarded culinary landmark's, The Four Seasons Restaurant. Until this month, very few, if any Long Island wines made the Four Season's esteemed wine list. According to Four Seasons' co-owner Julian Niccolini "Something revolutionary is happening on Long Island. While the world gasps in shock and awe at the success of California wines, gifted vintners here in New York have been perfecting their craft, and today, are producing some of the world's most delicious wines. Please join us as we celebrate the next great wine region."
This sold-out event was an enormous success, with "Windows on The World" wine GURU, Kevin Zraly, acting as master of ceremonies. Members of the press and industry professionals have now acknowledged Long Island wines have come of age. This would not have been possible ten years ago, because most producers vines were too young.
The Four Seasons Restaurant has now promised to ad 25 Long Island wines to its cellar. My guess is that the selection will be heavily weighted with Long Island's most successful varietal Merlot. These wines will undoubtedly be made from the regions older vines!