When your friend says, “Let’s go visit some wineries in Long Island”, you don’t ask questions – you just go. Especially ‘sans kids’… need I say more?
My wine-writer friend, Amanda Barnes of 80 Harvests (http://www.80harvests.com), and I made our first stop at Long Island’s North Fork, visiting Bedell Cellars http://www.bedellcellars.com to chat with Richard Olsen-Harbich. It’s harvest time, which means it’s crazy and awesome at the same time. Like when the kids go back to school and you’re running around like crazy, packing lunches, jumping through hoops trying to do ALL the homework and get all the kids everywhere (and I mean everywhere) on time! Yeah, it’s similar vibe! Bedell Cellars has been a standard bearer for quality on Long Island for quite some time, long before appreciation has brought attention.
In a nutshell, the North Fork has a maritime climate that has been compared to the climate of Bordeaux, which essentially means an area that typically might be too cold for wine production is moderated by bodies of water, making it a perfect wine-grape-growing environment, yet a little nail-biting at times. In this case, the Peconic River and the Atlantic Ocean surround the North Fork, moderating summer heat and winter cold.
Given the cool maritime climate, the grapes grown in this area can retain their acidity (too much heat makes them more sweet than tart) and remain lower in alcohol, a signature of Bedell wines. The grapes that have flourished in this region are Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc as front runners for red and white wines, with secondary plantings of a wide assortment of wine grapes, ranging for example from Riesling and Gewurtzaminer to Malbec and Petit Verdot. Some Pinot Noir has been planted too, but the weather is typically too humid and the growing season too short for this to work out well. Sparkling wine should not be missed here either.
In terms of viticulture, Long Island is new to the commercial wine scene, which means there is still a lot of experimentation happening with grape varieties and work being done to figure out what wines will shine here. The two red grapes that have proven themselves best so far are Merlot and Cabernet Franc. For whites, Chardonnay seems to stand out. Having tasted through Bedell’s wines, where the quality and care taken is evident, my favorite white wines were Bedell’s Viognier, its Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine and the Gallery Chardonnay. For reds, I preferred Bedell’s Merlot, its Taste Red, Cabernet Franc, and Musee.
Cab Franc, in particular, is never given enough credit. Many say it comes across too green and that it is sub par compared to its cousin Cabernet Sauvignon, yet it has historically flourished in Bordeaux, Chinon and Bourgueil, with delicious proof that it can stand apart. Bedell is creating a fine example of what Cab Franc can be!
Long Island is divided into the North Fork and South Fork. To get super geeky on you, there are three AVAs (American Viticulture Association) for Long Island wine – one large AVA for “Long Island, as well as two more distinct AVAs, authored in the 1980s by Richard, for North Fork and Hamptons (South Fork), drawn up based on the soil and climatic differences that had become evident to the area’s winemakers.
So this raises the question – is one better than the other? I won’t try to answer that except to say that the North Fork soil is different than that of the Hamptons AVA. The biggest positive is the North Fork boasts well-drained soils, a benefit given high rainfall, and the grapes can typically hang on the vine a few weeks later than in the Hamptons due to the climatic influences. All a plus in terms of vine growing.
At the end of the day, Long Island is a gorgeous spot to visit and it’s well worth tasting the wine. Bedell has a beautiful property and tasting room! Worth the visit! Next week, I’ll talk about my visit to the South Fork.
Here is a recap of a few of my favorite wines from Bedell:
Blanc de Blanc
Crisp citrus, apple, pear, made via the Champagne region’s traditional method.
Worth popping the cork! $60
Light, with peach and floral flavors – crisp and refreshing.
This was one of my favorites – can be sipped on its own or accompanying a meal. Divine! $40
This wine has nice, crisp acidity: citrus and green apple, with a tangy finish
A great example of an un-oaked Chardonnay. $35
Gallery Chardonnay 2014
This wine was aged for 1 year in new French oak.
It has beautiful balance on the palate, with green fruit and floral flavors and a smooth, long finish. Well made, and a pleasure to drink.
First Crush Red 2014
First red of the season which is a delicious blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Perfect for an everyday red $30
Cabernet Franc 2014 $45
This is a perfect example of what Cab Franc should be with lots of red fruit and a spicy edge with a delicious long finish! Dreaming about it already!
Taste Red 2013 $70
A blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. This is a nice, full wine that will age well! Worth the price!
This wine has beautiful concentrated fruit which has been aged in french oak with ripe tannins and a nice smooth long finish. I brought one home!