What might our future vineyards look like?: Uncork the Forks

Most of the time, when I write about the local wine industry, it’s about things that are happening today — things like the current growing season, how certain wines are tasting today or how the industry is changing or has changed since I started. I’m not a reporter, per se, but I am an observer and a critic. Sometimes I’m more observer. Sometimes I’m more a critic.

As I continue to talk to winemakers, I find myself wanting to look ahead a bit more. I’m always curious what they think is coming next and where Long Island wine will be five, 10 or even 20 years from now.

In that vein, I’ve taken to asking the winemakers I talk to what grapes they’d plant if they were planting a brand-new 10-acre vineyard. The results of this extremely informal poll have been really interesting.

I haven’t asked every local winemaker the question, so this isn’t at all definitive. And before I share some of what I’ve learned, I should mention that I when I ask the question, I do so in a bit of a bubble. I didn’t mandate that the winemaker use only his or her own grapes for winemaking. So just because someone doesn’t mention something like merlot doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t still make merlot grown by someone else.

That said, not a single person mentioned planting merlot, though it did come up.

Rich Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Bedell Cellars, told me in an email: “Going forward I see cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot making our interesting and unique reds, with merlot taking a more supporting role. Whites will continue to be defined by being crisp and refreshing with low alcohol.”

What has been extremely interesting is that over the past six months, few winemakers have even mentioned planting red grapes.

Kelly Urbanik Koch, who makes the wines at Macari Vineyards, told me she’d plant four-plus acres each of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc, with smaller plantings of syrah, chenin blanc, pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay — some of which would clearly be dedicated to sparkling wine production.

Kareem Massoud at Paumanok Vineyards said, “Over the next two years we have plans to add four varieties to the eight we already have planted: pinot noir (for bubbly), malbec, albariño and melon de Bourgogne.”

Albariño and melon de Bourgogne — best known through its use in the white wine muscadet in France — were mentioned a few times, and I personally look forward to tasting the potential results.

Saltbird Cellars’ Robin Epperson-McCarthy would plant half of her hypothetical new vineyard with sauvignon blanc because it is “creating its own distinctive character here on Long Island of rich, luscious citrus and tropical flavors that happen to pair beautifully with our local bay scallops.”

The other half? Albariño. “Alice Wise at Cornell Cooperative Extension has been singing this grape’s praises for years and thanks to Miguel Martin at Palmer we can see what this high-yielding, highly acidic, durable grape can do. And, oh man, does it pair well with seafood!” Ms. Epperson-McCarthy told me in an email.

“Melon de Bourgogne!” exclaimed Jamesport Vineyards’ Dean Babiar when I asked him what he’d plant. “It comes from a coastal area of France that reminds me of here a little bit. Muscadet wines can be light and fresh with a little saltiness, not the fanciest but definitely fun. They’d be a perfect complement to the local aquaculture. Oysters with muscadet is one of my favorite breakfasts.”

Again, this isn’t a formal poll and, except at Paumanok, there aren’t any imminent plans to follow through on any of these ideas. Not that I’m aware of, anyway. But in a region so dependent on merlot and chardonnay, it is at least an interesting wrinkle to see winemakers — especially those who could be considered the next generation of winemakers on Long Island — so interested in other things.