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A flight of Martha Clara wines recently served at the Riverhead vineyard. (Credit: Vera Chinese)
A flight of Martha Clara wines recently served at the Riverhead vineyard. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Eat Local. Drink Local.”

“Be a locavore and a locapour.”

“If it grows together, it goes together.”

You’ve heard these declarations and rallying cries before. The “local” movement isn’t new anymore. It started with chefs and the locally sourced produce, proteins and other products that they put on their menus and into our mouths. Then, the movement moved beyond food and into wine, but with a bit less success.

Too many North Fork restaurants still only pay local wine lip service – tucking a cheap mediocre bottle or two at the bottom of their lists – which are often filled with worse-but-even-cheaper wines from other parts of the world. Partly, those restaurants are lazy and under-informed. Partly diners aren’t demanding local wines enough.

Why haven’t local wines been embraced the same way as local foods? Even the least-food obsessed person can recognize that a tomato grown organically somewhere like Sang Lee Farm is far superior to the pink cardboard orbs sold at the local supermarket. The Sang Lee tomato will cost more, but it’s markedly better and worth the extra money if you care at all about how a tomato tastes.

It’s less obvious – particularly to the casual wine drinker – why they should buy local wine versus cheap plonk from wherever. Local wines are often seen as more expensive (they are, generally) and because of some pretty bad wines from the 1980s and 1990s, there is a lingering perception that the quality just isn’t there. Overall quality isn’t the issue anymore, even if tasting rooms that operate like bars or dance clubs don’t help that perception.

Everyone chooses the wines they drink for different reasons, but here are five reasons that I choose to drink local wines so often.

1. Hometown Pride
I’m not originally from Long Island, but I’ve lived here nearly 15 years now and have been a serious advocate and lover of Long Island wine for at least a decade. Long Island has this wonderful, thriving wine industry that still feels like it hasn’t come close to reaching its potential. Long Islanders should feel pride about that. I certainly do.

It’s amazing to live here and have this opportunity. Too few people really take advantage of it.

2. Keeping the North Fork Agricultural
There are more than 3,000 acres of land on the East End that are planted with grape vines. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather drive out on the North Fork and see farms and vineyards in their bucolic glory than see vacation resorts, luxury condos and mansions. That’s already happened to the South Fork – but if buying local wine helps local wineries stay in business so that they don’t close their doors and sell their land to developers. That’s reason enough for me.

3. Knowing the People Behind the Bottle – And Supporting Them
There was a time not that long ago when there weren’t supermarkets. You bought your milk from a dairy farmer that you knew by name. You bought apples and potatoes from a farmer down the road. You bought beef either directly from the family that raised the cattle or at least from a family owned butcher who would put certain cuts aside for you every week. That’s possible, but is much harder to do these days.

It’s actually easy to turn back the clock when it comes to the wine you drink. Visit any tasting room on Long Island and you’re bound to bump into the owner, see the vineyard manager or even talk to the winemaker as he or she pours you a taste of the latest release.

It’s special to be able to shake the hands of the people who devote their lives to making the wine in your glass. That matters.

4. Trying Before Buying
Maybe you almost never spend more than $15 on a bottle of wine at a wine shop – you don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that you’ve never tasted before. What if you spend $50 or even more and the wine is awful? That’s a horrible feeling.

By visiting and buying wine from local wineries, you can taste more-expensive wines before you buy. How many things do we get to try before we buy these days?

5. Drinking Delicious, Distinctive Wine
The first four reasons matter to me. They all play a part in why I buy and drink so much local wine, but maybe you don’t care about any of them.

You want good wine – and that’s the most important point. Ultimately, no other reason matters if the wine isn’t good.

Luckily, that’s not the case here on Long Island. I’m not saying that all of the wines are great. They aren’t. But Long Island’s best wines are unlike anything else made anywhere else in the world. They are uniquely Long Island. They are distinctive and they can be amazing. Local doesn’t matter if your wine is awful.

Lenn Thompson

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