A changing of the grapes: Uncork the Forks

Workers harvest cabernet franc grapes at Macari Vineyards in Mattituck this past fall. Our Lenn Thompson said he is 'in lust' with the varietal. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Workers harvest cabernet franc grapes at Macari Vineyards in Mattituck this past fall. Our Lenn Thompson said he is ‘in lust’ with the varietal. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Editor’s Note: Although Lenn Thompson has written a biweekly column for northforker.com since November 2014, this is his first piece to appear in the print editions of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He replaces longtime wine columnist Louisa Hargrave.

How do you replace a pioneer — an icon, really — who was literally there when a wine industry was born? You don’t because you can’t. I can never fill Louisa Hargrave’s shoes, but I do hope to fill her old column space with stories that will inform, inspire and celebrate.

Everyone on the East End knows Louisa — or at least knows of her and how she and her then-husband, Alex, created the region’s first winery.

I’m the new guy, so many of you don’t know anything about me, other than I apparently have something to say about wine. And I do. Plenty.

I’m not directly involved in the wine industry in any way, but I’ve been writing about Long Island wine almost as long as I’ve lived here, which is just under 15 years. I started a wine blog, which is now called the New York Cork Report (newyorkcorkreport.com) 13 years ago and have contributed stories to several local publications, as well as to BevMedia, Vineyard & Winery Management and Wine Enthusiast.

In part, wine writing is a hobby of mine — I have a day job in online community management and marketing — but I also take it quite seriously. My integrity is of the utmost importance to me, which is why I’m thrilled to be writing this column for one of the few possible places where I won’t be forced to write (or not write) about something because of advertising or other business concerns.

This is a column, so it’s not up to me to simply relay facts. I’m opinionated and honest. You may not always agree with my opinions, but I think it’s important for any columnist to have a point of view. To sit on the fence and not pick a side, if there are sides anyway, would be to do you a disservice.

I wish I could say that this is the only column where the word “I” will appear, but it’s just not so. Wine and wine enjoyment are deeply personal for me. I have little interest in tasting and critiquing wines in an antiseptic laboratory environment. To truly know any wine, you need to understand how it was grown and how it was made. You need to know the people and places behind it.

I revel in the tension between what is and what could be. It would be arrogant to suggest that anything I can write would influence a wine region like our own, but I do hope to be an agent for change, celebrating the successes but also pointing out the failures.

The status quo is boring and doesn’t do anyone any good. I once saw a Venn diagram with two circles, one small and one large, with a space between them. The small circle was labeled “Your Comfort Zone.” The larger was labeled “Where the Magic Happens.” I really believe that and too often it’s too easy to sit back in your comfort zone and not reach your full potential. It’s just as true for a wine region as it is for an individual. With risk comes reward.

I know a lot about wine and a bit more than that about local wine, but I’m far from an expert. I learn something new with every sniff, sip or step in a vineyard or cellar. If I’m not sharing a bit of my knowledge with you, my goal is to take you along on my journey to further that knowledge.

I like local merlot, but I’m head over heels in lust with Long Island cabernet franc. I find most local chardonnay mediocre. Actually, that’s how I feel about most chardonnay not from Burgundy. I drink rosé year round, so the annual end-of-summer rosé shortage affects me well beyond Labor Day. I don’t understand why only one winery is growing and making chenin blanc or why only a few are working with albariño. I think malbec could be a star if it became a focus for a winery or two.

I cheer for those who experiment with new grapes or techniques. I also love and respect classic, old-school Long Island wines.

Over the course of 15 years, Louisa wrote more than 350 columns. I doubt I’ll come even remotely close to matching that proliferation and I’m probably going to write a lot of things that Louisa doesn’t agree with, though she’ll probably be supportive just as she was when I first started writing about local wine.

Who wants to agree all the time, anyway? Wine is supposed to be fun and I hope I can make it that and also just a bit more interesting for you.

Lenn Thompson