British funnyman John Oliver turned his characteristic snark on the Long Island wine industry this week, grimacing while chugging a bag of North Fork chardonnay on the latest episode of his HBO show.
In a piece lamenting the amount of time members of Congress spend fundraising every year, the “Last Week Tonight” host shared the bag of vino with outgoing Representative Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and poked fun at the congressman for hosting events centered around Long Island wine.
Israel, who is the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and is not seeking reelection this November, held his own when it came to defending the region.
“You’re not going to get me to say one negative thing about Long Island wine,” he said. “I’m very proud of it.”
But the real jab came later in the episode, when Oliver broke out the bag, sarcastically calling the unusual casing “traditional” Long Island packaging.
“I wouldn’t recommend drinking it out of the bag,” Israel told him.
“Oh Congressman, I would never do this to a glass,” Oliver said before raising the spout to his lips and taking a gulp.
“Not bad for wine in a bag,” Israel said.
“Sure, that’s fair,” Oliver said before handing it to Israel for a sip.
“I am proud of our wine industry for not only producing award-winning wines, but for driving jobs, tourism and economic growth to the region,” Israel told us in an email Tuesday afternoon. “I invited John to tour our vineyards to taste some of these fine wines, this time out of a glass instead of a bag. He politely declined, but I take it that he prefers a wine on the dry side – much like his jokes about Long Island wine.”
While Oliver’s opinion surely isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, this isn’t the first time the local industry has been mocked in the national media — and it seems an outdated view of Long Island wine persists. Perhaps we will see the tide turn as the Long Island Wine Council continues its marketing push to brand the region as a premier wine destination.
“While we all on the East End know that his statements are not true, we must recognize that it will take time for our message to reach a mass audience,” said Wine Council marketing director Ali Tuthill. “At the end of the day, Mr. Oliver is not an educator or an authority on wine. He is simply looking for a punchline.”
We reached out to our resident wine writer, Lenn Thompson, for his take on the episode, which he called an unfair representation of the region.
“If John Oliver were interviewing someone from California and drank crappy white zinfandel made a million cases at a time, that wouldn’t even be worth talking about. Everyone knows that that wine doesn’t represent what California wine is on the whole,” Thompson said. “I see it as just another little dig at a region that still struggles to gain wider acceptance — and deserves a lot better. An entry-level bagged chardonnay doesn’t represent Long Island wine in any larger sense.”
“It’s particularly unfortunate because the viewership of that show is a demographic that Long Island wineries are trying to reach right now,” Thompson continued.
You can watch the full clip below. Israel appears around the 14-minute mark.