A look back at 2016 in Long Island Wine Country: Uncork the Forks

Kelly Koch

Our Lenn Thompson highlights Macari winemaker Kelly Koch as a standout winemaker in 2016. (Credit: David Benthal for northforker)

Before I dive into my final column of 2016, I just want to take a quick moment to thank you for caring enough about what I have to say to read it every other week in these pages. I’ve been writing about wine for more than a decade now, but I still feel like I know very little about it. That’s why wine is such a fascinating and wonderful hobby (or obsession in my case) — there is always something more to learn and know. Over the past many months, I’ve been lucky enough to meet many of you in person, either at the wine tasting salons I’ve hosted at Roanoke Vineyards or just out and about on the tasting trail. Thank you for saying hello. Keep doing it.

But really, I’m just a guy who happens to be an OK writer who also loves local wine. That you trust, or at least like, what I have to say about the topic is incredibly humbling.

I tend to be someone who looks forward. I’m thinking more about what 2017 is going to bring than what happened in 2016. As such, I’m not as prepared for a “year in review” column as maybe I could be.

But that’s not going to stop me. Perfection is the enemy of good, after all.

So without further ado, here are some people, places and things that I encountered in 2016 worth highlighting. Just remember, this is as unscientific as it gets. This is what stands out for me as I look back and look forward.

Person of the Year
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell

Sometimes these pronouncements aren’t about who is best, but rather who is important. I haven’t hidden my belief that Mr. Russell is anti-winery and anti-progress. His proposed moratorium on new wineries, breweries and distilleries seems to support my opinion, but he’s denied publicly that he’s anti-winery. Now is the time for him to prove that. If he works with the region’s producers rather than against them and helps shape the future of Long Island wine in a positive way, I’ll believe him. If he continues to make it harder and harder to operate, I’ll be proven right. Either way, he’s vital to the future of the wine industry here.

Vineyard of the Year
Macari Vineyards’ cabernet franc block

I’ve never even considered a Vineyard of the Year before this year. But when three of the best red wines you’ve tasted are made with the same grape, grown by the same people, across two different vintages and made by two different winemakers, that’s hard to ignore. Early in the year, I fell for Macari Vineyards’ 2013 Reserve Cabernet Franc. Later, I fell just as hard for Macari’s 2014 Life Force Cabernet Franc and Red Hook Winery’s 2014 Cabernet Franc, made from Macari-grown fruit. Clearly there is something special going on with that grape in that spot grown by those people. That’s something for me to explore more in 2017.

Brewery of the Year
Moustache Brewing Co.

There are so many breweries on Long Island now and new ones seem to pop up every couple of weeks. That’s a lot of new, locally brewed beer to taste and get to know, but I’m not overly impressed by many of the local breweries. The beers benefit from being fresher than those shipped in from afar, but most are just OK. At best. That’s not the case with Lauri and Matt Spitz’s Riverhead brewery. Every single beer they brew, even the ones made in styles that aren’t my favorite, are done well. And some — like their Sailor Mouth IPA — are among my favorite local beers. That they are doing some canning now just means that it’s a bit easier to get your hands on their beer without going to the brewery.

Winemaker of the Year
Kelly Urbanik Koch, Macari Vineyards

It didn’t take me very long to make this pick, because I can’t think of anyone who even comes close to deserving it as much as Kelly does. From $15 Estate Merlot to an $85 Alexandra blend and every pink, white, red, sparkling or dessert wine in between, she is combing the traditional with the innovative in pursuit of deliciousness and value. She’s scaled back on the new oak virtually across the board, favoring purity and vineyard expression over power and heft — and the results are beautiful. Just wait until more of Kelly’s 2013 reds hit the shelf.

Lenn Thompson