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Snowy Vines

A snowy day at Pellegrini Vineyards in Cutchogue. (Photo Credit: Vera Chinese)

New year. Time to reflect. Time to look forward. A fresh start. All that stuff. It’s that time of year — again.

A lot happened in wine country during 2016, but that’s true every year and it’s not worth rehashing the year that was. I’m a look-forward guy. I like to think about and even try to predict what might come next.

I think 2017 could be a kinetic and important year for Long Island Wine Country. I know, not much of a prediction. Every year is important for any group of businesses and there is always lots going on. But I think a tipping point or two have been reached.

We’ll tackle the local government stuff in a bit. First and foremost, I’m curious to see what Ali Tuthill, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council, will be able to do in her second full year in that position. She inherited an organization that was perhaps a bit too comfortable in its occasional dysfunction. Despite some local government distractions, she has already made positive strides to move the group into the next era of Long Island wine — one in which wine quality is again a priority.

I’m of the belief that Ali is the right person in the right place at the right time. She’s going to hit her stride in 2017. As someone who shares a deep affection for the local wine industry, I think it will be exciting to watch.

Second: I predict that the focus on making the best wine possible and marketing Long Island as a fine-wine region — rather than as a region of mediocre wine bars — is going to further divide the industry. Wineries like Shinn Estate, Paumanok, Wölffer, Channing Daughters, Roanoke, Bedell, Macari and others will continue to lead the way, making great wine, while some producers will continue to focus on attracting tourists — any tourists, really — to sustain their businesses. Tourism isn’t the problem; it’s the type of tourists. This is a region that needs to attract wine lovers, not just wine drinkers. This chasm exists in every wine region I’m aware of, but it’s never been more obvious than today.

Third: It will be interesting to see what course new and existing labels might follow. Will some change course and join the top tier? Will new and upcoming brands like Surrey Lane and Hound’s Tree focus on making great, expressive wine? Or will they settle for “good enough” wine? Will former leaders focus less on pizza ovens, raw bars and live bands and get back to making some of the best wines in the region? Will wineries that have long occupied the middle tier make the necessary changes in the vineyard and in the cellar to move up and join the leaders?

All we can do is wait and see. The more wineries that take their wine seriously, the more seriously the region will be taken.

Of course, we’ll also have to wait and see how things play out with the Town of Southold and other regulatory bodies. Will local policy makers work with the industry rather than against it? Will the wine industry be made a scapegoat for traffic congestion? Will any other wineries be forced to close (but hopefully not relocated to Texas)?

Recent developments like the rejection of Supervisor Scott Russell’s proposed moratorium give me hope. There seems to be some open-minded pragmatism on the board. That’s a good thing, but this situation is far from settled.

Watch carefully. 2017 could be a year that makes or breaks the long-term future of the region.

Lenn Thompson