Uncork the Forks: Discussing diversity in local wine scene

As someone who writes about not only New York wine but also wine grown up and down the Eastern Seaboard — and even the Midwest — I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity lately.

Diversity takes many forms in the wine world. You have the grapes themselves, of course, and not just different varieties like merlot or chardonnay. There are different clones within each variety as well. Maybe we’ll talk clones in detail in an upcoming column, but you can think of a clone as a version of a grape variety that has specific characteristics.

Growing grapes introduces another layer of diversity. Grape growing is extremely complex.

Then you have winemakers with different approaches, applying different techniques. Even the winemakers themselves can be diverse in their backgrounds.

Customer diversity is something that I admittedly don’t think about enough. I sometimes lament — even in these pages — the wineries that focus on wine agritourism or “wine-ertainment” rather than making the best wine possible. I won’t back away from that, but I will admit that there are obviously a lot of customers who don’t care about the best. They care about good enough.

As spring approaches and another busy Long Island wine trail season kicks off, I think we should celebrate Long Island wine in all of its diversity. Let’s not forget that not everyone has a wine-growing region in their back yard. And an even smaller percentage of people has such a high-quality one. 

First, let’s be happy that we live in a wine region where grape growers and winemakers can grow and make wine from just about any grape they want. No, not everything will ripen well here or withstand our often humid summers, but if a vineyard owner wants to plant pinot noir next to sauvignon blanc next to teroldego next to merlot, he or she can do that. In much of the Old World, you just don’t see that. I like that I can drink wine made from such a wide array of grapes. I’m glad that the “merlot as king” marketing has died down here. The strength of the region is how many grapes consistently grow well here. That should be the push.

Second, let’s talk about wine styles. It’s true that you don’t really see real-deal ice wine here — that is, wine made from grapes that freeze on the vine. But beyond that, we have just about everything else you can imagine. We have sparkling wine in all of its guises. We have bright, unoaked wines, oakier ones — both red and white — and everything in between. Rosé — mostly dry but also off-dry — has taken over Long Island summers for many years now. And there are also varied dessert wines made from late-harvested grapes or grapes that were frozen in commercial freezers. Orange wines, which have almost become mainstream, have been made here for many years. A few local experimental winemakers started making those before almost anyone in the United States. Again, we just about have it all. 

Third — and again, I still maintain that Long Island wine, overall, could and should be pushing for better and better wine — we have a diversity of wine-tasting experiences unlike any other region. Want to taste wine overlooking Long Island Sound? You can do that. Want to taste wine in a rustic repurposed barn? We have a lot of that. But we also have beautiful chateau-style tasting houses and intimate sit-down tasting experiences available. In this sense, there is something for everyone — from the parents who want to stop off for a taste of wine after taking their kids strawberry picking to the geeky wine enthusiast who wants to find out what Long Island does best.

Our winemakers even show a bit of diversity, though it feels like other regions perhaps have more. There are a few female winemakers making some terrific wines, but I wish there were more of them. I wish some of the wineries that rely on consulting winemakers would hire some of the available female winemaking talent as head winemakers. It’d be nice to see some people of color in head winemaking positions, too, but that’s a challenge throughout the wine world.

Get out there this spring and enjoy all that Long Island wine has to offer. I’m rarely this “rah-rah” in this column, but this is how I’m feeling about our wine community this week. There’s so much to explore and to discover. We’re lucky to have it here.

Lenn Thompson has been writing about American wine — with a focus on New York — for nearly 15 years. After running newyorkcorkreport.com for 12 years, he launched thecorkreport.us in 2016 and The Cork Report Podcast soon after. He lives in Miller Place with his wife and two children.

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