In this, my last column of the year, I could easily focus on something like sparkling wine for the holidays. The official wine writer calendar says I should do that, in fact, but I won’t do that here.
You should go to Sparkling Pointe or Lenz or Macari or Lieb or Wölffer or Jamesport Vineyards for bubbles — for the holidays and for daily drinking. But that’s not what I’m going to focus on here.
Instead, I’d like to highlight some of the good things I’ve seen in the Long Island wine community this year. There’s a lot to talk about, but I’m going to focus on just a handful of things.
First — and we’ll all hear more about this after the new year: The Long Island Wine Council is rebuilding itself. Over the course of several years, its capabilities and, frankly, usefulness has eroded severely. It has become more or less a non-factor, especially in terms of marketing the industry and promoting it as a fine wine region. That’s changing and about to change with the election of a new board in early January. Top wineries that haven’t been involved for many years are back in the fold. New, energetic owners and winemakers and general managers are taking leadership positions. I’m hopeful that with new leadership and a new focus, there are big things ahead for LIWC and the industry as a whole.
Second: Have you noticed fewer buses and limos at the wineries? Maybe it’s just the wineries that I visit regularly. They don’t tend to cater to those sorts of crowds. Many forbid them coming at all. This is a good thing. Long Island wine country needs to be known for its wine quality first and foremost. In my experience, wineries that cater to big groups almost never make the kind of wine that is going to put and keep Long Island at the top of the market.
Third: Let’s talk about hospitality. It’s on the rise in the industry, with staff being better trained and more focused on an overall educational and enjoyable experience than ever before. This is how local wineries are going to earn loyal customers — not with bar-like tasting rooms with drunken idiots. A sophisticated-but-fun approach to wine tasting will not only improve customer retention, it will also show local naysayers that local wineries do care about the community and aren’t trying to operate bars. Community relations and relationships matter. The top wineries are also providing the best tasting experiences now. I think that’s great, and important.
Fourth: 2018 wasn’t a “great” vintage. These aren’t the best wines Long Island is capable of producing, by any means, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve tasted throughout the year. Especially the white wines. These aren’t intense, concentrated wines that will age for decades, but they are fresh, food-friendly and tell a story of a challenging vintage. Remember: The best wineries in any region will make worthwhile wines in any vintage.
Fifth — and this is me getting back on my soapbox a bit: Thank goodness there is more food at wineries, not less, than this time last year. No one should be forced to taste wine on an empty stomach. Whether it’s food trucks or small cafés or cheese boards or just a cooler case with charcuterie, cheese and the like, this is imperative and it’s happening more and more. I’ve enjoyed Avelino pizza at Macari several times throughout the year. Probably too many. The charcuterie and cheese at Lieb is always outstanding. And I hear a lot of great things about Little Oak, the new café attached to Jamesport Vineyards. I need to get there and soon.
Last and far from least: I want to congratulate Sarah Nappa on being elected to the Southold Town Board. Having someone who really understands and cares about the wine industry on the board can only be a good thing for the town.
To wrap up this end-of-year column, I was going to go through the wine country resolutions I made for myself in these pages last January, but honestly, I failed at most of them. I did drink more sparkling wine, though, and I did give every winery on the island a clean slate. I found some delicious wines at wineries I wouldn’t normally have bothered with.
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.