It’s no secret that what grows together, goes together. Hence the simple beauty of a freshly shucked oyster paired with a crisp sauvignon blanc made from grapes grown down the road.
But inside the cellar at Bedell, assistant winemaker Marin Brennan is taking the concept of terroir to new heights. She recently began aging a stainless-steel fermented chardonnay on seashells plucked from local beaches.
Brennan got the idea after she and winemaker Rich Olsen-Harbich explored a similar concept several years ago, using beach stones and rocks in an oaked chardonnay.
“Rocks don’t really have flavor,” Olsen-Harbich said.
On recent walks, Brennan collected a bucket full of shells that were then rinsed of sand granules with wine.
“I didn’t want to use water,” she explained. “That would just get rid of the characteristic flavor.”
The shells are soaking and aging alongside the wine in a stainless steel tank that Brennan will continue tasting over the next month until it’s ready for bottling. She plans to call it Coquillage, which means shellfish in French.
The winemakers are hoping the shells add a salinity and minerality to the wine.
“We’ll see,” Olsen-Harbich said. “We haven’t put wine on seashells before.”
As soon as it’s ready to drink, it’ll be available to taste at the Corey Creek Tap Room as part of Brennan’s Small Batch Series.
That series, which Brennan has led for several years, is a chance to flex her creativity in the cellar, producing between 15 and 200 cases of the speciality wines.
Brennan said it’s an interesting time in Long Island wine thanks to both innovation and technology. At Bedell, original owners Kip and Susan Bedell planted their first grapevines on the property more than 40 years ago in 1980. The small batch series, she said, allows her to take “these staple varietals that people know and love and do something different with them that’s unique,” like co-fermenting two varieties, utilizing carbonic maceration and other techniques she’s learned over the last decade.
A few of the small batch wines have become staples from vintage to vintage.
“People really enjoy those, so I continue to make them and then get to experiment on all these other wines,” she said.
Those include the 100% malbec and syrah rosés and a white cabernet franc that has developed somewhat of a cult following since her first go-around with it in 2019.
Brennan said she decided to make the white cabernet franc in response to seeing similar red-grapes-turned-white-wines being made in the area like white merlots or white pinot noirs.
Cabernet franc, a parent of the better known cabernet sauvignon, is Brennan’s favorite grape. To produce it, she treats the red grapes as if she were making a white wine with a press that gently breaks the skins open to release the juice and no skin contact during the process.
The result is a crisp, acidic wine with characteristics indicative of a cabernet franc: savory herbs, pepper.
This summer, Brennan plans to debut several more small-batch wines, including a zippy 100% petit verdot rosé and an old vines rosé: barrel-fermented Gewürztraminer blended with merlot rosé. Aged in neutral oak barrels, it has notes of sweet oak and red fruit.
The 2021 vintage also marked the first harvest for verdejo and auxerrois planted in the vineyard in 2018.
Verdejo grapes were traditionally used to make Sherry and today are used for light-bodied Spanish wines. Auxerrois is a white french variety used primarily in Alsatian blends. A relative of chardonnay, it’s medium-bodied and floral.
“We’ve always had good luck with [Alsatian varieties,]” Olsen-Harbich said. “They seem to fit our climate.”
Both were tested in the research vineyard at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County before being planted at Bedell.
“It’s an expensive proposition to go in blind, so it’s always good to have some test plots to see is it viable? Is it going to make the grade in terms of good wine?,” Olsen-Harbich said, adding that he’s seen many types of grapes fail in the research vineyard. “We’ve pushed the envelope there to see what the boundaries are.”