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The Big Grapple: Can Long Island Wines Get Some Respect?

With changes afoot, New York City's backyard wine region could finally remake its image

Posted: Aug 23, 2012 1:30pm ET

By Ben O'Donnell

Author and journalist Ron Rosenbaum once called New Jersey "the second most maligned and unfashionable place to come from in America." The line appeared in an essay about Long Island.

"I don't think it's a secret," said Kareem Massoud of the North Fork's Paumanok Vineyards, "that Long Island has an image problem." We were in the vineyard, talking about the thorny issue of Long Island wine, which also gets some punch-line treatment in the American wine world. I'd describe the skeptic spectrum as running from "underripe and overpriced" to "a bachelorette party with vines."

I went out to the East End with some friends to do some casual wine touring, but I also wanted to meet with a few winemakers and ask them about this. Why do Long Island wines get a bad rap, still? What can be done about it?

Certainly, it's a young region, with the first modern vineyards going in a little more than three decades ago—but barely younger than Walla Walla in Washington, or Santa Barbara on California's South Coast. Yet these other regions are putting out some of the most coveted wines in America.

I chewed this over with winemakers at three estates, quality leaders on the North Fork—Barbara Shinn and husband David Page at Shinn Estate, Rich Olsen-Harbich, a 30-vintage veteran now at Bedell Cellars, and Paumanok's Massoud, a representative of the region's second generation.

"That question is what perpetuates the perception," Page insisted; any bad reputation lingers because of people who come in armed with assumptions. That's a fair point for Shinn and Page, who have created a brand that is in many ways indeed distinctive in the region. They aggressively follow biodynamic principles—from the chickens in their coop to the tufts of grass running between vine rows, a whole ecosystem is in place here. As Shinn describes in detail her composting routine, no visitor could doubt they are serious about farming.

With Shinn's devoted customer base, 50 percent of its stock sells out of the winery; virtually none leaves the NYC metro area. That Long Island has a captive market for tourism and sales—and one with a New York locavore obsession bordering on food jingoism—cuts both ways, though. It enables L.I. wineries to cash out on indiscriminately harvested Chardonnays and limousine weekenders, but it also frees the real grape nerds to experiment with less popular varieties and techniques that extract the best of the region, without worrying too much about how to sell them.

To the former point, Massoud admitted, "That bottom tier, all New Yorkers have been exposed to it. There's a level of vetting" for quality in other regions that doesn't exist in Long Island. Indeed, few Long Island wines reach or exceed 90 points in Wine Spectator blind tastings, and while many earn good and very good scores, the prices can be high in relation. With high costs of land and labor, it is unfair to blame wineries for not turning down the easy sale, but this tars the whole region with the same unflattering brushstroke.

And then there's the land. To call up Walla Walla and Santa Barbara again, where winemakers handily found friends in Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot, respectively (and Syrah for both), well, the East End is not like the West Coast. There are vintages—not just off vintages, but frost vintages, hurricane vintages. It's wet and windy and mildew gets all over everything. "It's hard to get a very consistent product," said Brooklyn Winery winemaker Conor McCormack, who buys some Long Island grapes for his wines. Not helping matters: "Pinot and Cabernet Sauvignon are probably the worst reds you'd want to plant here in any quantity," said Olsen-Harbich.

Getting the grapes right is the most important way forward, and at least from what I saw, some consensus is emerging. Long Island never abandoned Merlot, believing in its particular fit for the terroir even after Americans turned on the variety. The East End endures a lengthy growing season, which Sauvignon Blanc happens to enjoy; McCormack told me he couldn't get a lick of it from growers last harvest, such was the demand from other winemakers. The 2010 Cabernet Francs I tasted were clean and elegant, with none of the greenness that can mar that wine; Olsen-Harbich noted that vintners have drilled down to the clonal level on that variety, and many are replanting their Cab Franc plots to more suitable clones. Olsen-Harbich and Massoud, who grows Chenin Blanc, agreed on the potential of that grape.

The moment is certainly right for Long Island. Consumers have been returning to lower-alcohol, higher-acidity wines. ("We get California winemakers who come here and are immediately envious of our natural acidity," said Page). Younger drinkers are applauding experimentation, like Massoud's new barrel-fermented, unfined, unfiltered, "natural" Chardonnay and the grape spirits that are Page's latest pet project. And, finally, Olsen-Harbich is touting the vintage hitting the market—2010—as the quality benchmark for the region.

If the rest of the country can't often buy these wines on shelves, they can try them when they visit Manhattan: Restaurateurs like Tom Colicchio and Daniel Boulud tap the best stuff, and plenty of the wineries offer direct shipping where it's legal.

Undoubtedly, the region is still finding its way. Massoud is one of a growing number of younger winemakers pushing Long Island into the future, but Olsen-Harbich put it most poignantly: "The best wines that we're going to make, I'm never going to see."

What do you think of the current state of Long Island wines? What would you like to see for the region's future?

Incidentally, if you want to judge for yourself, the Harvest East End Festival, sponsored by Wine Spectator, takes place this Saturday, Aug. 25, with about 40 wineries pouring. Tickets are still available here.

You can follow Ben O'Donnell on Twitter at twitter.com/BenODonn.

Jeff Perez
Norwalk, Connecticut, USA —  August 23, 2012 4:20pm ET
Thank you for the "shout out" on Long Island wines. I can echo just about everything you have mentioned here. I am finding great examples of rose' wines (Croteaux Vineyards) and I personally prefer a Long Island Merlot (and especially Cabernet Franc) to their California counterparts. The 2011 Peconic Bay "steel fermented" Chardonnay (11.5% alcohol) is crisp, refreshing a a great example of what can be acheived here with the right grapes.

I wholeheartedly agree that the bset is yet to come from Long Island
John Meluzio
New Jersey —  August 23, 2012 4:29pm ET
We took a wine tasting trip to Long Island last Memorial day weekend after not being there for over ten years. What I found was a region that doesn't take itself seriously. It was party city. There were tasting rooms with bouncers. Almost every winery had a huge outside party going on and I never really had anyone explain what they were growing or how they were doing it. I was really turned off.

On top of the fact that the decent wines were way too expensive. I understand their cost issues but the best wine I tasted, a Gewürztraminer from Corey Creek, was $35. That's crazy. Bedell used to be one of the best with a small tasting room and quality wine at a good price. Now they have three bars and big guys directing traffic.

With the quality wines at much lower prices coming from Europe, The Finger Lakes and even California, why buy Long Island. It's a fun day trip but that's about it.

Greg Flanagan
Bethel CT —  August 24, 2012 8:55am ET
When I think of LI reds, three words come to mind....


When I think of LI whites, two words come to mind...

Pretty good!

When I think of LI tasting rooms, one word comes to mind...


Dont get me wrong, I like the east end of LI, but not for the quality of their wines. Keep trying, years ago I could not stomach the whites! They have improved greatly! (Ben mentions a couple of the better producers in his article.)

For many locals (tri-state area, really) its a gimmicky-thing.....limo to the east end, get drunk, pretend to know something about wine, pay too much money for a bottle, and have a good time!!! Nothing wrong with that....and who knows, maybe its helping lots of people catch the wine bug!! We all have to start somewhere..........

Ben Odonnell
New York, NY —  August 24, 2012 10:46am ET
Thanks, all, for weighing in.

Jeff, I didn't touch on the Chardonnays much in the post, but it's definitely a grape L.I. winemakers have become more and more comfortable wielding in the higher-acidity, lower-alcohol style. When I was "barrel" tasting from the tanks at Bedell, Rich Olsen-Harbich said, "The acidity in this Chardonnay, in the early days, would have frightened people."

John and Greg, certainly it can get crazy, but good point that a tasting trip is a fun and (can be) inexpensive way for tri-state wine newbies to dive into the wine world.

However, it's also possible for more "advanced" drinkers to get a more immersive and educational experience. I think the trick is to book a tour along with your tasting. Shinn, Paumanok and Bedell all offer tour packages at varying price points (Barbara Shinn personally leads her vineyard walks) and, to my knowledge, so do Jamesport, Wölffer, Peconic Bay and I'm sure a number of others. Booking well in advance is probably a good idea, even for weekends less busy than Memorial Day. Also check out the members of the brand-new Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing program, since setting self-imposed standards is a pretty good indicator that one is willing to put in the work to meet them in the vineyard: http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/46836.

Another option is to explore the small producers who don't own estates. The Winemaker Studio pours a rotation of these, including owner Anthony Nappa's.

Finally, with regard to price, certainly it can be an issue. However, I do think that prices for flights at the wineries are pretty reasonable, and these wines are usually at the value end of the spectrum on NYC restaurant lists I've seen, especially when the winery embraces alternative packaging, as Paumanok has done.

Ben O'Donnell
Wine Spectator
Greg Flanagan
Bethel CT —  August 24, 2012 12:14pm ET

Good points. The tours were very educational (years ago, from experience).

Cost of wine? Downer---but it is "buying local" for the VAST amount of LI wines that are drunk. Most people don't care about the price as long as they feel like they are getting something for it. I can swallow the price pill for some of their whites....and maybe I was a bit rough on the LI reds....but honestly, I have not seen/tasted the reds advance in quality as the whites have over the past 2+ decades.

"The best wines that we're going to make, I'm never going to see."

I think that sums it up best!!!

Good article Ben!
Jeff Perez
Norwalk, Connecticut, USA —  August 24, 2012 1:11pm ET

The price / quality ratio has always been a challenge for Long Island wineries. However, I recently enjoyed "The North Fork Project" melot and chardonnay which is produced by the winemaker at Pellegrini and Martin Scott Wines (a disributor). The wine is bottled in liter bottles and at $13 a bottle it is worth every penny. If you have not come across this yet, I highly recommend.
Ben Odonnell
New York, NY —  August 24, 2012 3:27pm ET
Thanks, Greg. And I will definitely be on the lookout for that, Jeff.

Sag Harbor, New York, USA —  August 25, 2012 11:49am ET
I would like to address those whose comments express a malicious and very passe prejudice against Long Island wines.
I have been a winemaker since 1982, working in Germany, California and Australia. I came to Long Island in 1992 and have been fortunate and proud to participate in the amazing growth of our region over 20 years.
If you want to see and experience one of the most amazing and serious wine events in the world and taste some of the best wines that can stand up to the top, then come to Harvest East End today! From 6 to 9, you can see that our region is very focused, serious and makes very special hand crafted wines with character.
I challenge you all-pretentious and serious, judges and bloggers alike to come and take a good look at all the fantastic wines we make.
And what is even more special about our region is that we know how to combine seriousness and fun!
Here is your challenge-if you want to keep writing negative statements and articles, call me and I can send you to every wine region in the world where you will find something bad to taste and write about!
But if you want to discover something new and exciting, come to Long Island and we will show you that we stand up to the best. I hope to meet you personally tonight!
Roman Roth

Roman Roth
Winemaker at Wolffer Estate,
The Grapes of Roth,
Roanoke Vineyard,
Chair of Harvest East End

Jeff Perez
Norwalk, Connecticut, USA —  August 26, 2012 5:15pm ET


I forgot to mention in my previous post that I recently enjoyed your Riesling at the Winemakers Studio and not only is it the finest Riesling I have tasted from Long Island, I feel it would stand up in a blind tasting with other examples from around the globe.

All the best......
Kc Tucker
Escondido, CA USA —  August 26, 2012 5:40pm ET
I'd love to try some wines from my birthplace. They never make it to California, and maybe the reason is the price to value ratio. If there are truly great wines being produced, they would find a champion to bring the wines to a world-wide audience. Same is true for Missouri, Virginia, Texas... and Temecula.

Jim Kern
The Holiday Wine Cellar
Escondido, CA
Thomas Matthews
New York City —  August 27, 2012 9:53am ET
I thank Roman Roth, one of Long Island's most successful, and most outspoken, vintners, for weighing in here. But Roman, I think your characterization of some comments on this blog as expressing a "malicious and very passe prejudice against Long Island wines" is a bit oversensitive. I heard the same defensiveness from other vintners at the very successful Harvest East End event over the weekend.

Some people feel Long Island still has work to do to make exceptional wines. Others feel the wines, good as they are, tend to be higher-priced than similar-quality wines from other regions. That is their opinion, based on their own experience, and they are entitled to their conclusions. (And it is not the judgement of this blog, which was more complimentary than critical of Long Island wines.)

When confronted by disagreement, the most productive response is not to dismiss contrary opinions as "malicious." A more helpful approach is to examine why others might disagree, and find ways to move forward.

Long Island vintners are moving forward in many ways, perhaps most notably by producing an extremely wide range of wines, from bold, structured reds to crisp, minerally whites, from elegant roses to rich sparkling wines. Does this create an "image problem"? In the sense that most major wine regions are identified with a leading wine type or grape (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Burgundy; Nebbiolo in Piedmont; Cabernet in Napa Valley), I'd say yes. But this diversity testifies to an admirable sense of adventure in Long Island, one that I believe will continue to drive improvements in quality, and an increase in interest, in this evolving region's best wines.
NEW YORK, NY —  August 27, 2012 11:34am ET
Like every other wine region and for that matter wine itself, the Long Island Wine Region is an "Ongoing Evolution". I believe, the region is just starting to reach it's full potential. There have been tremendous recent investments in modern wine making technology and there are more and more academically educated wine makers coming to the region who hold Bachelors and Masters degrees in Viticulture and Enology. These advancements are bringing a new revolution to Long Island winemaking.

It's no secret that grape growing on Long Island is a challenge to say the least and I know that the vintners are doing a tremendous job given the conditions!

Lastly, many Long Island vineyards are still maturing. Most varieties of grape vines are "typically" most productive from 10-30 years of it's life span and it is my opinion that "Better Wines Come From Aged Vines".

I personally look forward to seeing the region continue its strong growth and highly anticipate it to have much continued success.

Cheers to Long Island's Wine Industry...

Rob Rudko
Long Island Wine Academy
Kareem Massoud
North Fork of Long Island —  August 27, 2012 12:20pm ET

Thank you for taking the time to come and visit us at Paumanok in preparation for your piece. Not all prognosticators on Long Island wine make this basic effort.

One obvious point -- paradoxically made and not made -- in your article, is that wine writers from influential publications such as yourself and Wine Spectator can contribute, exacerbate and create "image problems" themselves. You didn't state this point in plain English, but your piece of writing in and of itself serves as such an example. As a writer, you know how much language matters. Please allow me to dissect some examples from your piece and show you what I mean.

Your title is a rhetorical question. Your first paragraph could hardly be more pejorative and clearly sets the tone for the rest of your article. Granted, your blog's title states that it is opinion and advice that you offer. But I for one -- call me naive -- expected an objective analysis. You use language such as, "talking about the thorny issue of Long Island wine, which also gets some punch-line treatment in the American wine world. I'd describe the skeptic spectrum as running from "underripe and overpriced" to "a bachelorette party with vines." How can anyone get anything other than a negative image of Long Island wines when they read commentary like that published in one of America's leading wine magazines?

There are more subtle slights as well, such as, "The East End endures a lengthy growing season..." If this quote was in reference to a more established wine district of greater renown and popular acceptance it likely would have read, "...enjoys a lengthy growing season..." as it should have read with regard to the East End. The fact that we may sometimes have challenging weather is what vintages are all about. I don't think winegrowers in Burgundy this year are lamenting the length of their growing season, but one can be sure they are lamenting the weather and global climate change, as do we and growers around the globe. In viticultural terms, a long-growing season is a boon, not something to "endure".

You say, "...few Long Island wines reach or exceed 90 points in Wine Spectator blind tastings..." The word "few" is a relative term. Long Island is a small, young wine region. Based simply on the small number of producers, it is improbable that there will be as many high-scoring wines from our region as elsewhere. Another writer may well have chosen "several" instead of "few."

Then, you continue with, "...high costs of land and labor, it is unfair to blame wineries for not turning down the easy sale, but this tars the whole region with the same unflattering brushstroke." Our prices are set the way most products in our economy are priced, based on supply and demand. Of course, producers will also gauge quality and price accordingly. How this "tars the whole region with the same unflattering brushstroke" is not at all clear. Are some of the wines from Long Island over-priced? I think so. Are some of the wines coming from Napa over-priced? I think so. Are some of the wines coming from Bordeaux over-priced? I think so. You get the idea...

My first quote, "I don't think it's a secret...that Long Island has an image problem." was taken out of context. It was made in the context of my commentary of which you only quoted what suited your premise. Likewise with my second quote, "That bottom tier, all New Yorkers have been exposed to it. There's a level of vetting". For anyone who is interested in a more accurate conveyance of our conversation I have pasted an excerpt from another interview (available in full here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brad-haskel/the-massoud-family-pauman_b_1120674.html ) below (note the nod to Wine Spectator's reviews) in which I stated the same thing:

"Long Island is not unlike any other wine district around the world. Every region can be viewed as a pyramid of quality. There are a handful of top producers making outstanding wines. There is a second tier of producers doing terrific work. The rest varies in quality. The difference with Long Island is that our wine district is located within the New York metro market. This is a double edged sword. On one hand it gives us great exposure, access and visibility to one of the world's most sophisticated wine markets. On the other, the entire spectrum of wines in the quality pyramid are shown to that audience. Wine lovers who seek out Long Island wines will find red, white, and rose wines, sparkling and dessert wines; that offer moderate alcohol, balance, and authenticity. These are delicious wines that should be enjoyed with the local gastronomy as they are in wine regions the world over.

continued below....
Kareem Massoud
North Fork of Long Island —  August 27, 2012 12:23pm ET
In blind tasting after blind tasting, Long Island wines continue to dispel the myth that they do not offer good value. There has been an image problem with Long Island wines attributable to the quality pyramid and our unique proximity to NYC as I previously described. Over time, this perception is dissolving as consumers are discovering that not only are Long Island wines capable of being excellent values, they may be the best choice for a given meal or celebration regardless of the wine's origin. This reality is not lost on wine critics either. Two of the industry's most important publications; Wine Advocate (Robert Parker) and Wine Spectator have both identified wines from Long Island as excellent values."

Disappointingly, you missed an opportunity to educate your readers on the rising quality of Long Island wines, you missed the whole story. The Long Island wine industry is making better wines and is more successful and viable than it ever has been in it's entire history. Evidence? You rightly drop the names of top chefs in NYC (Tom Colicchio and Daniel Boulud) who have featured our wines on tap. But I am surprised that you did not make greater mention of the success that Long Island wines currently enjoy in one of the worlds most competitive and sophisticated wine markets. NYC's top restaurants are pouring Long Island wines in significant volume. What does significant mean? Is it dozens, hundreds or thousands of cases a year? Wouldn't that be a great story in Wine Spectator? The fact is that at least one thousand cases of Long Island wine have been poured by the glass at top restaurants in NYC within the last 12 months. And one should question why these restaurants do it. Certainly it's not because of rave reviews of Long Island by Ben O'Donnell in Wine Spectator. And it certainly is not because the wines are unaffordable, as restaurants make their greatest profit margin on their by the glass program. It is because Long Island wines offer world class quality and value. As with any wine district, quality will vary from producer to producer. What else is new?

I expect that when people like yourself visit us they do so with an open mind and an open palate, not an agenda and biased, preconceived notions and old, stale, no-longer-valid criticisms. In most cases I am not disappointed. In this case, in spite of the fact that you did find room for some kind words, I was really disappointed. But, as they say, "If you've got haters, you know you're doing something right."

Kareem Massoud
Paumanok Vineyards
Ben Odonnell
New York, NY —  August 27, 2012 2:22pm ET

Thank you, likewise, for hosting me, showing me around the vineyard and winery, and sharing your thoughts frankly both then and here. It has been enlightening for me to hear reactions from both winemakers on the East End and drinkers who have had experience with the wines.

First, I agree that perceptions can be shaped by publications; I disagree that my assessment here is perpetuating negative ones.

To address a few of your points:

I am not Wine Spectator's reviewer of Long Island wines, but I am a wine writer interested in how winemaker philosophies and techniques, consumer opinions, tastes, markets, trends and perceptions intersect and evolve. It is not my job to evaluate or cheerlead wines on quality or blind tasting, but wine is not a vacuum in which the only thing that matters is what's in the glass, much as we might wish.

As you can see from the comments in this thread (and plenty of other venues for discussion elsewhere), there are consumers who remain skeptical about Long Island quality and prices in relation to their perception of that quality. This is the opinion I open with. I think I make it pretty clear early on that my premise is to investigate why this bias exists and what can be done about it. You acknowledge the existence of this perception yourself in your comment, the "myth" that L.I. wines do not offer value for their quality. Of course there is good value to be found in Long Island, but a myth only exists if people believe it. Because a critic points out some value wines does not automatically dispel this myth.

I don't really understand how you can say your comments were taken out of context. I wrote:

"That Long Island has a captive market for tourism and sales—and one with a New York locavore obsession bordering on food jingoism—cuts both ways, though. It enables L.I. wineries to cash out on indiscriminately harvested Chardonnays and limousine weekenders, but it also frees the real grape nerds to experiment with less popular varieties and techniques that extract the best of the region, without worrying too much about how to sell them.

To the former point, Massoud admitted, "That bottom tier, all New Yorkers have been exposed to it. There's a level of vetting" for quality in other regions that doesn't exist in Long Island."

In your Huffington Post interview, you say:

"The difference with Long Island is that our wine district is located within the New York metro market. This is a double edged sword. On one hand it gives us great exposure, access and visibility to one of the world's most sophisticated wine markets. On the other hand, the entire spectrum of wines in the quality pyramid are shown to that audience."

I don’t see space between the sentiments. All regions have wines of varying quality and price; Long Island's image on the whole is hurt because consumers in the tri-state area are not shielded from the bottom tier by the "vetting" process of importation, distribution and regional-level marketing. You and I even talked about how a bigger area of distribution and a better marketing effort might spotlight the top tier and elevate opinion of the region at large. You go on, in that interview, to describe the wines that are succeeding in the region, and why (acidity, balance, terroir fit). As I do in my post.

I think that to imply I'm a "hater" here, or that what I've written ultimately concludes in buttressing "old, stale, no-longer-valid criticisms" is a deeply pessimistic read of this post. Perhaps you consider the criticisms no long valid. But they persist. Don't you think it's worth asking why that is, how to shake them, and how some winemakers like you are indeed shaking them?

Finally, regarding NYC restaurateurs, you know as well as I do that there's a third factor beyond quality and price, which is the desire to showcase the best of what's local. If you have more detailed information or numbers on a year-over-year rise in L.I. wines poured on-premise here, that is indeed an item of interest, so please do email me in that case.

Ben O'Donnell
Wine Spectator
Bruce Stevens
New York —  August 27, 2012 2:51pm ET
When discussing Long Island wines, the first word that comes to mind is exciting. This is a relatively young region (the first vineyard was planted in 1973) and as a consequence this is an area in a continuous state of flux. As a result, whenever I go out east, I always discover something new and exciting. While new doesn't always translate to good. There are enough success stories that make me want to quickly plan a return visit to see what 's going on.

The second word that comes to mind is diversity. I can think of no wine region that has the depth of Long Island. Of course you can get Chardonnays and Merlots, but they also have Albarino from Palmer, Malbec from Shinn Estates, Lagrien & Blaufrankisch (Lemberger) from Channing Daughters, Chenin Blanc from Paumanok, Sparkling Syrah from Jamesport and Gruner Veltliner from One Woman.

And lastly, I think of quality. Long Island is making some really great wines, especially the blends. Dieci from Anthony Napa, Meditazione from Channing Daughters, Ben's Blend from McCall, Lowerre Family Estate from Peconic Bay, Aromatico from Palmer, Grandioso from Wolfer, Marco Tulio from Roanoke, Assemblage from Paumanok and the Merlot blends (100% Merlot, but from different wineries) from the Merlot Merlliance, just to name just a few.

And contrary to what many people think, there are many amzaing wines that are quite reasonable. Here are some great wines all priced under $20: 2011 Anomaly from Anthony Napa, 2010 Schuttlehole Chardonnay from Channing Daughters, 2007 Masseria Merlot from Scarola, East End Cabarnet Franc from Jamesport, and Dry Rose from Paumanok,

And while it's true that some the wineries have geared themselves to the spring break crowd, most of the winemakers and wineries are deadly serious about making Long Island a world class region. And as far as I'm concerned, they've already achieved that objective. As for Respect, that's something that will come in time.
Kareem Massoud
North Fork of Long Island —  August 27, 2012 5:03pm ET

In your comment above you state, "I disagree that my assessment here is perpetuating negative ones [perceptions]."

Most writers agree that regardless of what it is your writing -- whether it is a novel, an essay or a blog post -- your opening sentence is the most important. You lead off your piece with:

Author and journalist Ron Rosenbaum once called New Jersey "the second most maligned and unfashionable place to come from in America." The line appeared in an essay about Long Island.

How this can be construed by your readers to be anything other than negative...I am at a loss to understand.

The data you ask for in terms of how much Long Island wine is being poured in NYC restaurants I would gather in much the same fashion I assume professional wine journalists go about their work; by calling on winemakers, distributors, wine directors and sommeliers and surveying them to get a baseline number that can be accurately reported to their readers as fact.

By the way, thank you to Wine Spectator for providing such a forum for discussion.


Richard Lee
Napa —  August 28, 2012 1:30pm ET
Thanks for the article, I thought it was spot on! You were correct in stating underripe and over priced. If the truth hurts then theres not much you can do. I have made two four day trips to LI in the past 3 years and will not revisit again unless I want to picnic and enjoy the views. I will also bring my own wine. Riesling maybe there best example but Washington Rieslings are superior in taste and price. I appreciate the effort the LI wineries are making but they are in competition w/the rest of the world. If you are selling to the public then respect honest feedback.
Kareem Massoud
North Fork of Long Island —  August 29, 2012 1:47pm ET
As posted today by my father, Charles Massoud, on New York Cork Report:

Dear Tom,

It is good of you to respond and invite participation. The Wine Spectator, more than any publication, has done a lot to promote Long Island as a wine region starting with the Barrel Tastings of the 80s and 90s and continuing to this day. Yet it is difficult to understand why there seems to always be an uncertainty behind this welcome support.

At best Ben’s choice of words was unfortunate.

Also it is somewhat déjà vu, as it is an old stale story which has little relevance today. I do not know of any winery hoarding any wine out here. We are selling out of our wines faster than we can produce them. Unless writers like Ben think our consumers are clueless about wine, the proof of how good our wines are and how affordable they are is that we are selling them briskly.

There was the same long controversy on another blog in 2004/05 which ended up in a “shootout” documented by Jamie Kutch at this link on Cellartracker:

Following this Jamie went on to become the well know wine producer that he is today.
I invite you and Ben and anyone else to read it.

Furthermore I invite you to a rematch to do the same kind of double blind tasting with such a setting. You have always told us that you taste Long Island wines blind but there is the lingering perception that when you do so you only taste LI wines in that session. If that is the case then perhaps it would be useful to taste them against some of the wines that rate well in the WS.

Ratings of wine, being what they are, have become somewhat puzzling as a wine tasted by different tasters such as yourself or David Schildknecht from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, get ratings that are quite far apart, not to mention other tasters.

So to put a public and objective evaluation of Long Island wine I propose a Shootout following the format in the link above and would invite you and David Schilknecht and others as well as some who have posted here and on your blog, and let the chips fall where they may.

I hope you will take us up on this challenge.



Greg Flanagan
Bethel CT —  August 30, 2012 10:54pm ET
I think the truth hurts....RL is spot on.

LI makes nice white$......red$ improving, but not there yet on a large enough scale.

I would still highly recommend a visit, tasting, tour.....its fun! And educational......
New York, NY —  September 6, 2012 11:08pm ET
This was a fascinating blog posting and discussion, and I particularly enjoyed reading the comments by Kareem Massoud, which resonated for me.

Prejudice, as in "pre" "judging" is a powerful human trait.

Growing up in Perth, Western Australia in the 1970s I viewed local wine as an oddity- it was common to drink wine from South Australia or Victoria, but Western Australian wine was seen as "plonk." Fast forward a few decades and I was shocked by the wines of Cape Mentelle , and Leeuwin Estate.

This was around the time that I first tasted wine from Long Island, and as an ignorant consumer I assumed that spending $20 would guarantee me a decent bottle. Of course there are no guarantees in anything in wine, but I wrote off Long Island and I made no effort to repeat that experience.

A month ago I was planning a trip to the East End nd strolling through the local wine merchant. I happen to enjoy both Sancerre/Pouilly Fume, and NZ Sauvignon Blancs, though the Californian SB always struck me as overpriced. When I saw the Paumanok Sauvignon Blanc I figured that, as a loyal New Yorker, I should try it, but my expectations were modest. (That's the prejudice we've been talking about). I was delighted to find that I preferred it to the last five Sancerre that I'd tasted. I liked the acidity and long finish, and I thought that the wine more than matched its price point.

Now I don't have enough data or education to generalize from this, but I can say that I am excited to have another wine to add to my (brief) Go To list, and especially as it's my first domestic wine.

Thank you Ben for starting the discussion, and thank you Kareem for making such an enjoyable sauvignon blanc and marketing it at a fair price. I look forward to trying the Paumanok reds and dessert wines.
Valerie Rodriguez
new york —  September 7, 2012 3:00pm ET
for those questioning the LI reds, have you ever tried Roman's Grapes of Roth Merlot? I am a massive fan of that and the Reisling he produces. Great juice and Great Job Roman!!!!!
William Goetz
Mountainside, NJ —  September 9, 2012 11:41pm ET
This was a great blog. I have read this string from top to bottom several times. I think that it’s safe to say that there’s a lot going on here.
In many respects, I have to say that I see the point of just about everyone who has contributed to this dialogue. But I think that in many respects a “composite” most realistically captures the situation.
Since 2009, I have visited the Long Island wine country on 3 occasions for 2-day trips. I have to confess that there isn’t a single negative LI stereotype I’ve read in this string that I can’t agree with. I have tasted a lot of mediocre wines. I have tasted a lot of good wines for which the asking price was way too much, and for someone who seriously wants to taste wine, the ambience at many, if not most, of the wineries on weekends is something akin to “bad frat house” and quite a turn-off. I have walked out of a few LI wineries, leaving my tasting fee on the tasting bar although I’d gotten no more than halfway through the tasting.
Nonetheless, for the last 8 years running, I have spent a week in Napa and Sonoma, and have to confess that I’ve tasted a fair amount of mediocre wines, and a lot of good wines for which the asking price was way too much. Admittedly, I have yet to experience the “frat house” ambience (that characterizes a lot of LI wineries) in Napa and Sonoma.
But there is a big difference between going to Napa and Sonoma, and going to Long Island. California produces approximately 90% of all US produced wines. So, for every solid producer anywhere else in this country, there are at least 9 in California. When we go to California, I have an itinerary that does not include anything but solid producers…not merely because we don’t want to visit wineries that are merely middling, but, more importantly, because the choices are so vast that we don’t have to.
That is not true of a visit to Long Island. If you are there to taste, to fill a couple of days, you are almost forced to go to places you probably don’t want to go as well as to places you know you want to go. While there are more wineries all the time, there are still only a limited number of places you can visit. So you take a shot on some wineries, and hope to be pleasantly surprised. The good thing is that sometimes you are.
From a geographical perspective, driving the North Fork Wine Trail is like driving from the northern edge of the city of Napa to the northern edge of St. Helena on Highway 29. I do not have to begin to tell you the wineries you could visit in that stretch of highway. So…it’s not the same thing. LI is a very small viticultural area, with, in the end, has a very limited number of wineries.
But that, of course, is not what we are talking about here, and I am not an apologist for any shortcomings of LI wine producers. It simply points to a dilution factor that someone “cruising” LI vineyards should consider as part of the experience. It can certainly skew your overall view of what is going on around you on Long Island.
I can certainly understand the vehemence with which Kareem and Roman disagree with a fair amount of what is in the original blog and the subsequent dialog. When people ask me where to stop when they are going to taste on Long Island, two of my three “musts” are Paumanok and Wolffer, and basically for their reds which everyone acknowledges are difficult out there, and at which, I think, both wineries consistently excel, and often at very reasonable prices.
Certainly, that is just my opinion. If you accept my opinion that their wines are a cut above the rest of Long Island’s, that, in a sense, make their objections personal rather than a commentary on the region in general.
But, it is difficult to dismiss their objections as solely personal. According to the US Dept of Commerce, NY produced more wine grape tonnage in 2010 than every state other than California and Washington – which means that NY produces more grape tonnage for wine than Oregon. In fact, in 2010 NY produced 59,305 tons of wine grapes, while Oregon only produced 31,200 tons. In other words, Oregon only produced 53% of the wine grape tonnage NY produced (NY actually produced 172,000 tons of grapes in 2010).
Nonetheless, on the WS website, if you click on Wine Ratings/Vintage Charts, you can get Oregon vintage reviews back to 1990, but there are no vintage charts at all for New York. I am not suggesting that NY wines have warranted the same scrutiny as Oregon’s going back to 1990. But NY produces a lot of wine, and everyone seems to acknowledge it’s getting a lot better, especially the whites. And even if one wants to say that more of the better wine (whites) is coming out of the Finger Lakes rather than Long Island, the lack of vintage rating for any area of NY suggests that WS does not yet see them as serious enough, and from that perspective, the NY vintners’ objections would seem to hold a fair amount of water.
Ken Danheiser
Sarasota, Florida —  January 6, 2017 3:06pm ET
I still have family on L.I. We first toured the wineries about 15 years ago. I enjoyed the North Shore as it was a friendly family easy vacation.
Two years ago it was nowhere near the same. It catered to high end New Yorker's. I understand the cost of running a business. has changed. I just miss the places where they remembered you and treated customers as family.

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