If you are visiting Long Island and find yourself grooving to bossa nova while sipping a glass of bubbly, you must be at Sparkling Pointe. This elegant winery is done in the style of a French country manor with Rio de Janeiro as its theme. The tasting hall, with its cool white walls, vaulted ceilings and crystal chandeliers, features paintings of samba dancers and a panorama of Guanabara Bay. Gilles Martin, Sparkling Pointe’s winemaker and master oenologist, explained that owners Tom and Cynthia Rosicki wanted to combine their passion for Champagne with their love of Brazil. The couple founded the winery and brought on French-born Martin as winemaker in 2003. Martin was a natural choice. He made wine all over the world, including Germany, Australia and California, before settling in Long Island. “We have to be proud of our New World heritage,” Martin said, pouring one of several Méthode Champenoise sparklers for a group of tasters. The wines were at once stunning and refined. Regarding a 2008 Blanc de Noir, a blend of pinot meunier and pinot noir, Martin commented, “It is like a ghost. There is an intensity of presence.” Like Martin himself, these are sparklers with true aplomb. Knowing that these wines are not distributed in Massachusetts prompted us to purchase several bottles on the spot before moving on to our next destination.
Richard Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Bedell Cellars, is serious about sustainability. So serious, in fact, that he and a group of other wine producers founded, in the spring, Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing,
a nonprofit organization to certify local vineyards that practice sustainable viticulture. Developed with the Cornell Cooperative Extension,
LISW builds on VineBalance, New York State’s sustainable viticulture program. While North Fork wine producers have long farmed with the eco-system in mind – minimizing soil erosion and fertilizers that can run off into creeks and bays, increasingly utilizing wind and solar power – the certification process, which will use an independent third-party to evaluate vineyard practices, will take environmental stewardship to the next level. Certification programs are not new. Oregon and California both have similar programs. The LISW program is special in that its guidelines have been developed in place and over time in Long Island’s moist maritime climate. The new guidelines, for example, establish which fungicides can be used to tame mildew. Recommendations include trimming leafy vine canopies to increase air circulation around the grapes to reduce reliance on chemicals. Several producers have signed on to the program; others are assessing whether they can comply with all of the guidelines. It is a work-in-progress that is worth watching.
When we catch up with him, Olsen-Harbich has just come from a LISW meeting. We meet him on the sunny patio deck of Bedell Cellars overlooking a vista of green vines. Once again, maritime breezes remind us to anchor our picnic plates and napkins. As Olsen-Harbich pours a selection of viognier, gewürztraminer and a not-yet-released blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon, he talks about how he prefers manipulation in the vineyard – vine leaf removal, hedging and use of cover crops – rather than manipulation in the winery. Each sip tastes free of the chemical bag of tricks used by lesser producers that alter the sense of terroir. These wines, like many others tasted on this trip, project self-assurance and a sense of place. “As a wine region,” Olsen-Harbich said, “we’ve gotten confident in our own skin.”
Select Tasting Notes of North Fork Wines
Sherwood House Vineyards Merlot 2005 A beautiful merlot with savory aromas of age – fennel, cocoa and violets among them. Ripe plum and blackberry notes, velvety tannins and a touch of pepper on the finish. Around $30. Available at the winery.
Peconic Bay Winery Lowerre Family Estate - La Barrique Chardonnay 2010 This barrel-fermented chardonnay handles oak with a deft touch. Aromas of baked pear and freshly-popped popcorn lead to silky weight in the mouth. About $36. Available at the winery.
T’Jara Merlot 2007 This plush merlot offers ripe plum, cigar box and black olive aromas on the nose. Food-friendly with a palate of ripe fruit, baking spice and toast. Around $35. Available at The Winemaker Studio by Anthony Nappa Wines in Peconic, N.Y.
Sparkling Pointe Blanc de Blancs 2006 This sparkler offers fine streams of bubbles that convey floral and biscuit aromas.
Juicy apple and pear notes fill the mouth along with a creamy texture from time on the lees. Fresh and elegant. Around $42. Available at the winery.
Corey Creek Vineyards Gewürztraminer 2011 This Bedell Cellars-owned label offers aromas of rose petals and a minerally-peachy palate full of bright acidity. Around $18. Distributed in Massachusetts by Carolina Wine & Spirits.