Even though I am originally from the Niagara region and spent most of my adult life in Miami, I really feel as if I came of age while living close to my friends in New York City. Long Island Wine Country will always have a place in my memory as the most influential wine experience I've had so far. Last week I reconnected and dug deeper into that connection when I attended the Stony Brook Cool Climate/Maritime Wines in a Global Context Symposium in Southampton, NY.
The two day conference featured nine speakers from across the globe who talked about cool climate viticulture and winemaking challenges and methods. When I first received the list of speakers it was the very first one from Friuli, Italy that piqued my interest. In my eternal search for interesting cabernet francs and cool climate merlots I had stumbled upon the wines of Alessio Dorigo and found them to be uniquely delicious.
That morning of day one of the conference, even before I got my pass, I ran into Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours to which I am a contributor. If you walk into a room of Long Island wine industry players, Lenn is the one guy you can count on to know the majority of people in the room and before I knew it I felt at home amongst the crowd. We sat down in the auditorium and I was immediately struck by the intimacy of the setting. Using every other row of the theater style seating gave the pourers access to us and just as Alessio Dorigo kicked off the event, the first wine was poured. Dorigo's 2001 Montscaplade reminded me of why was looking forward to his wines. This blend of Bordeaux grapes was fruit forward and perfectly balanced with subtle spice and a long finish. It was easily the best wine I've ever drank before 10 AM.
Gunter Küntsler of the Rheingau, Germany followed with two elegant mineral packed rieslings. His thoughtful and meticulous presentation just reinforced my perception that German winemakers are all about precision and dedication to their craft and style. Self-proclaimed Deadhead Thomas Laszlo of Heron Hill Winery on Kueka Lake took the discussion in the total opposite direction as his humor-filled presentation concentrated on his winemaking style in the Finger Lakes. While he was laid back in demeanor, he was very opinionated and didn't hesitate to tackle controversial topics in viticulture and what is needed to make world class riesling. His 2005 Ingle Vineyard Reserve Riesling was amazing as it didn't follow any of the fruit driven, hugely aromatic rieslings of his region.
Albariño was the next topic, presented by Katia Alvarez, winemaker for Martin Códax of the Rías Baixas region of Spain. Since her presentation was extremely technical and her accent a bit strong, I didn't initially get as much from her presentation as those that came before it, but it may have also been mental fatigue from my liquid breakfast. Both albariño wines poured were pleasant and reinforced my appreciation for that grape and its refreshing acidity.
The last presentation of the day was a roundtable with each winemaker moderated by Paul Grieco, owner of Terroir (a wine bar in the city) and a bunch of culinary ventures. Terroir was indeed the focus of the discussion and how it relates to minerality was often referenced. When asked what advice these winemakers may have their L.I. counterparts, most of them said that they should limit the amount of leaf plucking in the fruiting zone of the trellis systems. Ironically enough during the last conference some 20 years ago, it was the Bordeaux winemakers who offered advice that they should have been plucking more. Thomas Laszlo again added some fuel to the organic debate as he said he wasn't a believer, especially when the acceptable practice of spraying copper turns vines blue. While I do understand his view, he sure does put it bluntly and unapologetically. A few more wines were poured including a Refosco, a native grape to Friuli from Dorigo that I couldn't get enough of. Surprise, surprise... right? Next up: the grand tasting. That's fodder for my next post. Stay tuned!