The climate on the North Fork of Long Island has dubbed “marginal” for growing grapes by several wine books that I’ve read. This is largely due to hurricanes (which Hugh Johnson calls “frequent” and I hope that’s not true). But sometimes what makes it ‘marginal’ is simply the rain. Lots of rain. Like this year- it rained practically the entire month of June and the month of October has been pretty rainy as well. Which has made it a troublesome time for most wineries here.
Although most white grapes have been harvested and some winemakers even call the quality good (we’ll see in a year or so if that’s really true) there are lots of red grapes that are still on the vines. “We might be harvesting our 2009 crop in 2010,” Eric Fry of Lenz Winery said.
That would certainly be a labeling challenge – even if it is a climatic impossibility. Or would it be hyphenated vintage (2009-2010 Cabernet) Would the federal government allow it? That’s one of the fanciful notions I’m entertaining as I’m waiting for Eric to call to say when they might start harvesting and I can return to the winery to help out.
In the meantime, I attended a gathering of local women last night that was a combination of a social get-together and a political rally for a local (female) candidate whose life resume was so long that I dozed off in the middle of all her many accomplishments.
I do remember hearing that she worked for Harry Chapin, though it had to do with solving world hunger and not singing. (Does anyone remember “Cat’s in the Cradle”?) Her name was Jeri Woodhouse and she sounded like a pretty remarkable woman. I’ll look her up now that I’ve got some time and it’s (still) raining out.
There aren’t many wine writers in the world with the breadth and depth of knowledge, not to mention the sheer page volume, of Hugh Johnson. The seventy year-old Englishman has authored wine encyclopedias, pocket guides, atlases and even (several) gardening books too. And there are multiple printings of just about everything that Johnson has written- most often numbering in double digits. For example, the 2010 Hugh Johnson wine pocket guide is the 33rd edition of its kind. It’s a great little book, even if it does include a few oversights as to Long Island wine-which I’ll get to a bit later.
I’ve been a big fan of Hugh Johnson for ages- he’s one of the first wine writers I read. So when the two of us sat down to dinner together (with a couple other wine writers as well) last Friday night in Manhattan, I was a bit star struck. And when Hugh, who was sitting next to me, suggested that he and I “put our eyes together” to look at the wine list, I was whelmed, nearly overwhelmed. So much so that I knocked my glass of Champagne over in the direction of Hugh -who jumped. “It was empty,” I said to him reassuringly.
Hugh still looked a bit nervous but we resumed reading the list. Then someone jostled the table- sending my water glass tumbling towards Hugh. This time, alas, the glass was quite full. “You’re very dangerous,” said Hugh, patting himself dry with the sixth of seven napkins. I wanted to cry- instead, we drank (yet) more wine. Hugh ordered the 2001 Pontet Canet. Hugh liked 2001 Bordeaux, he said. The 2001 Bordeaux are drinking well now, according to Hugh. Or as he put it, “It’s a fresh vintage-not a thick vintage.”
I told Hugh I had just moved to the North Fork and therefore was interested in his comments on the wines of Long Island that I’d found in his latest pocket guide. Hugh called it “an exciting wine region and a hothouse of experimentation.” That sounded pretty good to me- especially compared to what Hugh had to say about Argentina- not to mention the EU.
But how did Hugh decide what Long Island wineries to mention? He features some and not others in his book- for example, I thought he should have given Channing Daughters in a seperate entry as they are making some truly exciting wines (www.channingdaughters.com) Had Hugh visited Long Island recently? He had not, in fact, he hadn’t visited since “those first winemakers had a few promising vintages” about thirtysome years ago. Did he mean the Hargraves? He did. “Delightful people,” Hugh recalled. We went back to talking about Bordeaux and I kept my glass upright through the rest of the meal.
I rode my bike to the post office late yesterday morning. I’d waited around for a while, hoping to hear from my neighbor Paula Croteau but the phone didn’t ring. Paula and her husband Michael, a gifted label designer (among other things) make rosé wines aka “rose´ on purpose” at their vineyard just down the street from me. Paula also runs a wildly-popular cooking school out of her yellow farmhouse (www.croteaux.com) Paula had said she might be going over to taste the juice from their just-harvested grapes that morning and invited me to come along. (Their wines are made by Richard Olsen Harbich at Raphael Vineyards in Peconic (www.raphaelwine.com) But by eleven o’clock, when I hadn’t heard from her, I’d figured maybe she’d changed her mind so I got on my bike.
A number of people as well as my car insurance company, had told me that they had mailed letters to me that had come back marked “undeliverable.” How could that be? I’d changed my address many, many weeks back and filled out the required Change of Address form. What was happening to my mail? “Did you fill out a request for rural delivery form when you got here?” the man at the post office asked when I described the scenario. I’d never heard of such a thing. I had to make a formal request to receive my mail? He nodded and handed me the form. “Now you should get some mail,” he said reassuringly.
On my way home, I nearly rode past Paula, who was pedaling a cream-colored bike in the opposite direction. “I stopped by your house but you were gone,” she said. She’d taught two cooking classes the day before- one during the day and one at night- and was too tired to go to Raphael. But we’d do something together, she assured me. And, unlike in New York, when people assure one another they intend to get together- “have lunch/have dinner/grab a drink/catch up ” – without the slightest intention of ever allowing this to happen- I knew, that on the North Fork, this was actually true. Paula rode east and I turned back west, knowing that we’d would see one another again soon.
A North Fork beach (photo by Bruce Jaffe)
This is the beach at the end of my street- and where I run to (and from) every morning… though this morning’s run was bit more hurried than usual. I’m going back to Lenz Winery (www.lenzwine.com) to do some cellar-rat work. I’d called Eric Fry, Lenz’s much-respected and occasionally much-feared winemaker (Eric is extremely opinonated and his politics are reputedly far to the Left). I’d told him that in all my years of wine journalism, I’d never done anything practical in terms of wine – or in terms of winemaking and I wanted to do something worthwhile. Eric obliged and gave me a job cleaning hoses and dumping crates of stems into pile in a field. I can’t wait for more.
I also managed to spend a couple hours volunteering at the local historical society- a group that deserves its own, separate blog entry when I have a bit more time. I did manage to ask Liz, one of the ladies I met (almost all of the volunteers are ladies of a certain age) if she knew about the farm with the “Dream” sign. Liz did not but she felt certain another one of the ladies might. But the lady in question wasn’t there that day. Liz, in the meantime, didn’t seem the least bit surprised that someone would post such a thing on his barn. “This place is heaven,” she said to me in a matter-of-fact tone.