By Claire Walla
Napa Valley, Bordeax, Champagne, Tuscany… If you suddenly find yourself salivating over the prospect of sipping a fine wine, it’s no surprise—these place names are most famous for their grapes.
Long Island doesn’t exactly have the same connotations.
At least not yet.
“This year is shaping up to be one of the most fantastic vintages Long Island has ever seen,” said Roman Roth, a winemaker on the East End who is technical director of Wölffer Estates Vineyard in Sagaponack. “It’s a fantastic setting to be launching a festival.”
Roth is the driving force behind Harvest: Wine Auction & Celebration of Long Island’s East End, happening September 24 to 25. The two-day event, which spans the eastern tip of Long Island, will offer 17 programs on all things viticulture: history, myth, tasting technique and even vocabulary.
Overall, the fest will showcase 28 local vineyards, with participation from 22 different restaurants.
While the area has seen wine-specific events in the past, this is the first celebration of this scope. Roth said he’s hoping Harvest will become an event as large as the Napa Wine Auction, for which attendees fly-in from around the world.
According to Roth, one of the main reasons Long Island has failed to generate this sort of buzz in the wine world is because Long Island wines have an unconventional taste. “We’re going against the grain,” he said of the region. “Our wines are less alcoholic than wines made in hotter climates.” The ocean breeze and relative lack of sunshine make Long Island wines more acidic than those from popular hot-climate regions, like California, Argentina and Australia. But, Roth continued, this is actually a good thing.
For the same reason you will squeeze lime onto a piece of fish, the mild balance of natural acidity is what makes Long Island wine go so well with food.
To celebrate this fine marriage, the event will kick-off on Friday with a 10-Mile Dinner.
Similar to popular food trends like the slow food movement and locavorism, which seem to be cropping up with more regularity in neighborhoods across the nation, the idea behind 10-Mile is simple: 10 local wineries team-up with a local chef to create a dinner for 10 guests that pairs several different wines with a dish made from food grown within a 10-mile radius of the dinner table. (Throwing off the symmetry of 10, one dinner, which will take place in Manhattan, was added after the fact, making the final dinner tally 11.)
Wölffer Estate is collaborating with C/O The Maidstone head chef James Carpenter, who will cook meals to complement a variety of Wölffer Estate wines to be served at a residence in Sagaponack. Roth and Carpenter collaborated on the menu, going back and forth a few times before settling on “the perfect dish for the perfect wine.”
“You always have a dream when you create a new wine,” Roth said, adding that he had always imagined the label’s sparkling rosé, Noblesse Oblige, for example, to be sipped with caviar. “When James paired it with Swedish caviar it was a dream come true!”
At $350 each, tickets have already sold-out, but there are still tickets available for Saturday’s grand tasting ($125) and the Gala Dinner & Live Auction ($275), as well as the various programs that are a part of the Wine Salon ($25).
David Loewenberg, who owns three local restaurants, including Beacon Restaurant in Sag Harbor, will host a wine and food event as part of the Salon at his restaurant with local winemaker Chris Tracy of Channing Daughters Vineyard in Bridgehampton. “We’re going to show how a wine’s flavor can really open up your food,” he said. For example: “How a crisp, high acidity Sauvignon Blanc will take the briny taste of an oyster and bring it to a fantastic level; and how that same wine when paired with a piece of smoked salmon will sit on top of the food and not really clear itself.”
Proceeds from the event will go to The Peconic Land Trust and East End Hospice.
Roth not only has high hopes for the festival this year, he expects it to flourish over the years to come. Thanks to financial backing from such organizations as the Long Island Wine Council, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation and the Long Island Merlot Alliance—LIMA Executive Director Donnell Brown is the director of Harvest fest—the festival already has a foundation for the years to come.
“We still have mountains to climb, but we want people to know that this region is not going away and it’s not limping around,” Roth concluded. “New Yorkers can be proud of what goes on in Long Island.”