Tag Archive | "Christopher Tracy"

Great Grapes! East End Vineyards Have Another Banner Year

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Grape harvesting at Wolffer Estate Vinyards on Tuesday, 10/13/14

Grape harvesting at Wölffer Estate Vineyard on Tuesday, October 14. Photo by Michael Heller. 

By Mara Certic

East End oenophiles were elated last year when the 2013 Long Island grape harvest was lauded as the best ever vintage. According to local winemakers, celebrations are in order again, as 2014 is proving to be another banner year for South Fork vineyards.

“The harvest is coming along fabulous,” said Roman Roth, the winemaker at Wölffer Estate Vineyard, in a phone interview on Monday morning.

Mr. Roth became the vineyard’s first winemaker in 1992. Beforehand, he worked in the industry in Germany, California and Australia before settling in Sag Harbor.

“2012 was an amazing vintage, ’13 was the best vintage in history—Long Island history—and then now ’14 is looking very close. We had a couple of rains, but it’s still a great, great vintage,” he said.

“We had three great years in a row. That’s really spectacular,” Mr. Roth added. The year 2011 was difficult, he said, but 2010 had been great as well. “Out of the last five years we had four banner years,” he said.

Christopher Tracy, winemaker at Bridgehampton’s Channing Daughters Winery, also praised the quality of the harvest thus far. “It’s been awesome, it’s been fantastic, it’s been a great growing season,” he said on Wednesday morning.

Both winemakers attribute the seemingly excellent crop to the dry, warm growing season, which according to Mr. Tracy, was “perfect” up until the rain that hit on September 30. Nevertheless, “the quality’s been fantastic and the quantity has been great as well,” he said.

Mr. Tracy was not prepared to qualify the best vintages of the past decade, and said he is “hesitant” to discuss the actual wine until it is ready for consumption. He added “there really aren’t bad vintages anymore.” He attributed this to the advance of viniculture and improvements in vineyards.

“There are warmer and dryer vintages that promote different styles of wine,” he said, but there are very few definitively bad vintages these days.

This vintage is being lauded, he said, because “it’s just easy.”

“It’s an easy harvest and pick,” Mr. Tracy said. “There’s no mess, there’s no rot, it just makes life quite easy in terms of the harvest.”

So far, Mr. Roth said the grapes have not been affected by any diseases or disease-pressure but will make “healthy, great tasting wine.”

East End vineyards typically begin their harvests in mid-September, when they start picking the grapes for the lightest white wines.

“The grapes for the lighter, crisper, fresher, more elegant wines are picked first,” Mr. Roth explained. On September 15, grape pickers at Wölffer began picking pinot noir grapes for sparkling wines and the other crisper white wines. “The hallmark of Long Island wines, and Wölffer wines, is to make 11.5 to 12 volume percent,” Mr. Roth said. “Now these elegant wines, with a little bit of acidity, are very fashionable and that’s what our region can produce.”

As of this week, Mr. Roth estimated Wölffer had completed approximately 60 percent of the harvest and the vineyard is now harvesting grapes for its chardonnay and their heavier white wines. The busy pickers at Wölffer have picked all of the grapes for the rosé, which debuted this summer and, according to Mr. Roth, was a “major hit.” “Rosé will be back,” he said.

Mr. Roth added this year’s aromatic whites are all in and described them as “very fruity, very clean, very pure.”

The harvest at Channing Daughters began on September 11 and has been “pretty much nonstop since then,” Mr. Tracy said. As of Tuesday, October 14, the harvesters at Channing Daughters had picked 217 tons of grapes. Mr. Tracy said they look to finish at approximately 260 tons.

At Channing Daughters, the first grapes to be picked are for the light Muscat and pinot grigio.  The last white to be picked, Mr. Tracy said, is their ribolla gialla. The grape-picking season typically comes to a close with the harvest for the cabernet sauvignon, which typically takes place either in late October or early November.

Mr. Roth said there have been some years the harvest went on as late as November 7. He explained as long as there is a good canopy late into the year, the richest red wines will remain elegant and “won’t become cough syrup,” he said.

“The only thing we’re praying for now is that we get to keep sunshine and there’s no more rain,” Mr. Roth said. He explained he looks for extra concentration and dehydration for his red wines, in order to have a higher skin-to-juice ratio he said.

“You know when you have a berry, there’s so much skin and so much juice and when there’s dehydration the ratio changes.  Then there’s more skin and less juice which gets you more color, more flavor, more tannins, more of everything,” Mr. Roth said. “And so now we just hope for a little bit of an Indian summer,” he said.

“For the reds we need two weeks of sunshine, and that’ll do it,” he added.

As Long Island vineyards continue to gain repute in the eyes of wine drinkers worldwide, Mr. Roth said the bar continues to be set higher and higher.

“You just can’t make bad wine anymore, not that I ever made bad wine, but certainly the pressure is there, which is good. It makes you focus; you fight on all fronts. You make sure everything is clean and you work harder,” he said.

After the huge success of Wölffer’s rosé this summer, Mr. Roth said the winery is slated to make “a little brother or a sister of that,” which will be a white blend that will debut in the spring.

Mr. Tracy wouldn’t divulge the specifics of any upcoming projects but said a couple of new projects will launch in the spring. “There’s always something new and exciting happening here,” he said.

Local Winemakers to Share that Delicious Creativity

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Event photo courtesy of Parrish Art Museum.

Event photo courtesy of Parrish Art Museum.

By Tessa Raebeck

Coming off one of the best vintage years Long Island wine has ever seen, three of the region’s leading winemakers will share what inspires them – and allow others to taste that inspiration.

On Friday, the Parrish Art Museum presents “How Do You Bottle Creativity?” a winetasting and interactive conversation with Barbara Shinn, owner/viticulturist at Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck, Kareem Massoud, winemaker at Paumanok Vineyards in Jamesport, and Christopher Tracy, winemaker/partner at Channing Daughters in Bridgehampton.

Long Island’s moderate maritime climate, long growing season, concentration of small growers and proximity to the giant wine market of New York City have enabled the farmers in pursuit of their primary goal: making delicious wine. Long overlooked by connoisseurs and locals alike, Long Island wine is proving itself in tasting tests and on restaurant menus; three of the last four years have seen exceptional vintages across the island.

“It was really a beautiful year and we’re seeing that right now in the barrel,” said Ms. Shinn of the 2013 vintage, which many local winemakers heralded as the best they’ve seen.

“I think the adjective ‘epic’ really applies here,” agreed Mr. Massoud. “It was a truly epic vintage here, it was amazing. I already bottled six wines from 2013 and they’re all delicious. They’re all some of the best we’ve made.”

“Both the science and the hedonistic sides line up in a region like ours to allow for great diversity of varieties and styles of wine, which is somewhat unusual in North America,” explained Mr. Tracy.

Mr. Tracy came to Channing Daughters from a family “that drank wine and food and traveled and exposed me to those things,” and eventually purchased a California vineyard. Having attended school for performing arts and philosophy, he changed direction after exploring the Long Island wine region in the mid-‘90s, returning to wine via “life’s crazy circuitous route.”

A background in art and philosophy may not seem relevant to winemaking, but Mr. Tracy’s love for creativity and appreciation of beauty have enhanced his craft.

“The two things are deliciousness and reflection of our place,” he said of his priorities. “It’s important that we make things that are delicious that people want to drink and enjoy and excite them and their senses. And that it reflects the climate, terra, the place, the culture where we’re growing our grapes and making wine.”

“If we can provide that something that’s actually delicious and actually tells the story of the little piece of land where we exist and where we grow grapes and make wine, that’s pretty awesome,” he added.

The island’s first second generation winemaker, Mr. Massoud learned the trade from his parents, Ursula and Charles, who founded Paumanok Vineyards in 1983 and still own and operate it today. Named after the Native American name for Long Island, Paumanok Vineyards is “very much a family affair,” Mr. Massoud said, with his brothers Nabeel and Salim also working at the vineyard.

“My orientation as a winemaker, in terms of what inspires me, is not unlike what a chef probably experiences in a restaurant – and that is to just produce the most delicious wine that I can, it’s pretty much that simple,” he said. “It’s always about making the best wine and what does that mean? It means the most delicious.”

His inspiration also stems from the excitement of being a winemaker on Long Island these days, when recognition is rising for the region’s wines.

“Honestly, the quality of the wines in many cases has been there for quite some time already, but more and more people, I think, are beginning to sort of catch on to the reality that world-class wines are being made right in their backyard,” he said.

“We fancy ourselves artists as winemakers,” he added. “We basically have, on Long Island, a very broad palette of colors to choose from…It’s a lot of fun to be able to do all these different varieties and different styles and pair them with the local produce that the East End is so rich with.”

Having earned a master’s degree in fine art, Ms. Shinn also views her craft as an extension of her art, farming using holistic practices and keeping the farm “in tune with the subtleness of nature.”

“When David [Page] and I moved to New York City,” she said of her partner and co-owner at Shinn Estate Vineyards, “I was beginning to question making art and hanging it on a wall. When we brought this land and were deciding to plant a vineyard, I was so inspired by these 20 acres of land that had not been planted in vines yet. And the moment the first vine went into the ground, I was so inspired and this huge creative rush has just stayed with me ever since.”

“Quite frankly,” she added, “my art is now off the wall…it’s in the vineyard and it’s in every bottle of wine that we produce. It’s just incredibly inspiring to me.”

Hosted by the Parrish Business Circle and co-presented with Edible East End and Long Island Wine Council, “How Do You Bottle Creativity?” is Friday, March 21 at 6 p.m. at the Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. $20 for members and $25 for non-members, tickets include a one-year subscription to the Edible title of your choice. Space is limited. To make reservations, call 283-2118 or visit parrishart.org.