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.