My recent Taste Camp East experience was my second trip to the wineries of Long Island. In September 2008, I visited three Long Island wineries, all of which I revisited during Taste Camp. Plus, I have previously tasted other Long Island wines, from a variety of wineries, most notably at the 2008 Boston Wine Expo. At Taste Camp, I got to try dozens of different Long Island wines from numerous different wineries.
So, based on these experiences, what are my general thoughts about Long Island wines and their wine industry?
First, the best news is that Long Island wineries are producing some excellent wines, both reds and whites, including at least a few very impressive wines. Though they are a relatively new wine region, they have come very far in the less than forty years they have been in existence. The region also contains a nice diversity of wineries, wine makers, philosophies and styles. It is definitely an area that deserves exploration by wine lovers.
Second, many of the wineries are tending more toward a French outlook rather than a California one. Though they may want to create a unique Long Island style, it is definitely more Old World than New. Alcohol contents are rarely above 14%, and often are closer to 12-13%. Part of this is probably due to the nature of the climate and soil of the Long Island region. It is not an easy area to grow grapes, and the growers must work very hard. Yet there is much passion to be found in the people who own and work in the vineyards and wineries.
Third, many wineries on Long Island are embracing Merlot as their signature grape. Merlot seems to be one of the easiest grapes to grow there, even during bad years. I tasted both good and bad Merlot, like you would find any place. I know a few of the Taste Camp attendees think Cabernet Franc, rather than Merlot, should be the signature grape of the region. I don't agree though, much because I see Merlot as a more consumer friendly grape, making wines that would appeal to a much broader consumer base. Cabernet Franc is a more divisive grape, with people either loving it or not.
I am not generally a fan of Cabernet Franc, but I actually found several Long Island wines that I enjoyed. That was a very pleasant surprise. The wineries are making some exciting white wines as well, from grapes like Chenin Blanc and Gewurtztraminer. I would like to see more wineries using such grapes, as well as experimenting with others. As the region is still new, who knows what other grapes might actually prosper in this area. Rather than put so many hopes in Merlot, why not give some other grapes a chance?
Fourth, as for pricing, you can find some good value wines in Long Island but I feel there is a significant number of their higher priced wines that are just not worth the price. And that is feeling I had even before Taste Camp, based on my previous tastings of their wines. My feelings were echoed by a number of other Taste Camp attendees. Yes, many of the wines are low production but that alone does not justify a higher price.
I think the high pricing might make their wines less competitive on the open market, especially if the wineries ever want to expand to a more national market. Though maybe some of the wineries don't want to do that. Yet the wineries we visited did seem to want recognition beyond Long Island. They treated all of us bloggers very well, often showcasing the best of what they had to offer. They freely answered our questions and made us feel very welcome.
Over the course of the next week or so, I will go into more details about the wineries I visited, the wines I tasted, and some of the food I enjoyed. Taste Camp was an excellent experience and I recommend that all my readers visit the Long Island wine region.