Just under I year ago I trekked to the western reaches of the North Fork wine region of Long Island, N.Y. I visited a few wineries on a spit of land between Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay, an area no wider than the geography between the Humber and Don Rivers of Toronto. Tasting sessions at Clovis Point and Palmer Vineyards opened my eyes to the exceptional wines that can be forged from such a rugged landscape and demanding climate.
I returned in 2013 to seek out wines made further east, in Greenport and in Southold. The former, Kontokosta Winery, is a brand new facility just opened in June, 2013 and the latter, Sparkling Pointe, a specialist of Champagne-style fizz. The common thread is winemaker Gilles Martin and a sharp view of the future for the region’s grapes. The wines of New York’s North Fork are piercing, intuitive and kind. They speak of the stark terrain, the abrupt and spontaneous terroirand the eleemosynary earth.
825 North Road – Rte. 25, Greenport, New York 11944
Brothers Michael and Constantine Kontokosta are the owners of Greenport Long Island’s newest and most easterly winery, alone in Greenport and one of few LEED gold certified wineries in North America. Situated on sixty-two acres, the winery boasts over a quarter-mile of Long Island Sound waterfront. The winery’s sustainable elements include reclaimed wood siding, 90% recycled-content steel, an enormous wind turbine feeding the property energy, xeriscape method landscaping and an organic community garden that support local non-profits.
Beginning with the 2012 vintage, the winemaker is Gilles Martin who is rapidly gaining a reputation as North Fork’s go to consultant. The first vines at Kontokosta Winery were planted in 2002 under the guidance of the late Long Island wine pioneer Ray Blum. Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling produce 3,000 cases annually, with some bottlings currently on offer having been fashioned from fruit sourced further west, mainly near Peconic Bay. Eric Fry of Lenz Winery made the wines prior to 2012.
I tasted the wines on Canada Day, July 1st, a mere 18 days after the winery’s opening. Despite such a brief time period of public interaction, Miles Trautman ushered me through with precision and passion. Though I was certainly no John Rambo to his cool, calm and collected colonel, I did my best to gain a true picture of the brother’s philosophy to “combine the latest technological innovations with centuries-old traditions in the cellar to develop and ensure the best expression of the unique Long Island vineyard site.” And by the way, the First Blood reference is real. Trautman is related to the uncle who was the writer’s inspiration for the fictional Richard Crenna chatacter.
Anemometer White NV ($16) combines Sauvignon Blanc from two vintages. The goal here is Loire so for parochial intents and purposes it succeeds. The fruit does yeoman’s works through the albedo of white grapefruit and a citric acid shell. Refreshing and acceptably tart. 86
Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($25) is both ahead of the curve and a harbinger for white vinifera North Fork expectations resulting out of the warm 2012 growing season. Blessed by the luck of an early bud break and wisely picked ahead of Sandy’s torrent. Intimates the tropical flavours of pollarded, fruit trees but also races with vitesse. 89
Orient Chardonnay 2009 ($17) makes use of non-estate purchased fruit from out of the Sargon Vineyard bathed in neutral French oak to achieve an opinionated Chablis termagant in green apple and chèvre. Tongue-tying and teasing metallic but rolls out no stones. 89
Rosé 2011 ($15) is uniquely 100 per cent Merlot and though its girth is diluted by the rains of Irene, the herbiage, strawberry and rhubarb more than make up for the lack of concentration. Made in a decidedly French, dry style. Works the vin de pays grape with ease. 87
Viognier 2010 ($25) excels beyond expectation from one of only two local vineyards extolling the virtues of Condrieu. A touch of tiger balm but certainly not OTT, warm cashew buttery, viscous and radiant. Terrific sense of balance at 13.8 percent out of the maritime vineyards of the North Fork. 91
Anemometer Red 2006 ($19) is 100 per cent untrodden Syrah having already laid down long enough to now give of itself. An angel of red raspberry, rhubarb, plum and loose tannin marked by lit charcoal. All told it brings Greek reds to mind, like Agiortiko. “Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere.” Cool Syrah from young vines living beyond its golden years. 89
Merlot ‘Blum’ 2007 ($19) from the late grower’s Ackerly Pond Vineyards achieves toothsome mouthfeel from solid brix and 13.3 per cent Peconic Bay fruit at the hands of the local Long Island AVA pioneer. Here French oak imparts generous vanilla and spice and an ever so slight coat. Sinewy stickum from unresolved tannin settles and fleshes out while in the glass. Ends with a pretty, floral and feminine note. Just now beginning to fade, like the sun over the sound. 89
Merlot Estate 2007 ($29) elevates to 13.9 per cent in estate fruit, seemingly more masculine than the Blum. Richer, fuller in body mass, increased in concentrate. Akin, if I may, to IGT Merlot, not quite Masseto but Super Tuscan (in hopes and dreams) nonetheless. Struts in increasedstrada tension, acidity and tannin. Less agreeability, more ageability. 90
Cabernet Franc 2007 ($29) remains dark and mysterious under the canopy though light creeps in on the edge of the forest. Spiralling cedars, bough smoke and vanilla from new oak have mellowed into a soft, approachable and aromatic cool climate Cab Franc. A red and black commingling of never too ripe fruit lingers on. 88
Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($22) achieves definitive varietal ripeness from what should be a harsh host environment. Soft red berries, an ebullience of ease and suave felt ready this warm vintage red for immediate and only immediate pleasure. Hard to coax much better out of the sand and grass. 88
39750 County Road 48 Southold, NY 11971
The winery can be found along Long Island’s North Fork Wine Trail and is the sole producer in New York State dedicated to the exclusive production of Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Wines. Fully estate grown seen 2007, don’t be fooled by the Brazilian carnival kitsch surrounding the tasting room. These bubbles are refined and serious. Sure, I will admit that Roederer Estate, Schramsberg and Domaine Chandon make some terrific wines in the California sun but Sparkling Pointe speaks volumes towards yet another cool-climate region’s reason to make bubbles. If you lead them, they will follow. Look for more fizz on the North Fork in the coming years.
Champagne fans and founders Cynthia and Tom Rosicki manage 29 acres of vineyard, planted with the traditional Champagne grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Their winemaker is North Fork’s super winemaking human Gilles Martin. Tasting room manager Kelsey Cheslock led me through a portfolio of six sparklers, half of which turned my head full round.
Brut 2009 ($29) goes long on tradition with 59 percent Chardonnay, 31 Pinot Noir and five Pinot Meunier, then bucks the trend by adding five per cent reserve wine into the mix. A fine mousse dissipates in haste from a bottle that had been opened longer than a while. Readied by oak influence with green apple flavour and tropical fruit from the added juice reserves. Despite the heavy rains of the vintage a citrus acidity carries on and the wine is remarkable dry. 88
Blanc de Blancs 2008 ($42) is 100 per cent Chardonnay noticeable in bread, biscuit and yeast. Four years spent on its fine yeast lees leads the toast to a bigger note than the plum fruit but a magnum of grapefruit and its pith are even stronger. Large in breadth and long on depth. Handsome B de B with a hairy chest. Selleckian. 90
Topaz Imperial 2010 ($37) is a dry, rosy Rosé composed of a 55/41 per cent Chardonnay and Pinot mix. Two and a half years spent sur lie here results in more toast, less tart and a vivid display of North Fork salinity. Watermelon, strawberry cream and a savoury note show the finesse, structure and balance of a wholesome, inviting and unintimidating natural wine. Sadly, there were none for sale. 91
Brut Seduction 2003 ($60) is a 51/49 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir mix and most clearly demonstrates the house style. Nuts, yeast bolts and an organoleptic finesse find their way inside this enigmatic fizz. A mature cuveé that would be interesting to taste blind against other house-blend Bruts, like Veuve or Bollinger. 92
Blancs de Noirs 2008 ($75) makes use of the year’s Pinot excess, is the first and only vintage of this Pinot man, with Meunier leading Noir 54 to 46. A copper patina, like a certain style of dry Rosé, shows off the contact with the red skins. Not quite as seductive like the 10 year-old Brut but this one is full frontal fruit with an accent of savoury, smoked meat, slow-roasting over shimmering red coals. 92
Cuveé Cardinal NV ($27) is a rare Merlot (66) and Chardonnay (34) blend, a one-off as the vines are now gone, replaced by Pinots. Flirty and forward with all kinds of fruit. Strawberry and rhubarb from the tangy Merlot, mango and apricot from the soft Chardonnay. Pushes sparkling boundaries, with a bowie knife in hand, in dramatic make-up and alternative dress. “You’ve got your mother in a whirl. She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl,” this rebel rebel. 87
Good to go!