Recent weeks have brought many glad tidings for the Long Island wine region, and that's good news for the entire North Fork — for our local economy, our quality of life, and even for our property-tax bills.
First, the May issue of Wine Spectator featured the region in its very complimentary cover story.
Last month, New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov turned his attention to Long Island wines in his column "The Pour." In his column titled "On Long Island, a Case for Respect," Mr. Asimov had very good things indeed to say about local vintages.
Now, the influential Wine Advocate newsletter has reviewed Long Island wines in its current issue. And the news is all good. Long Island wineries, particularly Jamesport Vineyards and Paumanok Vineyards right here in little old Riverhead, got very high marks. (See story, page 20.)
The Wine Advocate reviewer said he will revisit the region to sample the 2005 vintage — the product of a growing season thought to be the best ever here on Long Island. Continued coverage of the region by The Wine Advocate, which mentioned Long Island wines only once before, seven years ago, can only mean one thing: The Long Island wine region has arrived. As Kareem Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue noted, there will probably be two eras in the Long Island wine industry: the time before the Wine Advocate reviews in 2006 and the time after.
Why should you care — even if you don't drink wine? Long Island wineries are central players — if not the central players — in our evolving North Fork economy.
The success of Long Island as a wine region has a direct bearing on our quality of life on the North Fork. Look around. Those acres and acres planted in grapes, stretching out before you as far as the eye can see in some places? Envision acres and acres of single-family homes dotting the landscape, because were it not for the success of our fledgling wine region, that's probably what you'd be looking at. And you'd be paying for the costs associated with that kind of development — more kids in schools, cars on the roads, and a greater demand for police and emergency services.
Many moons ago, as a Riverhead town councilwoman considering zoning initiatives aimed at preserving farmland, I was told (repeatedly) by Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela: "The best way to preserve farmland is to preserve farming." He was, obviously, correct. We grappled with that concept and with each other. Farm Bureau asked government to get and stay out of the way — something vineyard owners I'm sure would agree with today, 20 years later.
While we were arguing these points in Town Hall, people like the Hargraves (Hargrave Vineyards in Cutchogue, Long Island's first), Massouds (Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue) and Goerlers (Jamesport Vineyards) were planting grapes, tending their vines and experimenting. As a result of their efforts, the idea of a Long Island wine region took root — and grew. People in government are still debating how best to preserve farmland, but the vineyard owners — they've done it.
The way of life we enjoy on the North Fork — its rural character and beauty — is directly dependent on the continued growth, development and success of the Long Island wine region. This is not to minimize the importance of other agricultural pursuits in these parts, of course. But a dominant feature of the agricultural and economic landscape on the North Fork is the vineyard.
If you appreciate the North Fork as it is, you have, in my opinion, an obligation to support the Long Island wine region. What does that mean?
First and foremost, if you drink wine, drink Long Island wine. There's a local wine — a really good local wine, as Mr. Asimov pointed out in his column last week — for every taste and purpose. You may be able to pick up a cheaper bottle of wine imported from France or California, but then you're shipping your dollars out of town, instead of supporting your local economy and your own quality of life. If a local wine costs $5 more, think of it as a direct investment in local farmland preservation. I'd rather pay a little more for a bottle of fine local wine to preserve local farmland than pay higher property taxes for the services required by all the houses that'll be built where the vineyards once were. Wouldn't you?
Ask for Long Island wine in restaurants, especially local restaurants, but ask for them wherever you go. Patronize local restaurants that have Long Island wines on their wine lists — and let the restaurant staff know you appreciate their local wine list and dine there, in part, because of it.
Visit the wineries, and take your visiting friends and family on a tour. I did this last summer for the first time in a very long time and it was a great deal of fun. Visiting wineries is also educational, and to really appreciate wine and the region we're living in, it's essential to learn something about them.
And don't be intimidated. I still can't quite pick up all the subtle flavors that wine experts detect in a glass of wine. But that's never detracted from my enjoyment.
Pick up a free copy of The Long Island Wine Press, the official guide to Long Island Wine Country published by Times/Review. In it you'll find a comprehensive guide to all the vineyards in our wine region, with a full-color map and articles that will help you get the most out of visiting the vineyards and enjoying local wines. We publish Wine Press — as a joint venture with the Long Island Wine Council — because we recognize the importance of our emerging wine region to everyone who calls this beautiful corner of the world home.
Ms. Civiletti invites you to join a discussion of this topic at civiletti.blogspot.com. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.