This Week @ Roanoke Vineyards
Big Events at Roanoke!
On Saturday night, February 11th, Roanoke was thrilled to have a repeat visit from one of the wine industry's big names, George Taber. George was at Roanoke last August for a book signing, and to moderate our Winemakers' Smackdown. This time, George discussed his new book, A Toast to Bargain Wines, and conducted a tasting with 22 devoted Roanoke fans. Never mind George was in Vero Beach, and the rest of us were on the North Fork.
Technology allowed us to have a live conversation with George (he appeared on a 48" monitor in the Tasting House, via Skype), and technology, George argues, should allow winemakers from around the world to create good wines at reasonable prices.
The tasting began with a series of "Wednesday Wines." These included a Freixenet sparkler, a Santa Rita Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, and an Argentinian Cab Sauvignon, the 2009 Trapiche. All of these wines were . . . just fine, although none really exhibited remarkable varietal characteristics, or had memorable style. They all shared one attribute: the price. Ranging from $5.99 to $11.00, these are wines that certainly would enhance a slice of pizza, or a late night pasta. None of these were wines that you might "think about." What did get me thinking were the compromises involved in creating a $5.99 wine that arrives in New York from a far away place.
While researching wines for our Winemakers' Smackdowns, and in advance of selecting one of the Bronco Wine Company wines as a counterpoint to a roster of 92-plus point wines, stories of compromises began to surface. In 1993 Bronco pleaded no contest to charges that it misrepresented the grapes that were in several of its wines, and quietly paid a 2.5 million dollar fine. In 2008 a pregnant vineyard worker collasped and died while working in some of the 35,000 acres of vines that Bronco owns. The workers were allowed one five minute water break in 95 degree heat, however the nearest water was ten minutes away.
If you think about the math surrounding a $8. Sauvigon Blanc from, for example, New Zealand, it's easy to see the differences between artisanal wines and these Wednesday wines. We pay about a dollar per label, bottles are more than that, there's a capsule , and a high quality cork. A producer that does 500,000 cases will get a better rate on their bottles and labels, but they're also going to have to pay to ship something heavy halfway across the world. These mega-producers also spend large amounts on advertising, which although this keeps magazines afloat, takes away from the money they can put into the wine. Don't expect new French oak, or any oak barrels for that matter. Think: oak chips in a giant stainless tank. Romance? No. Does it take skill to produce these wines that attempt a consistant taste from vintage to vintage? Absolutely. Incredible skill, and some serious science. The question is whether that's the thing you're looking for in a wine, and if you're willing to abandon artistry and ethics for the sake of your wallet.
George Taber told a story of a trip he made to China while doing reseach for the new book. The Chinese wine region's climate is not condusive to growing Vinifera grapes, but that doesn't stop them. After the harvest each year, the vines are covered with six feet of earth to protect them from the harsh winter. In the spring, the same workers will remove the dirt before bud break. While George suggested this practice employs many Chinese in the wine industry, the image of an outdoor ice rink in Key West comes to mind.
This discussion with George and the audience led to a tasting of Roanoke wines, and there was much talk about whether Merlot or Cabernet Franc should be crowned "The Grape of Long Island." As George sipped the newly released 2007 Roanoke Vineyards Sound Avenue Merlot, he spoke about the great wines of the Right Bank, which are all Merlot-focused. "The 2007 is a great example of what Long Island Merlot can be; it's beautiful." That said, George immediately launched into his love of Cab Franc, and especially the 2007 Roanoke Blend 2, which he planned to serve dinner guests after the tasting. The crowd in the room couldn't agree more, but there were also many who said the Roanoke Cab Sauvignon was at the same level as those found in Pauillac. High praise. Roanoke's owner, Rich Pisacano, took the opportunity to cite the vineyard's western-most location as they key to fully ripening Cabernet Sauvignon . . . then he opened the 2007 Blend One to applause from everyone in the room, and one taster in Vero Beach.
It's the end of the year, and here at Roanoke we're looking back at 2011, as well as getting extremely excited about 2012. At this point, I can't tell you too much about the future, but you'll read about it in Sunday's New York Times. What I can tell you is that it involves some big changes for Roanoke, and these will be things everyone will get excited about.
If you're not already a member of the Roanoke Vineyards Wine Club, you'll want to think about it for 2012. Our club has grown, and we anticipate that even our big events like the Winemakers' Smackdown in 2012 will be limited to club members only. Our cult wines, like the 2009 Gabby's Cabernet Franc, the '09 Prime Number, Sonnet, and the 2007 Sound Avenue Merlot were produced in very limited quantities, and most of the production will be reserved for the wine club. Membership in the wine club is easy, and there's no secret handshake (at least not yet, Gabby has an "idea" . . . ). You can join the club by calling us at 631.727.4161, or just by stopping in. Complete details are on the website, but if you have any questions you can zip us an email at email@example.com
This year we held our first March Madness Smackdown Tournament, which was won by Andrew Rockwell. Winning secured Andrew a seat with the pros in the April Smackdown at Jedediah Hawkins. The summer Smackdown saw noted wine writer George Taber as our guest moderator. We also held a booksigning for George, and the line to get books signed wrapped around the library and out the tasting room door! A couple hours later, a hastily assembled audience team had beaten two teams of industry professionals at their own game (unless the game was singing, and in that case Louisa Hargrave, Mike Cinque, and Chris Tracy clearly won). We hosted a four vineyard rosé tasting in July, a Riesling tasting in the spring, Chardonnay tasting in the winter, and held a "Cab Franc" weekend in October. Visiting winemakers included Russell Hearn, Miguel Martin, Roman Roth, Kelly Urbanik, Les Howard, Kareem Massoud, Louisa Hargrave, Chris Tracy, and Jason Jardine from Flowers in Sonoma, who appeared by technical magic. The '08 Gabby's Cab Franc came and left the same weekend (it's a lovely wine, hope you have some), and we released The Wild!, our wild ferment Chardonnay.
In 2012 people will be wild about Bond, a new red wine from Roanoke that will shake the very foundation of the Long Island wine community. There will also be much talk about Sonnet, our top secret barrel fermented Chardonnay. But the earthshaking news will remain a mystery for now. I mean, until you read about it in The Times.
This week at Roanoke Vineyards we have just opened our new Wine Library. Here you'll find 75 wines by the bottle, dating back to 1994, and featuring not only the archives of Roanoke, but also The Grapes of Roth, Wölffer Estate, and selected micro producers from the region. In the Library you can enjoy several of our unreleased wines, including The Wild! and the 2009 Marco Tulio. We also offer a menu of selected cheeses, breads, and even a vegan and gluten-free offering.
The Wine Library at Roanoke Vineyards is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon until six PM.
Photo courtesy Louisa Hargrave/Vinglorious
Our third Winemakers' Smackdown on April 2nd was the best ever! We had a great panel, and a winning wine list (no Two Buck Chucks, no box wines!); seven outstanding wines. The venue for this event was the event space at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn, a very large, post and beam barn, which held our 125 person crowd nicely. Chef Keith Luce designed a lovely bento box, with seven tapas-like items to be paired with each wine. If you thought a little bit about Chef Luce's design, you had an insight into the possible origin of the various wines. Most of the audience was happy to sit back and let the panel worry about the details.
The panel this time consisted of Louisa Hargrave, Paumanok winemaker Kareem Massoud, Les Howard from Raphael, Kelly Urbanik from Macari Vineyards, Tracy Ellen Kamens from Grand Cru Classes, and our March Madness Smackdown Tournament winner, and lab tech at the Premium Wine Group, Mr. Andrew Rockwell. As the bell rang, Louisa came out swinging, insisting the event stop while she recited a poem written for the occasion (North Fork Poet Laureate, Roman Roth, was absent from the proceedings, as he was training for the next Smackdown in the Australian Outback). Following the literary enlightenment, the first wine was poured; a 2006 vintage Gruet sparkler from New Mexico. It was a curve ball. A beautiful wine, elegant and complex. Some said it was a Champagne, others suggested California, and a couple left the door open for former Smackdowner Eric Fry's 1996 Lenz sparkling.
From there we moved to a totally organic 2009 Müller-Catoir Riesling, which was crisp and pristine; a thing of beauty. Then, on to a wine whose story was emblazoned on the front page of The New York Times; the 2009 Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay. Kareem Massoud nailed this wine, suggesting the winemaker's shift from overpowering fat wines to wines with more grace and finesse was not complete. The $80 a bottle wine is unfiltered and unfined, and unlike some other big California unfiltered Chards, like those from Paul Hobbs and Helen Turley, this wine was cloudy and thick.
Moving into the reds, the 2008 Penner-Ash Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was simply stellar. The buzz surrounding winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash is absolutely deserved. A 1997 Rioja Alta 904 followed, and was quite a visual contrast with its umber tone. The fruit was still there, and in fact it was deserving of all 94 points issued by Parker.
Coming in at 93 Parker points was the 2008 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Esprit de Beaucastel, which received high praise from every panelist. Kareem Massoud suggested the wine was a 2008 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. Right wine, wrong continent, but nonetheless, a pretty amazing guess. Like their French partners, Tablas Creek is entirely organic, with 120 acres of vines that originated at Chateau Beaucastel.
The finale was a 1994 Clos du Mont-Olivet Chateauneuf du Pape that leaned heavily on Grenache. In this 60 acre vineyard the vines average 60 years old, and while yield is reduced by the older vines, the concentration is intense. This wine was almost like a fine sherry, and a very interesting contrast to the much younger California Rhone Ranger that preceeded it.
Our August 13th Winemakers' Smackdown will feature another great wine list, and author George Taber will be the evening's emcee. If you love learning about fine wines, be sure not to miss that event!
Photo credit: Henry Powderly, for North Fork Patch
This week at Roanoke we held our March Madness Smackdown Tournament! Sixteen serious wine enthusiasts went head-to-head for a seat with the pros on the April 2nd Smackdown panel. Competitors tried to identify wines from all over the world in four rounds. In the end, Andrew Rockwell took the title, with Randi Schneider placing second. What was especially exciting was that there were several instances of the "amateurs" hitting the wine exactly; varietal, origin, and vintage!
Don't risk missing the April 2nd Smackdown! Call the Tasting Room for reservations, and to order your Keith Luce designed Bento box, featuring seven tapas items, designed to pair with each wine ($24. additional). The Smackdown hotline is 631.727.4161
Study Declares Blind Tasting Extends Lifespan
New York, February 16.
In a study cited by the Long Island Merlot Alliance, two NYU researchers have found blind tasting wines not only extends the average lifespan, but also creates a sense of well-being, and improves one's sex life. Bruno Fassbinder and Warner S. Herzog, two NYU film students, extensively studied the lives of eight winemakers who have participated in the Roanoke Vineyards Winemakers' Smackdowns. Fassbinder and Herzog's findings concluded that the eight winemakers had lower blood pressure, high self esteem, and outstanding cardiovascular performance. "We equate the participation in the Smackdowns to karaoke, and the need to demonstrate personal skills. Winemakers seldom see the light of day, working, quite literally, in a cellar, and this opportunity for social interaction appears to be an extremely positive experience", said Herzog. He went on to say "Our study also suggests that any wine enthusiast will experience these same results when given the opportunity to participate in a blind tasting event." Fassbinder and Herzog's study will be published in the April 1, 2011 issue of the Winemaker's Journal, and is posted on Fassbinder's facebook page.
Last week I had to run into the City, and because the weather was iffy at best, I decided to take the 5:20 AM Jitney out of Southampton. At this time of day, Starbucks isn't even open, so being up and about is not for the faint of heart. As I'm waiting for the bus to arrive, I saw three black cars arrive in the parking lot at about the same time. Two of the drivers emerged slowly from their cars, one with a take-out cup of coffee, and a newspaper, the other I recognized as winemaker Roman Roth. Roman was clad in his trademarked leopard skin Snuggie, sporting a terrycloth headband, and a silver whistle around his neck. He looked serious. Roman and the other guy walked into the gym that shares the space with the Jitney terminal.
Out of the third car jumped Roanoke Wine Club member Bernard Brophy. Bernard cut a sharp figure at 5 AM. He looked fit, clad in black spandex, carrying a gym bag and a case of Riedel stemware into the gym. As the lights went on inside, I saw Roanoke's Wine Librarian, Adam Ehmer, lining up a series of unmarked wine bottles on a rowing machine. With an ear shattering whistle, Roman ordered Bernard to do 65 push-ups, which he quickly did as Adam began filling the Riedels with the various wines. As the wine had a chance to breathe, Bernard launched into endless sit-ups and crunches. With each crunch he shouted the name of a particular wine region of the world. "Pauillac! (moan) St. Estephe! (groan) Pomerol! (gasping) St. Julien!". Adam fumbled with a white board marker as he drew what may have been a map of the Medoc, and a list of things I couldn't read through the frosted window. Not winded at all, Bernard sprung to his feet, and ran in place for a minute, before he grabbed the first glass.
"All right Bernaaaaaard" said Roman with a musical lylt, "Look at the wine before you even smell it. Judge the color characteristics. Is it more umber than magenta? Is it transparent or opaque? Is it purple or just a deep red?" Bernard had some trouble adjusting his glasses, as the elastic strap holding them on may have altered their position on his face after the crunches. "I . . . I think it's more purple, and it smells . . . well, I'm getting a lot of R.A." "Good, Bernard!" Roman shouted, "What does that suggest?!" "I . . . I . . . I dunno, Zinfandel?" "Yes!! But from where?" said Roman. "Ahhhhh, I . . . I . . . dunno, there's a lot of plum . . . and . . . prune going on, lots of prune . . . Paso Robles?" "Yessssssssssssssss!" said Roman with a quick fist pump.
Adam grabbed Bernard's arm, and was taking his blood pressure as Roman made notes on a clip board. "You can't stop sleeeeeping in the oxygen tent if you expect to win, Bernard! Otherwise we're going to need to move the training site to Aspen. We are willing to keep training you, but we expect a high level of performance from you, Bernaaard." As Roman spoke, the hem of the Snuggie swung with Roman's arms, dusting the adjacent treadmill, once getting caught in the gears; mesmerizing at 5 AM.
To my amazement, Bernard ran through seven wines and nailed each one. As he shouted out the varietal, Roman would demand the vintage and origin. Adam quickly moved glasses in front of Bernard. "That's a, a Cab! Yes, Russian River! Ah, um, um . . . 2006! This one is a, ohmygod, ah, ah, grassy, greenish, ah, ah, a little cat box thing, wait! It's a Sauvignon Blanc! Yesss! New Zealand! I dunnno, I dunno, 2009! This is a Montrachet! Premier Cru, yes, oh god, it's older, 2002! Yesss! OK, OK, this is a whole cluster pressed Chardonnay! I wanna say Mendocino, above the fog, high altitude . . . 2007! HowamIdoin'?" "Good Bernard, just keep it goin. Next!"
At this point my bus had pulled up, and although it was hard to turn away, I was freezing. On my last glance into the gym I saw Bernard jumping rope. Roman was holding a stopwatch, and Adam was selling lime green latex wrist bands to other people in the gym. Each band was embossed with the phrase "Bernard the Smackdown King".
Your training for the March 19th Smackdown tournament doesn't have to be so intense. Adam will be offering his Smackdown training class again in the Roanoke Tasting Room on Saturday, February 12th. No reservations required. The informal classes will be given on the hour, beginning at 1 PM. Remember, the winner of the March Madness Smackdown Tournament gets a seat on the panel with the pros for our April 2nd Smackdown!
Our next Collector's Club event, a barrel tasting of our 2009 wines, is long sold out, however on the weekend of February 12th and 13th we'll be doing walk-in vertical tastings of four Blend One vintages! You'll get four tasting glasses of four sequential vintages of the wine, and be able to compare them side-by-side. Complete tech and tasting notes will also be available. On Sunday the 13th, our Master of the Cheese Universe, Michael Cavaniola, will be back at RV creating romantic cheese platters on-the-fly. Michael has one cheese he swears is an aphrodisiac, and if you pair that with a vertical tasting of Blend One, it's certainly going to enhance your weekend.
Serious tasters at the Chardonnay tasting, January 22nd.
Chardonnay in snow!
Club member Jim Meineke donated an incredible 2002 Montrachet for the tasting! Thanks Jim!