The fundamentals involved in the ancient art of winemaking haven’t changed a great deal throughout the centuries, but one of the most exciting developments in recent years is the rapidly growing area of organic wine. Since grapes are among the most pesticide-laden produce, it is no wonder we are reaching more often for organic wines to fill our glasses. There is a global movement to promote ‘green’ practices in all walks of life, including the use of sustainable methods in agriculture; in the raising of farm animals, produce or viticulture. Long Island’s wineries have been using these methods for years and continue to make strides in their organic farming practices.
Framed by sandy beaches, bustling fishing villages and rolling farmland, Long Island wine country is unlike any other region in America. The North and South Forks of the island, collectively known as the East End, extend into the Atlantic Ocean like a two-prong fork. Just a two-hour drive from Manhattan, the area is a unique fusion of metropolitan influences and a core of deep-rooted, agricultural tradition. Family-owned farms, artisanal food producers and small-production winemakers share the wealth of the region’s land, sea and vines.
Macari Vineyards, located on the North Fork in Mattituck, is owned and operated by the Macari Family. What were once potato fields has been transformed into a 200-acre vine garden with additional fields of compost and fallow farmland. The biodiversity of the Macari family farm provides an extraordinary grape growing environment that yields some of the finest fruit on the East Coast. At the helm of the winery is Alexandra Macari, “We believe in bio-dynamics because it promotes biodiversity on our farm. We have four children that work with us on the vineyard and in our cellars. The organic approach to farming was the only option for us. We didn’t want our children exposed to harmful pesticides or chemicals” she explains.
As part of the vineyard’s biodynamic farming methods, Macari has a herd of 25 longhorn cattle who provide manure and a horn additive to the soil. “The biodynamic approach to farming has helped us create a very diverse ecosystem where grapevines can thrive” says Alexandra. The Macari family is proud to showcase a collection of world-class wines from the emerging North Fork region. “We are well known for our red blends. Bergen Road is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot. We have been sold out of this wine for several years as we only make it in the best vintages,” reports Alexandra.
Sequestered on the South Fork of Long Island, where vineyards are less abundant, is the bucolic Wölffer Estate Vineyard. Located in Sagaponack, this 55-acre winery has recently succeeded in meeting all 200 requirements of the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers (LISW) program and obtained its certification for sustainable winegrowing. LISW provides education and certification for Long Island vineyards in terms of sustainable practices – the first such program in the eastern United States. Roman Roth, winemaker/partner and Richard Pisacano, vineyard manager are the team that together produces some of the best Long Island wines. “Since the first vines were planted here, we have had a close eye on organic approaches to farming” Richard explains. “We have carefully implemented many effective organic practices that we’ve learned can be included in our sustainable program. The results of this shift have been remarkably successful and rewarding.”
Whatever approach one takes in farming, it is filled with fierce challenges. Timing of decision making is critical to any agricultural success. “There is a belief that organic farming somehow leads you to become one with nature in a harmonious way. This can’t be further from the truth” says Richard. “Nature, as we know, is so often not kind to herself so being in a protective posture at all times is the first line of defense in ensuring a healthy crop.” Along with its wide range of varietal wines, Roman has his favorites – the Christian Wolffer Cuvee 2010 Merlot. “This is our flagship Red wine from our oldest Merlot plantings. It is a perfect expression of our terroir, with its moderating ocean breeze and the special Bridgehampton Loam,” describes Roman. “The Perle Chardonnay 2010 is fermented and aged for 7.5 month in French barrels with wonderful structure, minerality and great longevity.”
Though only just created and compiled last year, many of LISW’s guidelines are not new concepts. Practices for maintaining healthy vineyards, while producing quality fruit, have constantly been developed throughout Long Island’s 40-year history. Still, the rapid growth of this program provides a glimpse into the future of Long Island winemaking.