Meet Your Winemaker: Long Island Wines

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The following is a collection of articles I pitched & published to The Independent Newspaper in May of 2018.  Read more about #EverythingEastEnd here

ANTHONY NAPPA: RAPHAEL WINERY

Long Island Wine Country’s North Fork is a magical, six-mile viticultural area. Unlike several famed wine regions throughout the world, the aquatic surroundings of the North Fork moderate climate control for grape growth. The Long Island Wine Council credits a loamy topsoil, well-drained sub-soil, sole-sourced aquifer access, and a cretaceous bedrock sub-water table.
Raphael winery, located in Peconic, continues a centuries-old tradition of winemaking in the Petrocelli family. Raphael’s winemaker, Anthony Nappa, proudly, and passionately, cares for the grapes that then turn into the flavorful varietals indicative of what makes this winery so distinct.

The vineyard is unique due to the 60 acres of vines planted on one contiguous land, making it more convenient to manage and allowing for additional observation of the grapes. Its proximity to the bay with a prevailing easterly wind aids in ripening the grapes, hang time, and retaining the acidity as the flavors develop. The sandy soil is well drained, but still contains the most loam and clay anywhere on Long Island, Nappa told The Independent.

“This combination of unique micro-climate and growing conditions makes this place one of the most premier cool-climate places to make wine in the world,” Nappa explained. Since the winery is on a single level, he strives to create wine with minimal manipulation and no additives.

The process begins by harvesting the grapes, then fermenting them, turning the sugar into alcohol. From there, the white varieties are sterile filtered, meaning “heat and cold stabilized before bottling,” he noted. A bottle can be ready the next spring after harvest season or barrel aged. Red wines are aged in a barrel or tank for approximately 18 to 20 months, with reserve reds aging an additional year or two, while being bottled unfiltered.

Artistic creativity is essential to Nappa’s job, similar to a chef in a kitchen. “Making wine, there is a seasonal flow to the job and maybe the most important aspect of the job is farming. The work in the winery is very much a factory job, processing fruit into wine,” said Nappa.

Originally from Massachusetts, Nappa studied botany at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst before obtaining a degree in Fruit and Vegetable Agriculture from the university’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture. From there, he traveled across the globe to New Zealand, where he trained in winemaking at Lincoln University in Christchurch, receiving dual degrees in Viticulture (the cultivation of grapevines) and Oenology (the study of winemaking).

“After leaving New Zealand, I moved to Italy and eventually back to Massachusetts, before moving to California. I came to the North Fork in 2007 when I saw an ad for a wine making position,” Nappa detailed. “I was interested in living on the east coast. After checking out east coast wines over time, I could see the most interesting place on the east coast to make wine is the North Fork.”

His wine style has evolved over the years through experience learned through trial and error. “Coming out of school, I had a much greater dependence on chemistry and technology, which is often what the university system teaches. Now, I let the grapes dictate the direction the wine will go and play a more shepherding role, bringing the wine through the process.”

The winemaker’s choice for spring season is Raphael’s rosé, which is a Pinot Noir. As summer approaches, Nappa recommends a Sauvignon Blanc, featuring “one of the most unique grapes grown on the North Fork,” he noted.

 

DEAN BABIAR: JAMESPORT VINEYARDS

Dean Babiar is the head winemaker at Jamesport Vineyards, a family run establishment that began in 1986, priding itself as one of region’s oldest vineyards. Driving up to a 165-year old barn which holds the tasting room and winery is the quintessential greeting that you have, indeed, arrived to North Fork Wine Country.

After receiving a degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Maryland, Babiar set his trails to the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma valleys. From there, he was a globe trotter to estates in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. He then arrived in Bordeaux, France to focus on Merlot and Cabernet Franc nodes before moving to his ancestral roots in Piedmonte, Italy, where he developed a taste for old winemaking traditions.

It was during his time in Italy, surrounded by family, that Babiar absorbed techniques that would differentiate him in our region. In 2014, he landed in Jamesport, New York.

A life mantra to “do everything with honesty and be nice to people” ties into the essential goal of Babiar’s winemaking process, as little interference as possible. “At the moment, a majority of the wine is fermented with indigenous yeasts. I stay away from additives during fermentation and cellaring and keep the sulfur low. You need to be on top of everything early on to make wine like this well,” Babiar said.

In an intimately sized vineyard, the details are the difference. Babiar is reinventing a past pursuit by incorporating an “old process similar to what they use” to make an Amarone wine in Italy.

Naturally, this wine hits 16 percent alcohol by volume without chaptalization (adding sugar to increase alcohol content). It retains an old worldly node, a true gem to savor amid such a modest location.

Babiar detailed, “It’s nothing innovative, but instead, it’s looking back for inspiration. People have been making wines like this for centuries, only now we have a better understanding of it.”

The 2016 Petillant Naturels, Albarino, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah, are a trio of sparkling flavors bound to sensationalize summer. The ancestral method has resurged under Babiar’s old-fashioned, yet innovative thinking. The wines are bottled with a crown cap, like a beer, upside down, before the initial fermentation is finished, allowing the natural sugars and yeasts to take hold. Unlike champagne’s tendency to flatten relatively shortly after opening, these Pét-nats retain their bubbly carbonated flavor for, dare to say it, a day or two after.

The Goerler family is hands-on and out in the fields every day, caring for their vines. “You need to really care about this stuff,” Babiar said. “It’s a small team, so everything is hands on. We get a good look at it all every step of the way.”

 

ROMAN ROTH: WÖLFFER ESTATE

Wölffer Estate is a family owned and operated, sustainably farmed vineyard in Sagaponack led by the curious mind of winemaker and partner Roman Roth. As the vineyard’s first winemaker, this career was more than a desire for the German native, it was a calling.

Roth was raised around fine wine. His father was a winemaker in Germany and created a home filled with creativity and passion, said Roth. During holidays and birthdays, his parents would host elaborate parties. On such occasions, an almost comedic competition would arise between Roth’s mother, his brother, who inherited the family wine merchant business, and himself — a trinity of wine collectors.

Each would go to their section of the family wine cellar and choose a bottle of higher quality and price. Round after round, glass after glass, a bigger name and older vintage ushered a riveting rivalry surrounding the dinner table with good food and laughter, all culminating in singing old songs into the night.

Roman draws inspiration for his work from wineries throughout the globe that he’s visited. At the young age of 16, Roth began his three-year apprenticeship at the Kaiserstuhl Wine Cooperative in Oberrotweil, while attending technical school in Heilbron.

During the summer of 1986, he traveled to Carneros, CA, where he began working at Saintsbury Estate and soon fell in love with his future wife, Dushy, in Hollywood. His travels then took him to New South Wales, Australia and back to Germany to work as a winemaker at Winzerkeller Wiesloch in Baden.

“It would be boring to taste only wine from one region. That would be like listening to only one type of music,” said Roth.

In 1992, he received a Master Winemaker and Cellar Master Degree from the College of Oenology and Viticulture in Weinsberg. It was that same year that he joined Christian Wölffer in New York as the premier winemaker at Wölffer Estate Vineyard. Roth recalled, “He told me that I can buy whatever I need and do whatever I want . . . Well, it worked. It’s been 27 vintages now!”

Defined at “the East End appellation,” the maritime climate of the North and South Forks remains moderate year-round, allowing the fruit to ripen into the fall months without jeopardizing the delicate sugar/acid balance, and creating food-friendly wines. Wölffer’s team aims to do most of the work by hand.

“Of course, we do have the special Bridgehampton loam here on the South Fork, which is a fantastic foundation for our high end Perle Chardonnay and the Christian Wölffer Cuvee Merlot. The elegant, yet concentrated style that we are able to make separates us completely from the more alcoholic wines of California and makes us stand up to the best wines from France,” Roth explained.

The busy season for a winemaker is mid-September through Thanksgiving. Roth recalled when Christian Wölffer would invite the entire cellar crew to a celebratory dinner at his house which, Roth said, “turned into a bacchanalian feast.” Though tradition has changed, Roth still takes his team out to dinner, followed by bowling, to toast the conclusion of another successful year.

“Don’t go into the wine business if you don’t love people. You have to love pouring wine, talking about wine, and thinking about wine morning, noon, and night, seven days a week, in order to become successful,” Roth noted.

 

GILLES MARTIN: SPARKLING POINTE WINERY

Sparkling Pointe winery in Southold exclusively produces Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Wines, spearheaded by Winemaker Gilles Martin. In addition to more than three decades of experience in the wine world, French native Martin holds a degree in biology and food sciences, along with a Masters of Oenology from the University of Montpellier. Martin utilizes this knowledge to create sparkling wines with creativity, passion, and precision.

How did growing up near the famed wine region of Champagne mold you?
I grew up at the gate of the Champagne, in a region called “la Brie.” And after the phylloxera (plant louse) infestation of the 19th Century, the small vineyards of the poor sloppy soils disappeared and the orchards replaced them. My grandparents planted apple, pear, cherry, and plum trees. It is among those fruits that I grew up learning the making of cider and the distillation of plum, pear, cherry, and apple brandy.

This is where I discovered the different savors and flavors of all the fruits grown around the small farm, and the fragrance of the flowers from the garden. In season come strawberries, red currants, raspberries, peaches, etc. It was my first school of tasting, sniffing, and smelling!

What wine region has taught you the most?
Each wine region where I had the privilege to work, taught me something new and different about grapes, wine, people, and culture.

But it is certainly with the Champenois cellar masters, who are making the most technological wine of all, that I learned the most about challenges and successes.

How did you come to work at Sparkling Pointe?
I was preaching to “the Long Island wine choir” about the uniqueness of sparkling wine, when vineyard manager Steve Mudd introduced me to Cynthia and Tom Rosicki, the owners of Sparkling Pointe. Their vision was in perfect harmony with my preaching. I started this new venture with them, with a lot of excitement, in 2003 and became full time in 2007.

How do you combine old world tradition with new world innovation?
My French education, training, and experience in the wine world have given me the corner stone of my winemaking savoir faire. As a winemaker transposed in the new world, I am not subject to traditional boundaries like in Europe.

Using the quality vinifera grape (European varieties) in the particular terroir of Long Island, and today’s new winemaking technique, I create wines, following my Gallic inspiration and my winemaking philosophy, as enjoyable but also as outstanding as the wines from my native terroir.

What is something that, despite your schooling, you had to learn hands-on?
Organoleptic evaluation and the knowledge of rating wine through tasting. Tasting wine to appreciate its ability to compose a blend is certainly something that you don’t learn on the school bench. It will take countless hours of tasting with professionals to understand the wines of an appellation or a terroir.

It is there, in the company of the winemaker and vintners, in the cellar or in the tasting laboratory, that you can discover, appreciate, and understand the value of a specific wine variety, which come from the surrounding vineyards.

What is a common misconception about your job as a winemaker?
Winemaking, like farming, is thought to be ancestral and traditional practices. In fact, Oenology is the science of the wine (from the Greek Onos, the wine and logos, the science), and requires a serious education in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, and mechanical engineering. Like science, it is under constant evolution, influenced by research and new technological development.

Describe your typical winemaking process, From harvest to glass.
Harvest starts around the first days of September, for about two weeks. The first fermentation of the base wine lasts four to six weeks and, by October, the wines are settled with fining and clarified by filtration. The blends start in the lab, with extensive tasting to create all the different tiers of products.

By January, the blends are made in the cellar, then heat and cold stabilized to be bottled in April and May. The second fermentation in the bottle takes on average four weeks and, depending on the program, the wines age from 16 months to eight years on the yeast. Then, the bottles are riddled to get rid of the sediments and disgorged to give the liquor its dosage.

The bottles are then corked and receive a wire hood to hold the cork in place, keeping the effervescence of the wine. Labeled, the bottles are then boxed and stored in the warehouse. As an example, our Brut will take three years from harvest to your glass, while our tete de cuvee takes almost 10 years before being released.

How do you celebrate the release of a new wine or the conclusion of a season?
The owners love Brazil and Rio, so the tasting room is decorated with a theme of Brazilian artwork and painting. What is better to celebrate life than samba and sparkling wines! So, every year, Sparkling Pointe has its own Carnaval in July, with real Samba Queens and percussionists — certainly the best time to release our new vintage of “Cuvee Carnaval.”

Do you have a life motto or phrase that you live by? 
Nothing is out of reach, when you put your will to it.

 

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