New York’s Long Island breaks into two at Riverhead, some 80 miles from Manhattan. The South Fork encompasses the Hamptons, with its super-fabulous lifestyle astride the magnificent beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. The North Fork has always been quieter, more agricultural, with its bay front coves and more easy-going people. In the last decade, the North Fork has also become home to vineyards and wineries. Route 25 is a mini Napa. Limos fill large parking lots and take the tasting hordes into impressive wineries. Some have odd architectural characteristics like Spanish Mission style – in a region that never had a Spanish presence.
As the area’s popularity has grown, the quality of its wines has improved. The early wines were a homemade affair. As more money flowed in, and the rich and famous became winery owners, the talent pool of growers and winemakers gained depth. Good quality Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are now being made. Experiments with Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc are also taking place. Sadly, there is little or no concern for the environment or sustainable wine making. This is more unfortunate since this historic farmland has been poisoned by decades of pesticides and fertilizer use.
Enter Barbara Shinn and David Page, who in 1998 purchased 20 acres off the beaten path in Mattituck, founded Shinn Estate and immediately took it in a different direction. Combining their love of food (they owned the restaurants Home and Drovers in Manhattan) and their love and respect for the land, they carefully crafted a planting pattern that matched the grapes to the terrain, with a goal of making small quality batches and thoughtful blends. They planted Cabernet Franc and Caberbet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Semillon and Pinot Blanc.
They expanded in an organic manner by slowly adding physical capacity, stainless steel tanks, outbuildings, and finally a 4-room bed and breakfast.
Now, in high gear, they are ready to fully commit to organic and biodynamic winemaking. While they have always been sustainable, they are in the first year of a three-year certification process in both practices. When achieved, they will be the only winery east of the Mississippi to be so. According to Barbara, “We are really driven to farm naturally considering that wine is where food meets agriculture. We’re part of a movement to farm fruit organically out here.”
They are eager promoters of their cause and have started another first for the region: futures dinners, where their customers can have a light dinner, barrel taste upcoming wines and purchase them at a discount. Works all around. Inside barns filled with stainless steel holding tanks and large wooden vats, long tables are set up. Candlelight casts a romantic glow as their border collie wanders between diner’s legs. An order form and tasting notes sheet is at each place setting, facilitating purchasing and remembering.
At a recent event, there were 9 wines. We went with some real experts: Meryl Rosofsky who has written for OWJ and teaches food courses at NYU, and Jean-Pierre and Deidre Riou. He’s the owner of Gifted Grapes, a wine importer of numerous small vintage French sustainable wines and one certified organic one. The final judgment of our group was this — the Shinns and their wine maker Anthony Nappa are making excellent wines. There were favorites however, with the Estate Merlot being almost everyone’s. This was followed by the Cabernet Franc and the 9 barrel reserve Merlot. The Wild Boar Doe blend was also a hit. It was harder to pick a favorite among the whites, although the Coalescence and non-oaked Chardonnay were stand-outs.
Check out David Page’s weekly farming blog that we have linked to. Barbara Shinn will also be writing for OWJ on a regular basis. We hope our readers will stay at their bed and breakfast, drink their wines and consider having weddings and other celebrations there. They are setting the standard and creating an example in responsible farming and winemaking.