With the cold, wet spring creeping into May, this season’s grape harvest looked bleak at best. But a blast of heat this summer, and a long, dry autumn, led to what may be one of the greatest vintages ever for Long Island.
“It’s the best vintage I’ve ever seen, and I’ve made wine since 1982,” enthuses Roman Roth, winemaker and partner at Wolffer Estates in Sagaponack. “We had 2010, which was a dream year; 2012, which was outstanding, and now 2013 is even better,” he says. “The whole cellar and the tasting room is just full of great wines.”
Great weather makes great grapes, and great grapes become great wine. “Mother Nature was very kind to us this summer and fall,” says Juan Micieli-Martinez, winemaker at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead. “Earlier in the season, toward the end of May, we had gotten a lot of rain, and I don’t think anyone was super optimistic about the vintage,” he notes. “But, as we rolled along through June and July, and into August and September, we had very little rainfall and just lots of perfect sunny days, and that really helped things move along.”
All of that sunshine led to sweet, ripe grapes with thick skins. “The leaves were really able to get maximum sun exposure, so three things are happening,” Micieli-Martinez explains, “You’re getting sugar development, and sugars this year were high; you’re getting maximum flavor development, because flavor has to develop slowly over time, too; and lastly, you’ve got great tannin development—the skins of the grapes got nice and ripe, and dark.”
The long, dry fall allowed for a later harvest, which led to sweeter, riper grapes. “It was actually kind of a drought in the fall, and that’s usually a good year where it’s sunny, warm and dry,” according to Eric Fry, winemaker at Lenz Winery in Peconic. “We had really ripe grapes, which is the bottom line in everything.” The lack of rain also meant there was no fungus or disease to contend with. “With no fungus present, the skins are not as stressed, so there’s more color and more flavor,” Roth says. “It makes for bigger and lusher wines than ever.”
Fry, who has been making wine for more than 30 years, isn’t quite ready to call it. “You have to get the wine in the barrel and work on it a little bit,” he cautions. “There are people that will say it’s the best year of the century every year, but I don’t do that. It was a very good year, and I’m very happy with the results, but that’s as far as I’ll go.”
For 2013, the reds are the wines to watch. “As people look back 10 or 15 years from now, I don’t think anyone’s going to say, ‘oh, that chardonnay was stunning.’ I think it’s going to be more about the reds,” Micieli-Martinez says.
“The merlot, the Cabernet Franc and the Cabernet Sauvignon all did really well,” says Roth said. “The whites do well every year, so that was more expected, but the reds across the board have come in tremendously powerful, and yet elegant, so they’re truthful to our region.”
The aging process is crucial to making great wine, so it will be a while before consumers can taste this year’s harvest. “You’ve got to be patient,” reminds Micieli-Martinez, who’s been making wine since 1999. “Great things take time to come to full term.” These reds aren’t expected to hit the shelves until at least 2015—possibly longer for Lenz, which prides itself on its aging process. “We’re going to be the last one to release them, so for us, it’s going to be down the road a little bit,” Fry reports. “We’re just selling our 2007 reds, so if it’s a really good year, I don’t want to rush it out the door.”
At just 40 years-old, the Long Island wine industry is still relatively young, so years like this are important to solidifying its reputation. “Everybody makes good wine on Long Island,” Roth notes. “This vintage will drive the point home that Long Island is here to stay, and that we are a great wine region.”