A Chat with Long Island Merlot Alliance’s Amy Zavatto

Long Island Merlot Alliance executive director Amy Zavatto
Long Island Merlot Alliance executive director Amy Zavatto, Photo: Courtesy LIMA

“One of the wonderfully unique and cool things about the Long Island Merlot Alliance (LIMA) is we aren’t the product of one vineyard…Merliance wine is the compilation of many vineyards and the great work of six different wineries—Lieb Cellars, Martha Clara Vineyards, McCall Wines, Raphael, T’Jara Vineyards, and Wölffer Estate Vineyard,” says Amy Zavatto, the executive director of LIMA. “When you sip our 2012 Merliance, you are really drinking the story of that particular harvest from six different points of view.” The group, which will be on hand at Dan’s Harvest East End, seeks to educate on the quality of merlot produced on Long Island. Here, Zavatto shares her thoughts on local wine

What is the best pairing of food and East End wine?
Hands down, 8 Hands Farm lamb on the grill with the 2012 Merliance. We only released it recently and I’m pretty jazzed about the vintage and the bright, beautiful fruit expressed in it. Plus, it’s a pairing you can enjoy all year long.

One East End Wine everyone should try at least once:
Each year brings something new… You should be drinking Long Island wine every year…missing a vintage is like skipping Christmas. Unthinkable.

Describe the relationship between East End Wine and the agriculture, aquaculture and overall East End culinary culture.
We’re at a very, very exciting moment in our local wine’s history. I can remember a time when there was a really big disconnect between what restaurants had on their menus and what was actually from the area…Walk into pretty much any restaurant on eastern Long Island today and you will not only find cheese, meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, and herbs of local provenance, you’ll find a hefty selection of our wines, too, which makes perfect sense. What grows together goes together. And they support each other, too.

What is the funniest way you’ve heard somebody describe a wine?
I get particularly stoked when someone feels secure enough to just start using thoroughly subjective sense memories to describe a wine… Sometimes those seemingly individual sense memories can be a real touchstone.

What key factors are helping East End wines increase in reputation outside the region? 
We make gorgeous, consistent, expressive merlot, and that’s just an indisputable fact; but hey, we also have producers who make some pretty exciting chenin blanc, blaufrankish, and albarino…There’s room for it all because what we’re talking about now in 2015 is making quality wine, not just any ol’ wine.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the East End wine industry?
Premium Wine Group [which provides resources to smaller producers] really did so much for the region…[I’m starting a] college scholarship fund through LIMA for kids of the region interested in going to school for viticulture and enology to [help them] with their tuition. But the kicker is they’d be required to come back and work at one of our member wineries and learn about merlot production here…We need to encourage and foster the next generation of winemakers and vineyard managers here.

Dan’s Taste of Summer kicks off with Dan’s GrillHampton presented by Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors on Friday, July 17, and continues on Saturday, July 18, with Dan’s Taste of Two Forks presented by Farrell Building Company, both at Sayre Park, 156 Snake Hollow Road, Bridgehampton. Dan’s Harvest East End, the can’t-miss food and wine classic, rounds out the trio of events on August 22 in Cutchogue. For more information on all three events, including tickets and VIP packages, visit DansTaste.com.

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