Terroir on a Bicycle

Ever wonder why dogs like to hang their heads out of car windows? It’s not because they like the view—it’s all about the smell. They’re rapidly processing aromas as the air rushes through their nostrils. It’s how they sense the world, and nothing else gives them as much of a thrill in so little time.

We often spend too much time in our cars on the North Fork, and while this can be wonderfully scenic, it doesn’t allow us to get up close to the scents that arise from our land. Humans don’t have the olfactory capabilities of dogs; I’ve tried hanging my head out of a car window, but it’s way too windy and my senses don’t work fast enough. I wanted to find a similar experience to try and capture a snapshot of North Fork aromas. Walking works for sure, but it’s slow, and I wanted more. The answer? A bicycle ride.

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to develop a lexicon to describe the flavors and aromas that emerge from our region. It’s my opinion that terroir is an overriding influence that transcends specific grapes and must be able to show itself across a wide varietal palate. It’s correctly defined as “the taste of a place.” So I filled up my tires, strapped on my helmet and hit the road to ride through this place we call home. With the bouquet of the North Fork spring in full force, I peddled past the Mattituck Inlet, alongside farm fields, houses and meadows and then headed east on Oregon Road to Cutchogue. Here’s a quick list of what came across my nose on a half hour ride:

Seashore, brine, salt grass, sand, wet rocks, minerals, locust blossoms, oak, cherry blossoms, freshly mown grass, cedar, freshly tilled earth—almost like burnt cinnamon—maple pollen, wet iron, lilacs, honeysuckle, dried leaves, tar, pine, more earth, humus and fresh hay.

What struck me was how many of these nuances we find in local wines. It’s no coincidence that the aromas of the natural world find their way into the glass. This is what terroir is all about, and ours is evident all around us. Few places in the country offer the rare mix of sea breeze and fresh-tilled earth. Our wines can express a unique saline minerality and contain aromas of indigenous plants such as chamomile, honeysuckle and fresh grass for whites and beach plums, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and cedar for reds. These native traits, along with our cool maritime climate, allow us to craft elegantly balanced wines that are all wrapped up with moderate alcohol and refreshing natural acidity.

Long Island wines express aromas and flavors similar to indigenous fruits, herbs and ecosystem elements. But it’s important to remember that terroir only makes its presence known when we allow it to. As a winemaker, my devotional responsibility is to protect and showcase these native characteristics on their journey from the earth to the vine to the bottle. Poor handling, commercial yeast and too much oak are just a few things that can mask the terroir of wine. It’s only when we let natural voices sing, that the true music of terroir can be heard. I recommend pulling out the bike and taking a little ride on one of our beautiful roads to learn more about what makes Long Island wine so special. You’ll also find it right in the glass.