Tradition is important. It give us structure, purpose, and a way to define the world around us. Sometimes traditions are personal, while other times they are broad and cultural. The wine Industry is uniquely positioned between the dusty halls of a rich tradition, and the blinding lights of innovation. It’s a world that requires constant change, while also holding lovingly onto the past.
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In 2004 a little indie film came out that would change the wine industry forever. Featuring a star making turn by Paul Giamatti, Sideways told the tale of two friends in the throes of a midlife crises, all seen through the lens of a sunny Californian wine trip. Despite several Oscar nominations and one win, Sideways real lasting legacy remains a little more dubious.
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I believe the way to make great wine is to do it as naturally as possible. I’ve practiced this philosophy before the term “natural winemaking” became a thing. Utilizing sustainable and organic growing techniques, allowing indigenous yeasts to flourish and pursuing a path of minimal intervention are all part of seducing the best out of nature, encouraging terroir to express itself. However, the fact remains that winemaking is inherently interventionist – wine cannot make itself out of grapes any more than bread can make itself out of grain. Natural products both, they only exist through the action of human hands.
I have always loved the idea of pairing wine with life. We know wine pairs wells with food, but our memories of that wine often have as much to do with the event or occasion. Wine is experienced with all of your senses. It’s the color in the glass, the taste on your tongue, the candle flickering on the table across from someone you love, the cozy atmosphere and the quiet chatter of voices with your favorite band in the background. Or, how about the big game on TV. Its football playoff season and although most people think of Football and Beer. Why not Football and Merlot!
The region of Long Island has long been an area rich in natural beauty and resources. Before the colonial era, native peoples were hunter-gatherers, feeding off the land that provided an almost unlimited bounty of fish, game and shellfish. It was only after contact with early colonists that they too developed their own form of local agriculture.
Sometimes it feels like the wine world has become overrun with information. Online wine “experts” are now omnipresent, providing information that is often inaccurate. Certified “sommeliers” are coming out of the woodwork, trying to tell you what you should like and when you should drink it. As a winemaker, I thought I’d try and add some clarity to what has become a confusing discussion. There is a better way – it starts with you and your inherent ability to taste and think for yourself. After all, who knows better about what you like than you?
First and foremost, tasting wine and drinking wine are two very different things. Drinking, of course, is something most of us know how to do. Tasting, on the other hand, is something many people believe they know how to do—but, well, don’t.
Since 1973 many people have left their mark on our local wine region and helped to make it what it is today. With only a 43-year history, our present wine-growing district is only an infant compared to most other regions in the world; the result is that many of the early pioneers are still with us. Some stayed for only a short time while others have had a long-lasting impact. All helped to make up the historical terroir of the East End.
In “No Women, No Wine,” I wrote about the roles women are playing in today’s wine industry. There’s a great deal to write about this topic, but I thought it would be best to hear from some of the people that I’m writing about – the women that I work with every day. I’m proud to say that Bedell Cellars has many great women working in important positions throughout the company – from vineyard management and winemaking to sales and administration. Presently, women make up 60% of the overall management personnel at the estate. With such a large pool of talented women working alongside me, I thought it would be best to ask them their feelings about working in the wine industry. Here is what they told me:
The past year has seen women making great strides. For the first time in our nation’s history, we have a woman running for president. If the trends hold, women will make up the majority of voters in 2016. The fact is, without women, no candidate of either party can win the U.S. presidency. It’s also becoming more apparent that without women, the wine industry would be in very big trouble.
It’s rare when a day goes by without another story about the possible consequences of climate change. Many world leaders have called it the greatest challenge of our time. The CIA predicts climate change will be the greatest destabilizing factor affecting U.S. security. Here on the East End, many of us would just like to know what climate change will mean for us and our way of life. As a winemaker, I understand climate and soil are the two most important factors in a wine region’s terroir. So what kind of changes can we expect?
Like a true New Yorker, cab franc is charming yet edgy; it’s resilient and brawny in the vineyard yet needs lots of sensitivity and a gentle touch in the cellar.
By Richard Olsen-Harbich Photos by Illustrator Leslie WangMarch 30, 2016
This article originally appeared in April-May 2016: Issue No. 12 of Edible Long Island.
You’ve heard the stories about terroir. It’s true. All of it.
An ancient grape makes itself comfortable on Long Island.
By Richard Olsen-Harbich Photos by Rebecca ClarkeNovember 18, 2015
This article originally appeared in Holiday 2015: Issue No. 53 of Edible East End.
In his latest piece for Edible East En Winemaker Rich Olsen-Harbich discusses the unsung heroes of Long Island Wine Country - our expertly skilled and passionate Latino workers.
There’s no doubt wine and music work very well together. Sharing a glass of wine while listening to music over a romantic dinner can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. As a winemaker, music in the cellar soothes my mind, inspires creativity and energizes the workday. Wine and music are there to celebrate life’s most important moments and our greatest achievements. It’s the perfect pairing. But we now know the relationship between wine and music may go even deeper than we thought.
As a student of viticulture, I've been studying soils for a long time. They're not described with the same romantic language as, say, the wines produced from them, but they are profoundly important. To me, soil is the most influential factor in defining a wine region's terroir.
I’ve often said that there are no two vintages alike on the East End – but this year truly takes the cake. After more than three decades producing wine on Long Island I thought there was little that could surprise me. What I saw in 2014 proved me wrong.
Since its creation in 2012, I’ve been getting many questions about the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing (LISW) program and what it really means. The good news is sustainability is really quite simple. Agriculturally, sustainability means growing a crop using methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources, ensuring the viability of that crop for a long time.
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.
First published in the High Summer 2014 edition of Edible East End
The terms “Old World” and “New World” have been part of the wine lexicon for decades. Old World wines, defined as the product of terroir and tradition, are grown in less than perfect conditions and yield wines of elegance and balance. New World wines, commonly grown in warmer climates, are dark with inky extraction, high alcohol and overtly ripe fruit. This holds true for the most part, except when it comes to a certain atypical member of the New World: Long Island.
There’s no denying the importance of Merlot and Chardonnay in the success of Long Island wine. But in the last few years, no grape has garnered more interest and attention on the North Fork than Cabernet Franc. Merlot may be the most widely planted red grape on Long Island but to me, the most intriguing red variety is Cabernet Franc.
Cutchogue. North Fork of Long Island. The dimly lit, smoke filled office of private detective Haven S. Loam. Light coming in through venetian blinds at the end of the day. A fan turns lazily overhead casting shadows. Slow jazz plays in the background.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
This past December, Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing (LISW) sponsored a very special visit by one of the world’s leading experts in the field of sustainable viticulture - Dr. Cliff Ohmart.
From what I’m tasting in the tanks and barrels, 2013 will go down as one of the finest vintages the North Fork has ever seen – ranking right up there with 2007 and 2010. It was truly a magical run and we will be enjoying these wines for many years to come. From whites to reds, all the wines are singing out and showing their full colors. In fact, it reminds me of a song…
As a student of agriculture and viticulture, I’ve been studying the topic of soils for a very long time. They’re usually not described with the same romantic language as say, the wines that are produced from them, but they carry a profound importance. To me, soil is the most influential factor in defining a wine region’s terroir; however their influence greatly transcends wine.
When it comes to things such as music, cars, sports, food or even clothes, Americans are adamant about their likes and dislikes. Why is it when it comes to the subject of wine, so many Americans act like a deer in the headlights? How often have you heard someone say, as you pour them a glass of wine – “I’m not connoisseur” as if the need to have a specially accrued knowledge was necessary.
Back when the first vineyards were planted on Long Island, many people “in the know” didn’t believe our region could successfully grow European wine grape varieties like Chardonnay and Merlot. After all, before Long Island, all of the wine produced in New York was in the upstate districts of the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley – places that had trouble growing European varieties in the past. Forty years later, we have proved the critics wrong many times over.
It's hard to believe tomorrow is the first day of March and we have already enjoyed so much excitement this year. Earlier in January, we were honored and humbled when our 2009 Merlot was poured at the Presidential Inaugural Luncheon in the U.S. Capitol, making it the first New York wine in history to be featured at an Inauguration of the President of the United States. The overwhelming response resulted in intense media coverage in print, web, television, and radio, including major publications like The New York Times, Huffington Post, Wine Spectator, The Washington Post, Fox News, and more. Owner Michael Lynne, CEO Trent Preszler and Winemaker Rich Olsen-Harbich were all interviewed on national news.
Harvest 2012 is over and what a year it was! A year that started early and ended early with ripeness levels not seen since the great vintage of 2010. All varieties came in extremely ripe and flavorful – from the Chardonnay to the Petit Verdot - we have bold and beautiful melodies coming from every tank. With the exception of a few blocks of late ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, most all of the fruit on the North Fork has been harvested.
Long Islanders have been leading the way for the rest of the country for a very long time. Whether in politics, science, entertainment or most recently, fine wine - mainland America’s largest island is filled with a consummate record of achievement. As a native Long Islander, I’m extremely proud of where I come from. But I also know that many of our most extraordinary stories get lost in the strident sounds of today’s media. This space is usually reserved to talk about wine but I think it’s important to remember the place where we make it and understand the framework in which we live –