The word “vintage” is derived from the Latin vinum (wine) and demere, or "to take off.” We call the time when the grapes (potential wine) are“taken off” the vine, the vintage season. Sometimes the word has been used to describe wines made in special years and of extraordinary quality. When one is shopping in the East Village and finds some nice clothes from the 1940's an alternate version of the word is used, describing the threads as from another time and place. All of these versions can ring true for Long Island wines but winemakers typically use it more prosaically - to describe the year in which the grapes were picked. Our labeling laws require that a vintage dated American wine contain at least 85% of grapes harvested from that particular year. If the wine has an AVA on the label (like North Fork of Long Island or Napa Valley) 95% of the wine in the bottle must be from the date printed on the label. Consequently, wines without any vintage date are more than likely blends of one of or more years and typically connote lower quality.
But I digress. What I really want to talk about is the 2010 vintage on the North Fork – a year that is already being touted as perhaps the best ever for Long Island wines. To me, the 2010 vintage doesn't follow the latter definition - this was a season that did not recall any other time and place that I can remember.
Back in the fall as the grapes were soaking up the sun and harvest was just beginning, I received my annual phone calls and emails from journalists looking to get a comment about the vintage. “What's not to like?” I said. “But being an old winemaker I know it ain't over until it's over.” After all - to continue to channel Yogi – good wine is based on 70% weather, 30% vineyard management and 10% winemaking. Once all the wines were in the tanks however, the questions from the more astute wine media arrived.“What past vintage does this year remind you of?” A very good question and one that I've answered many times before. Certain vintages do resemble each other – from the weather on down to the type and style of wine in the bottle. This one was different. “Mmmm. Actually, none,” was my answer. “This year stands alone – never seen anything like it.” My friend Steve Mudd, who has been tending vines on Long Island longer than anyone else, concurred. Steve knows that no two years are ever alike on Long Island “Not a normal year – then again the only thing really normal is the cycle on your dryer.” I agree. 2010 had it all – it was the “the perfect storm” of good weather. Lots of sunshine, heat and just the right amount of rain to keep the vines from becoming too stressed out. I recently wrote my official description of the 2010 vintage for Bedell. I think it says it all:
The 2010 vintage was completely extraordinary and is unlike any other vintage in the 35 year history of Long Island winemaking. The season began almost 3 weeks early as warm and dry weather gave us a beautiful spring with lots of sun and low humidity. Thankfully the season never looked back as warm temperatures and clear sunny days dominated the summer months. As the summer continued, an occasional rain gave the vines just enough water to stay healthy and strong. All of this led to an extremely early harvest. Picking began on September 1st – a full month earlier than 2009, with all varieties exhibiting stunning aromatics, intense color and divine flavors. By the time October and some cool wet weather began to roll in, most of the harvest was complete and in the cellar. An incredible vintage that is already being considered Long Islands finest to date and has produced sublime, aromatic whites and rich, powerful reds that will last a lifetime in the bottle.
As we continue to struggle with our unforgiving winter - shoveling snow, scraping car windshields and ice cold feet, a part of me wishes I could make this trade every year. That's right Old Man Winter – bring it on. I'll gladly take whatever is coming if I can be assured of a vintage like the one we had in 2010.
If only it worked that way...