Long Island Wines: Not Quite Napa But Getting There

Written By: Natalie  Berkowitz

Dutch and English settlers in the 17th century battled over land rights in Lange Eylant ignoring the rights of the original Indian inhabitants. Victorious English settlers anglified the Dutch name. Even today, signposts proudly indicate towns named after the  , Indian, Dutch and English inhabitants. Battles fought on Long Island during the Revolutionary War stained the land with English and American blood and after the war, Long Island’s farmers  shipped food across the East River to the burgeoning population inNew York City. Skip ahead to Post World War II, when city dwellers seeking a less frenetic lifestyle  moved to Long Island suburbs built by real estate entrepreneurs who covered large swathes of farmland with houses and schools.

An hour’s drive takes visitors to the beginning of the easternmost tip of the island where it divides into two forks that imaginative minds peering at a map claim it resembles a giant lobster claw. The two forks have schizophrenic personalities. The South Shore is a summer playground of beaches, expensive homes and upscale restaurants. It swarms with fashionable residents and day-trippers from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The bucolic North Shore’s picturesque towns, some with histories going back to pre-Revolutionary days where farm stands chock full of fresh-picked produce and flowers dot the landscape. Suffolk County went through one more metamorphosis when Louisa and Alex Hargreave developed the island’s first successful winery in 1973 . Their vineyard set the stage for a new industry . Farsighted vintners and investors who felt success was in the wind followed the pioneering couple in spite of less than ideal growing conditions.

Today, there are a raft of wineries dotting the North Shore, including Macari Vineyard where grape leaves on the vines turned to purple and gold in the fall and grapes wait for the optimum moment to be harvested on the winery’s four hundred forty acres. The property with a dramatic water view overlooking Long Island Sound ends precipitously at the edge of a cliff. Proximity to water adds maritime influence to the grapes.

At the industry’s early beginnings, serious wine drinkers laughed at the thought of grapevines growing on sandy soil once dedicated to potatoes, hardly ideal for grapes. Wine snobs consider good Long Island wines an oxymoron, but their reputation is changing. The Long Island wine region, two to three hours drive from New York City, plays a significant role in New York State’s wine production and its accessibility draws thousands of wine lovers along its wine trail. The wines can’t quite compete with Bordeaux or Napa, but they are improving in quality each year.