Yes, it’s true; Long Island is in its 40th year of growing grapes, a major milestone for our wonderful region. We have come a long way in these four decades and it is worthwhile to reminisce about it a little.
It all started when Louisa and Alex Hargrave followed their gut feeling and started planting in 1973. Having no practical experience in the wine business it was a daring undertaking (or just plain crazy - thinking with my German upbringing) and I am still amazed by that pioneering spirit that started it all. (Please read The Vineyard: A Memoir by Louisa Thomas Hargrave.)
Many wineries and vineyards have come and gone in the last 40 years, and there have been about four waves of expansion and changes. The following description is a broad generalization (there is of course no rule without exception), but it will give you a good overview.
The Long Island vineyards were created by different men and women for different reasons. Some were willing to risk a lot, some had made money elsewhere and were looking for a change, and still others were just passionate about creating something from the ground up using their hands and minds.
The first wave (the pioneers) came in the 70’s, and included names like Hargrave, Pindar, Peconic Bay, Mudd, and Bedell. In the late-80’s and early-90’s, encouraged by the early successes and failures (anonymous quote: “I can do better!”), a second wave of ambitious vignerons followed: Paumanok, Wölffer, Pellegrini, Jamesport, Macari, Osprey’s Dominion, and Palmer.
Near the end of the 90’s, the founding vineyard (Hargrave) was purchased by Ann Marie and Marco Borghese (Castello di Borghese) as part of a third wave that included a number of takeovers and big new investments.
The fourth wave started in the mid-2000’s and was dominated by small, boutique-size brands and labels like Roanoke, Grapes of Roth, and Waters Crest, working hands-on on a small scale.
Despite different motivations and business models, the greater unifying spirit that has driven this industry forward has remained - the love of good wine. It is fueled by the passion to create something unique from the ground-up, the ability to leave a legacy, the dynamics of working with nature through all four seasons, and of course the fun and challenge of working with people and for customers. (Advice: if you don’t like people don’t go into the wine business!)
With 58 licensed producers on Long Island (of which 27 have their own production facilities on-site), they are too numerous to mention them all within this article, but the diversity of wines being produced here is immense. Luckily we are all unified under one umbrella - the Long Island Wine Council, and I encourage you all to visit the Council’s website (liwines.com) to read about them all!
Long Island is a fantastic place to go wine tasting and to try the different varieties and styles that are available. The older this wine region has gotten, the better the wines have become – age is the tough price you pay for experience! But despite a gray hair or two, this young wine region is full of surprises, creativity, and passion, and ultimately that has been and still remains its key to success.