New York wine makers vie with France's top Merlot producers

Tue Sep 9, 2014 12:43pm EDT
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By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Long Island wineries are smaller, younger and have less experience than their French counterparts, but some local vintners think the Merlot wines they produce compare favorably with those made in Bordeaux.

Many different types of grapes flourish in island vineyards 90 miles east of New York City and are used by the area's 56 wineries. But the one grape that is universally suited for all of them is Merlot.

“Merlot is our signature grape,” said Australia-born winemaker Russell Hearn, of the Premium Wine Group’s facility in Cutchogue, on the North Fork of Long Island.

John Leo, of Long Island’s Clovis Point vineyards, thinks the island's best Merlots are as good as those from France.

"When we think of Bordeaux wines, we don’t think of the 4,000 wineries that are just in Bordeaux. We think of the 10 or 20 or 30 names that polish their reputations," he said.

"If you taste our best 1 or 2 percent and you taste them blind, I guarantee you’ll have them in the same category as classified Bordeaux.”

The French have been making wine in Bordeaux since the Romans invaded, while wine makers on Long Island didn't get into the game until the 1970s.

On Bordeaux’s right bank, on the east of the Gironde Estuary, the vines planted on land ranging from well-drained gravel and limestone to sandy soils are primarily Merlot.   Continued...

Winemaker Roman Roth is pictured at his Wölffer Estates Vineyards in Sagaponack, New York on July 23, 2014. REUTERS/Leslie Gevirtz