Long Island: good things happening but what price local?

Our family piled into the car this past weekend and made a getaway to wine country. No, not California but New York’s own wine country: the North Fork of Long Island! Yes, in the three years since we moved to the Empire State, I had never been to the closest cluster of vineyards to me. Gasp!

So we braved pouring rain and 50-mph winds that lashed the Island on Saturday. Louisa Thomas Hargrave, a friend and stateswoman of the region who planted the first vineyard in 1973, graciously arranged a few stops for us. I hope to write these up soon.

My main takeaway was that I had neglected an interesting region in my own proverbial backyard for too long. As part studying the carbon footprint of wine and writing about it, I’ve resolved to learn more about wines made close to where I live. Wouldn’t Governor Spitzer Paterson be proud? The alcohol levels are often low as a result of the coolish climate (for now), the best winemakers are not addicted to oak, and the best reds (and whites) don’t have residual sugar.

channingdaughters.jpgOur quick jaunt included some interesting wines such as a merlot at Lenz, a cab franc at Paumanok, and a solid pinot blanc from Lieb. Although I didn’t make it to Channing Daughters, which seems to be quite worth it, I did meet Christopher Tracy, wine geek extraordinaire, chef and the winemaker. He told me they have Tocai Friulano, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Blaufrankisch and are planting Dornfelder–wonderfully wacky! They even do skin contact on some of their whites and make a “sauvage” Chardonnay that uses indigenous yeasts. I tried the refreshingly crisp and slightly aromatic “Mosaico” (find this wine) white blend as well as their summer-is-coming 2007 cabernet sauvignon rose (find this wine). I’m sure there are more interesting wines in the region and I look forward to exploring them more now that I know the way there.

One thing that did dampen my enthusiasm even when the rain could not was the price: all the wines I liked started at $17 and moved up from there making them, perhaps, more special occasion wines rather than everyday quaffers. Somehow I thought there might be some bargains since we were all in this same down-trodden currency zone together. So my question to you is: how much is drinking local worth to you?

Taste many of the wines for yourself at the annual Brooklyn Uncorked event on May 14, which will have many of Long Island’s most best wineries. It’s 4-8 PM at BAM Cafe in Fort Greene, $50.

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12 Responses to “Long Island: good things happening but what price local?”

  1. Brings up an question. As far as a wine’s carbon footprint, is it better for lots of people to drive to the winery and buy small quantities of local wine, or to have one large truck deliver wine to several neighborhood wine shops? In the long run, it seems almost better to buy a not-so-local wine that has been transported efficiently to a wine shop right around the corner from your house.

    I’ve been thinking about this recently with regards to food. I like supporting local farmers–and live in a part of the world (Northern California) where that’s a feasible endeavor–but I’ve started to wonder if I’m doing more environmental harm than good by visiting several different local farms. On a large scale, it seems incredibly inefficient for people to be driving their individual cars all over a region just to buy local.

    Obviously there are benefits to buying wine directly from the winery (tasting, more money goes straight to the wine maker, getting a sense of the personal flair), but from a strictly environmental standpoint, direct winery sales seem to be fairly inefficient, especially when considering that most wine regions lie outside of urban areas.

  2. The point of visiting wineries is to sample wines from vineyards that you’ve never had before. Once you find one you like, you find a store near you which stocks it…you don’t drive out to the winery every single time you want to buy a bottle. Either that or only buy from the local wine shop and never try anything new.

    Tyler, I’ve heard you diss the NY wine region before and I’m glad that you finally made it out to North Fork. We are also put off by the average price of some of these wines but we always find something moderately priced that we save for get-togethers or dinners with friends. Seems to me that the prices could drop if NYC showed a little more loyalty and requested these wines at the local shops and restaurants; that would be good for the carbon footprint.

    Oh, btw, when we do the wine tours (in any region) we tend to vanpool with a whole bunch of people so, yeah, even that part of it is not that inefficient. And we take one of the many private bus lines that go out to Greenport which saves even more fuel, so there.

  3. Hey Justin,

    Yes, it is clearly better to have the wine sent in a full van/truck to the city than for hundreds of consumers to drive out and pick it up. Assuming a full UPS truck, shipping directly to your residence is better than going to the East End to collect it.

    But that shouldn’t discourage tourism since there are other purposes to tourism than simply going there and back for wine. If you make a weekend of it, you distribute the carbon emitted to other activities, like sitting on the beach. And as Sal points out, there’s always the Jitney.

    Sal –

    Yes, I’m glad we finally went and look forward to returning. I have a story about Lenz that you’ll like that I’ll post next week.

    One thing about vans: many wineries are actually discouraging them now with signs “No limos, vans or buses” at their entrances. Apparently that type of visitor just wants to go and drink, takes up the winery’s staff time and buys nothing to take with them. So maybe go by bike? It’s flat out there! 😉

  4. I know that most wineries detest the limos full of drunken bachelorettes (understandably) though we have found a local out in North Fork who does bus tours and she has relationships with every single winery. I’m pretty sure that she’s exempted from those rules (she brings them the right type of clientele, which is the reason for the rule anyway) and I wonder if other wine regions make the same types of exemptions for tour groups. I understand the anti-frat boy sentiment (and wholeheartedly support it, in fact) but the tour buses make sense on so many different levels.

  5. Personally, I think the whole “carbon footprint of wine” conversation is overdone. I do buy local, and it’s important to me, but my issue is mainly economic/loyalty. I want to support the people at my local vineyard because they’re a part of my community, period. I rarely drive out to the vineyard, I just buy it at local stores that carry it. If people get too carried away with the carbon footprint discussion, they’ll start thinking they shouldn’t support their local farmer, which is a ridiculous conclusion to come to.

  6. Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for your comment. I don’t understand though how talking about the carbon footprint of food or wine would take you away from eating and drinking locally. With other agricultural products that are more reliant on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, buying organic from farther afield might possibly make sense. But transportation is a large component of wine’s carbon footprint so drinking local is an obvious choice from a greenhouse gas perspective. Don’t you think that simply reinforces your economic/loyalty arguments?

  7. THe relative humidity is soo high on the island that the mildew pressure doesn’t allow Vitis vinefera grapes to grow very successfully. But to grow there the growers have to be spraying those Places for mold and mildew like bandits,every seven to 10 days! this is a massive issue that states greater importance than just the carbon footprint alone. Unsustainable is a perfect word for vineyards on the fork. an american local farm buyying craze has pushed some usustainable markets into profitable situations how ever the consumer will become educated. buy american Foods but only from sustaniable farms.

  8. I rarely chime in on these discussions, mainly because I will be instantly labeled as biased, or most likely recognized as a winery executive here on the North Fork. But I must point out how totally off base some of the comments are in this thread.

    I would simply say that Jennifer’s comment is precisely on target; and that Tim’s comment is completely misinformed. I recommend researching the present situation before commenting on the subject (or even commenting on the weather conditions). I can think of half a dozen sustainable vinyards out here already and many more moving that direction.

    What is true about the vineyards of the North Fork is that present day technology has moved us much closer to sustainablility than we ever thought possible. Additionally, Vitis vinifera has grown successfully here since 1973, and some wine has been in production (off and on) since the 1600s. Any vineyard, anywhere in the world suffers “mildew pressure” if it happens to rain.

    As far as the costs of some wines is concerned, Tim probably knows that if practicing sustainable viticulture was cheaper than not, everyone would be sustainable. It’s hard to ask a farm to spend more money, limit the production, risk the actual produce for the sake of the environment, then (by all means) make it cheaper for you.

  9. A quick trip to Excel land revealed that, of 307 bottles we have yet to drink, 299 came from either Washington or Oregon; i.e. they were grown, vinafied, bottled and acquired within 300 or so miles of our Tacoma home. Of the eight others, three came from France, two from Napa, and one each from Greece, Portugal and Australia. We bought 199 at wineries, 84 came to our door as wine-club shipments and the rest arefrom various sources.

    Does our parochial buying habit outweigh the inefficiency of driving many miles to pick up just a few bottles per stop? Hell, I don’t know, nor do I really care.

    I’m a try-before-I-buy drinker by inclination, and I like to buy local wine whether I’m in British Columbia, Sonoma, Arizona, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Alsace, Castille, or Greece. Given half a chance, my wife and I will search out a winery where ever we can find one.

    So what’s our carbon footprint? Travel and wine are both wants, not needs. They’re hedonistic. But both the purveyor and consumer of those pleasures do bear environmental responsiblities; I can drive a car that gets good mileage, I can ask about, then support producers who practice sustainable farming, I can reuse sheets and towels in my hotel room. It’s incremental.

    We try to buy what we can identify as local, like flying on Boeing planes, eating Walla Walla sweet onions, drinking Yakima Valley wine. But looking in the freezer, there’s Italian frozen pizza, in the cupboard, there’s Italian olive oil, in the fridge, there’s Italian, Dutch, Irish and Cypriot cheeses, so maybe we’re not doing such a good job of it.

    I make environmental and political decisions as part of purchasing many things, coffee, fish, things made of wood, electronics, clothes, gas.

    I’ll pay more for a bottle of wine, and for other things, because I like it, but also because I like what the producer says about his or her stewardship.

    Could I do more? Of course. But short of giving up alcohol altogether, I doubt I can make a difference by changing how I imbibe. In other words, there are more efficient ways to lower our carbon inputs.

  10. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, wine is but an hors d’oeuvre in our carbon diet. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Instead, it shows that almost everything we do has a “carbon footprint” and there’s probably a choice in everything we do to either emit more carbon or less.

    Certainly, turning down your thermostat in winter, driving less, and taking fewer private jet trips will probably have more of an impact than a year of drinking local wine only. But it’s so hard to give up those private jet trips! 😉

  11. Tardy to the discussion but fascinated by it I have to add my two cents. As a principal from an Oregon winery that’s done and continues to do everything it can to farm sustainably, produce zero waste, and become carbon neutral I must toss out that though we will at some point probably get around to marketing our sustainable choices we are under no delusions that our efforts are going to convince you to buy our wine. In the end the quality and pricing of our product are far more likely to affect your decision making process than the fact that we’re LIVE and Demeter certified. We happen to think that we get better quality fruit because of our choices but ultimately we made the commitment because of our passionate beliefs.

    I suppose I’d just like to underscore Mark’s comment that he buys what he likes and though he makes the effort to buy local for both the environmental and community reasons ultimately the choices we make as consumers of so-called luxury products are going to have many more factors. I do completely agree that it’s up to us as producers and educators to inform our end users and help them realize the environmental impacts of their choices but we also need to realize that our products are indeed products of pleasure. I think that was one of the huge backlashes of the environmental movement pre-modern era. I wish all my consumers lived carbon neutral lives and bought 100% locally for all their products, but that’s just not going to happen and I worry that those of us who are so committed to our ideals actually turn people away from the green movement because they think about being sustainable like losing weight — you’re never going to be perfect about your diet so why even bother?

    I don’t think your blog trends that way, I suppose I just wanted to hop on my soap box this morning and you provided the right platform. 😉 Conversation and education are our best weapons. Thanks for keeping the dialogue going!

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