(This column appeared in the 1/28/05 issue of Dan’s Papers)

Over the Barrel…With Lenn Thompson
Inspired Winemaking at Waters Crest Winery

Inspiredwinemaking_1Jim Waters of Waters Crest Winery in Cutchogue has a great story to tell, one that will touch your heart as well as your palate.

Home winemakers turning pro aren’t particularly rare in the wine world, but the inspiration for Waters’ conversion sets him apart. For years, he worked for trucking and freight carrier companies. Wine was his passion, but not his profession.

That all changed after the September 11 tragedy three years ago.

A volunteer fireman and fire commissioner, Waters found himself at Ground Zero shortly after the attacks. Working side-by-side with other rescue workers had a sudden and profound effect on his outlook on life. Not long after, he decided to make a change. It was time to make his passion his profession.

Waters’ production runs are small (he made only 50 cases of his sold-out Meritage) but every last bottle takes “hand-crafted” to a whole new level.

“I can honestly say that I’ve touched every single bottle of wine I make,” he said as we chatted over tastes of his current Merlot, Riesling and Chardonnay (and a barrel sample of his Cabernet Franc).

Charming and engaging, Waters spent about an hour talking about his wines, his story and the Long Island wine region in general. It only took about five minutes for me to see how happy he was to be dealing with grapes and barrels as opposed to trucks. He is just teeming with enthusiasm for wine and winemaking.

Waters Crest’s 2003 Chardonnay ($16) is a great wine to pair with lighter foods. Bright acidity and nice citrus notes are well framed with toasty vanilla and barely perceptible oak. It’s not overly complex, but well-made and delightful.

The Waters Crest 2002 Merlot ($17) offers nice cherry fruit and subtle hints of chocolate. Soft, well-incorporated tannins make it extremely approachable. It benefits from some “air time” but another year or so in the bottle would be even better.

Far and away the best of its current releases, the Waters Crest Riesling ($17) gets my vote for the best new Riesling. Absolutely mouth-watering and unfailingly Alsatian in style, it is filled with lime and melon flavors with terrific acidity. Get some of this before it’s sold out. I don’t think there’s a better dry Riesling on the Island.

For more information on where to find these wines, visit http://www.waterscrestwinery.com or call 878-2950.

* * *

Starting February 1, the Long Island Wine Council is offering a great Winter Wine Month Passport promotion. For $25 (or $40 per couple) you’ll receive a passport that entitles you to special discounts and promotions at Long Island’s finest wineries, restaurants, B&Bs and attractions. Most of the wineries involved are waiving their tasting fees, offering at least 10 percent off of all wine purchases (with savings up to 20 percent, depending on the number of bottles you buy) and offering food/chocolate pairings. A few wineries are even offering special tastings of library or limited-release wines.

I plan to take part and enjoy all the East End has to offer… even in the dead of winter.

For a complete list of participating vendors and to order your passport, visit http://www.liwines.com/.

Lenn Thompson is a contributing writer for Dan’s North Fork. Email him at lenn@lenndevours.com