A couple months ago, I devoted my column space to what has become the de facto “signature variety” for Long Island wine country: merlot. There are approximately 700 acres of merlot planted on Long Island — roughly 30 percent of the total vineyard acreage — and there are reasons for that. It grows and ripens dependably and consistently, even in all but the most horrid of vintages. That’s important here and why it’s the backbone of the industry.
But the East End isn’t like many parts of Europe where regulations dictate what grapes can be grown where. Long Island growers are free to plant most anything they’d like. Many stick with the grapes that have become traditional here — merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc — maybe with some other Bordeaux varieties grown in small quantities for red blends. There are good wines made from these grapes across both forks — among some of the very best — but there is so much more out here to explore.
I won’t devote much time to one “other” grape, chenin blanc, which Paumanok Vineyards has had success with. They get a lot of attention for it and deservedly so. Instead, I’d like to highlight a few wineries and grapes that you may be less familiar with, at least when it comes to the Long Island varieties.