During our summer recess/hiatus last week, Ben O’Donnell wrote a blog post titled “The Big Grapple: Can Long Island Wines Get Some Respect?”
If you’re at all intersted in Long Island wine — or most any emerging region, really — I’d encourage you to read it. Because it’s part of the Wine Spectator’s blog, you needn’t be a subscriber to access it.
I read it while I was away — and honestly didn’t think much of it. I’m not familiar with Mr. O’Donnell or his previous work, and the topics he covers are generally known (most for many years). In short, there really isn’t anything new here and I’m left wondering what the point is, honestly. Been there, done that.
But, the past, present and future of Long Island wine is something I consider daily. I wasn’t going to mention it here on the site at all, until Kareem Massoud, winemaker at Paumanok Vineyards (who is heavily quoted in the piece by the way) offered this response on Facebook, which he’s agreed to let me publish here as well. I think he makes some very valid, well-thought points.
The past, present and future of Long Island wine is something I consider — and at times lament — every day. So, perhaps I’m “too close” to the topic and can’t read Mr. O’Donnell’s piece with the proper perspective.
So I ask you — what do you think about his piece and about Kareem’s response?
Thank you for taking the time to come and visit us at Paumanok in preparation for your piece. Not all prognosticators on Long Island wine make this basic effort.
One obvious point — paradoxically made and not made — in your article, is that wine writers from influential publications such as yourself and Wine Spectator can contribute, exacerbate and create “image problems” themselves. You didn’t state this point in plain English, but your piece of writing in and of itself serves as such an example. As a writer, you know how much language matters. Please allow me to dissect some examples from your piece and show you what I mean.
Your title is a rhetorical question. Your first paragraph could hardly be more pejorative and clearly sets the tone for the rest of your article. Granted, your blog’s title states that it is opinion and advice that you offer. But I for one — call me naive — expected an objective analysis. You use language such as, “talking about the thorny issue of Long Island wine, which also gets some punch-line treatment in the American wine world. I’d describe the skeptic spectrum as running from “underripe and overpriced” to “a bachelorette party with vines.” How can anyone get anything other than a negative image of Long Island wines when they read commentary like that published in one of America’s leading wine magazines?
There are more subtle slights as well, such as, “The East End endures a lengthy growing season…” If this quote was in reference to a more established wine district of greater renown and popular acceptance it likely would have read, “…enjoys a lengthy growing season…” as it should have read with regard to the East End. The fact that we may sometimes have challenging weather is what vintages are all about. I don’t think winegrowers in Burgundy this year are lamenting the length of their growing season, but one can be sure they are lamenting the weather and global climate change, as do we and growers around the globe. In viticultural terms, a long-growing season is a boon, not something to “endure”.
You say, “…few Long Island wines reach or exceed 90 points in Wine Spectator blind tastings…” The word “few” is a relative term. Long Island is a small, young wine region. Based simply on the small number of producers, it is improbable that there will be as many high-scoring wines from our region as elsewhere. Another writer may well have chosen “several” instead of “few.”
Then, you continue with, “…high costs of land and labor, it is unfair to blame wineries for not turning down the easy sale, but this tars the whole region with the same unflattering brushstroke.” Our prices are set the way most products in our economy are priced, based on supply and demand. Of course, producers will also gauge quality and price accordingly. How this “tars the whole region with the same unflattering brushstroke” is not at all clear. Are some of the wines from Long Island over-priced? I think so. Are some of the wines coming from Napa over-priced? I think so. Are some of the wines coming from Bordeaux over-priced? I think so. You get the idea…
My first quote, “I don’t think it’s a secret…that Long Island has an image problem.” was taken out of context. It was made in the context of my commentary of which you only quoted what suited your premise. Likewise with my second quote, “That bottom tier, all New Yorkers have been exposed to it. There’s a level of vetting”. For anyone who is interested in a more accurate conveyance of our conversation I have pasted an excerpt from another interview (available in full here:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brad-haskel/the-massoud-family-pauman_b_1120674.html ) below (note the nod to Wine Spectator’s reviews) in which I stated the same thing:
“Long Island is not unlike any other wine district around the world. Every region can be viewed as a pyramid of quality. There are a handful of top producers making outstanding wines. There is a second tier of producers doing terrific work. The rest varies in quality. The difference with Long Island is that our wine district is located within the New York metro market. This is a double edged sword. On one hand it gives us great exposure, access and visibility to one of the world’s most sophisticated wine markets. On the other, the entire spectrum of wines in the quality pyramid are shown to that audience. Wine lovers who seek out Long Island wines will find red, white, and rose wines, sparkling and dessert wines; that offer moderate alcohol, balance, and authenticity. These are delicious wines that should be enjoyed with the local gastronomy as they are in wine regions the world over.
In blind tasting after blind tasting, Long Island wines continue to dispel the myth that they do not offer good value. There has been an image problem with Long Island wines attributable to the quality pyramid and our unique proximity to NYC as I previously described. Over time, this perception is dissolving as consumers are discovering that not only are Long Island wines capable of being excellent values, they may be the best choice for a given meal or celebration regardless of the wine’s origin. This reality is not lost on wine critics either. Two of the industry’s most important publications; Wine Advocate (Robert Parker) and Wine Spectator have both identified wines from Long Island as excellent values.”
Disappointingly, you missed an opportunity to educate your readers on the rising quality of Long Island wines, you missed the whole story. The Long Island wine industry is making better wines and is more successful and viable than it ever has been in it’s entire history. Evidence? You rightly drop the names of top chefs in NYC (Tom Colicchio and Daniel Boulud) who have featured our wines on tap. But I am surprised that you did not make greater mention of the success that Long Island wines currently enjoy in one of the worlds most competitive and sophisticated wine markets. NYC’s top restaurants are pouring Long Island wines in significant volume. What does significant mean? Is it dozens, hundreds or thousands of cases a year? Wouldn’t that be a great story in Wine Spectator? The fact is that at least one thousand cases of Long Island wine have been poured by the glass at top restaurants in NYC within the last 12 months. And one should question why these restaurants do it. Certainly it’s not because of rave reviews of Long Island by Ben O’Donnell in Wine Spectator. And it certainly is not because the wines are unaffordable, as restaurants make their greatest profit margin on their by the glass program. It is because Long Island wines offer world class quality and value. As with any wine district, quality will vary from producer to producer. What else is new?
I expect that when people like yourself visit us they do so with an open mind and an open palate, not an agenda and biased, preconceived notions and old, stale, no-longer-valid criticisms. In most cases I am not disappointed. In this case, in spite of the fact that you did find room for some kind words, I was really disappointed. But, as they say, “If you’ve got haters, you know you’re doing something right.”[/quote]