Back in the 1970s, Louisa Hargrave and her husband Alex were the pioneers of wine on Long Island, proving that very good wine could be grown in the cool, maritime climate of Long Island’s East End, particularly the North Fork. Since then, a thriving industry has developed, with some 60 wineries growing grapes on thousands of acres that were once farmland. I partly attribute my own interest in wine to occasional visits to the Hargrave Vineyard in Cutchogue over the years and to tasting and enjoying many vintages of Hargrave wines.
A good number of the older wineries and vineyards in the region have changed hands, including Hargrave, and newer wineries have established roots in the region, perhaps most prominently Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck, which is now producing some of the area’s most exciting wines and is a pioneer in its own right as the first Long Island property to move toward organic and biodynamic farming.
As for Louisa Hargrave, she is now a consultant and writer (her 2003 memoir, ‘The Vineyard,” is worth reading), and what got me thinking about all this again was her most recent column in the Suffolk Times, the local North Fork newspaper. In it, she makes a compelling case for cool-climate wines from such regions as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Collio in northern Italy, the North Fork and genuinely cool-climate areas of California, where the so-called diurnal shift between the day’s hottest and coolest temperatures is least pronounced.
It is in these regions, she reminds us, that the most balanced wines are produced over long, even growing seasons -- wines not dominated by massive fruit (and alcohol), wines with good natural acidity that doesn’t require adjustment in the laboratory. Although “big” wines “often score high points with wine critics,” she says, “I often find something lacking in them. What’s lacking is energy — the very element that makes wine come alive on the palate, that makes it evolve as you drink it.” For me, such wines have what I like to call “soul” and provide a life-enhancing connection to the earth and climate from which they came. You know these wines when you taste them. They are robust but not overpowering, complex yet elegant, refreshing and also interesting. They are, in a word, irresistible.