Our last day. Throughout the prior days we had travelled east and west, primarily from Mattituck to Greenport and back, more than a few times. Up and down routes 25 and 48. It’s a very linear and flat place, and even with all of those acres of vines you are never very far from the sight of water. Over and over again along route 48 we kept passing by a winery located in a small industrial strip. It‘s a low brick building shared by various service businesses like auto repair and commercial parts. It didn’t look like a place we needed to stop into.
I did see it on my list of recommendations from other bloggers, but I started paying more attention to it as other wineries were mentioning it. So we started our last day at this garagiste type of winery, Waters Crest. Up front is the tasting room with a slab over wine barrels tasting bar, accessories and paintings depicting the wine life lining the walls.
We met Jennie, the manager, who walked us through the choices after telling us a little something about Jim Waters and his wines. Funny. I was just going through my materials (I already mentioned that I gather and keep all the collateral material from every place I travel) and on the rack card for Waters Crest is an oak barrel with the words, “What will you remember?” Right above that I wrote, “Jennie”. Very friendly, attentive, and knowledgable. In talking I mentioned my blog and she gave us a little tour of the winery out back. Every winery has some version of a wine club, where they hope to build your loyalty and keep you returning as a customer. Waters Crest goes one further. They also have a Barrel Club membership. When joining this wine club you get your name emblazoned on your very own French oak barrel. Along with other benefits of membership, which includes private and barrel tastings of upcoming vintages, at the end of your membership you get to keep the barrel! I thought that was pretty cool. We did both the red and white tasting. The wines were excellent. The 2010 Rose (which we purchased) is a blend of Merlot (30%), Sauvignon Blanc (20%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%), Cabernet Franc (5%), and the balance,Chardonnay. An interesting blend to say the least. It is clear that Jim Waters likes to play with blends. The tasting notes say, “the bouquet reveals delicate strawberry notes that ease into grapefruit with a hint of hay. The bright refreshing acidity tingles across the palate with hints of strawberry and watermelon, with a clean bright finish of tart rhubarb. Uh-huh, yeah, what they said. Mental note to self – don’t skip the unassuming places. They may be hiding real gems!
Going along with that mindset, our next stop was McCall Wines. The entrance and approach is so unassuming that we drove by the entrance three times before we took a stab at a driveway we hoped was the right one. Then we drove up to an area where there was a barn and some men working building something. There was no obvious place to park so Suzanne made me get out and investigate to find out if we were in the right place. We were, and Russell McCall greeted us and told us they were in the process of converting an old horse barn into a tasting room. So another rustic tasting environment. Russell is another of the interesting flavors that string along the north fork of Long Island Wine Country. Although his family has lived in Cutchogue for over five generations Russell worked in the south for a wine distributor (I worked for a wine distributor for a time too). In 1996 he returned to Cutchogue to begin farming. He was raising grass-fed beef, the highly valued Charolais breed found in central Europe. He dedicated himself to sustainable farming practices, allowing the cattle to free range on his 100 acre ranch. He further reduces his carbon footprint with a wind turbine installed in 2010 that provides a surplus of energy that goes back to the Long Island Power Association. According to a story published in The New York Times by Howard G. Goldberg (9/24/10) Russell asked Steven Mudd (another flavor of the Long Island wine scene unto himself) to help him find the best pinot noir clones to grow on the north fork. It was Russell’s intention to experiment but not release any vintage until he felt it was exceptional. His first came out in 2007. So now, along with his 100 acre wild grass-fed beef ranch he operates a vineyard of 10 acres of merlot, and 11 acres of pinot noir (largest planting of pinot noir on Long Island). We were surprised when we began the tasting with a white, their first Sauvignon Blanc, called Cuvee Nicola, named for Russell’s longtime partner and soon to be wife. Of course he explained to us that the grapes were sourced elsewhere, as he only grows reds. The grapes came from Claudia Paurita of One Woman Vineyards. We told Russell that we liked his expression of her grapes better than her own. He was quick to tell us that Claudia’s preference is to spend her time with the vines rather than in the winery but she grows a great grape. We agreed. Done in a Sancerre style it tasted clean and crisp. Russell then gave us the opportunity to taste two of his roses. The first, the 2009, he called a little mistake because he left the juice in contact with the skins a little longer than he intended and wound up with a rose that looks suspiciously like a red. It was in fact drier than the 2010. Produced in the saignee style, which literally meaning “bleeding” off the juice after limited contact with the skins. I first learned of this recently while visiting Veritas Vineyards in Virginia earlier this summer. The pinot noirs, both the 2009 and the Reserve 2007 were the best examples of the variety anywhere on Long Island. The merlot and Ben’s Blend, Russell’s meritage were a delight as well. You could taste the care that went into making these wines. Both Russell and Nicola were charming, soft-spoken, warm people and we were very happy we decided to overcome our hither and yon driving approach to find them.
Since it was our last day we wanted to eat somewhere interesting for lunch. Originally I was looking for The Village Cheese Shop. I have a weakness for cheese and feel like a kid in a candy store around a cheesemonger. We did find the place down another of these quaint side streets called Love Lane. After oohing and ahhing about the gaggle of shops a half street down from a Long Island railroad depot we decided to buy some meats, cheeses, and a great loaf of bread, but save it for a picnic at Orient Point while waiting for our sunset ferry ride home. For lunch we went to the very recommended and locally famous Love Lane Kitchen. We dined outdoors next to a day tripping couple from NYC with their chocolate lab named Bella. She was so well behaved. I had a hangar steak sandwich with horseradish mayo and Suzanne had a chicken, guacamole, bacon sandwich. Great flavors!
Our last vineyard visit was at Sparkling Pointe in Southold (another Steve Mudd influenced vineyard), where all wine is produced exclusively in the Methode Champenoise (all bubbles!). So much attention is paid to every detail here that it would be difficult to leave unimpressed. The story of Sparkling Pointe though begins a little further west, in the Waldorf Astoria, where owners Cynthia and Tom Rosicki met, had their first date, and enjoyed their first glass of champagne together. It would not be their last. Successful lawyers and lovers of all things Rio, they wanted to bring the life affirming vibrancy of Carnivale to Sparkling Pointe. Their slogan, “If it’s not Sparkling…what’s the Pointe?” indicates their approach to…everything. The large tasting room holds more than 350 people and even includes a private tasting room done up as a lounge. The walls are decorated with colorful works done by the couple’s favorite artists from Brazil.
We passed through one of the several sets of French doors out onto a veranda overlooking the vineyard. A group of ladies laughing and obviously enjoying a beautiful summer afternoon sat at one of the many tables directly adjacent to the vines.
We chose a more shaded location on the veranda. Another couple had just taken a table next to us, and soon a young family occupied another table near the vines. Cassandra Santoro was working the tasting room and dropped off a menu at our table on her way to pour another round for the ladies.
Cassandra had a lot of real estate to work by herself and she never missed a beat, and even made us feel like the only people there for a tasting. She was friendly, knowledgeable, and never conveyed any sense of feeling rushed. She told us a little of the background and explained the Brazilian influence, and mentioned Gilles Martin, the winemaker from the Champagne region hired by the Rosickis to make their award-winning wines. And just as she had been serving the ladies when we first arrived Cassandra appeared with glasses and the 2007 Brut. Pears and apples, and fresh baked bread delivered by tiny bubbles. Each of the wines was quite good and had easily discernable flavors.
We were happy to linger here, enjoy the view, and the occasional visits by Cassandra and the conversation threads we kept picking up on as the afternoon drifted by.
Reluctant to leave, and with hours to go before catching our ferry, we slowly started making our way east to Orient Point. We walked along the beach again, playing with the smooth round rocks. Eventually we settled down at one of the picnic tables to feast on cheeses, Serrano ham, prosciutto, and olives we had gotten in Mattituck.
We had a car full of wine but opted for the caffeine of diet Coke as we had a three hour ride home after the ferry crossed Long Island Sound. It was a tasty trip, right up to the end. We chose the return wisely because that sunset sure didn’t disappoint. Wouldn’t mind doing that again.