Thursday, June 15, 2006

Save a farm; drink local

This may be a first. I'm not sure I've ever written a column about a column in another newspaper. And I've certainly never written a column about wine. But here goes.

Last Wednesday, New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov turned his attention to Long Island wines in his column "The Pour." Flipping through the pages of the "Dining In" section last Wednesday morning — a section I rarely find time to peruse, especially on a Wednesday — my heart skipped a beat when I saw the words Long Island in the title of Asimov's column. Would he pan the wines of our emerging wine region? As the headline came into focus — "On Long Island, a Case for Respect" — I felt instant relief. If Mr. Asimov is talking about respect for Long Island wines in the title, this wasn't going to be bad. I reached for my reading glasses and sat down.

Why the fleeting moment of panic? Why do I care? I don't own a vineyard or a stake in one. Heck, I don't even have a wine cellar, never mind the wine to fill it.

But I'm invested in the Long Island wine region, and you should be, too. Long Island wineries are central players — if not the central players — in our evolving North Fork economy.

The success of Long Island as a wine region has a direct bearing on our quality of life on the North Fork. Look around. Those acres and acres planted in grapes, stretching out before you as far as the eye can see in some places? Envision acres and acres of single-family homes dotting the landscape, because were it not for the success of our fledgling wine region, that's probably what you'd be looking at.

Many moons ago, as a Riverhead town councilwoman considering zoning initiatives aimed at preserving farmland, I was told (repeatedly) by Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela: "The best way to preserve farmland is to preserve farming." He was, obviously, correct. We grappled with that concept and with each other. Farm Bureau asked government to get and stay out of the way — something vineyard owners I'm sure would agree with today, 20 years later.

While we were arguing these points in Town Hall, people like the Hargraves, Lenzes, Massouds, Bedells and Goerlers were planting grapes, tending their vines and experimenting. As a result of their efforts, the idea of a Long Island wine region took root — and grew. People in Southold town government are still debating how best to preserve farmland but the vineyard owners — they've done it.

The way of life we enjoy on the North Fork — its rural character and beauty — is directly dependent on the continued growth, development and success of the Long Island wine region. This is not to minimize the importance of other agricultural pursuits in these parts, of course. But the dominant feature of the agricultural and economic landscape on the North Fork is becoming the vineyard. What would happen to our tourism-based economy if acres of grapes gave way to housing, and the North Fork's rural landscape became a suburban one?

If you appreciate the North Fork as it is, you have, in my opinion, an obligation to support the Long Island wine region. What does that mean?

For Times/Review Newspapers, it means publishing Wine Press, the official guide to Long Island Wine Country. We started publishing Wine Press in the early 1990s as an expression of our commitment to the local wine industry and to a sustainable economy tied to North Fork's rural character and beauty.

For individuals, supporting our wine region means, first and foremost, if you drink wine, drink Long Island wine. There's a local wine — a good local wine, as Mr. Asimov pointed out in his column last week — for every taste and purpose. You may be able to pick up a cheaper bottle of wine imported from France or Italy, but then you're shipping your dollars out of town, instead of supporting your local economy and your own quality of life. If a local wine costs $5 more, think of it as a direct investment in local farmland preservation. I'd rather pay a little more for a bottle of fine local wine to preserve local farmland than pay higher property taxes for the services required by all the houses that'll be built where the vineyards once were. Wouldn't you?

Ask for Long Island wine in restaurants, especially local restaurants, but ask for them wherever you go. Patronize local restaurants that have Long Island wines on their wine lists, and let the restaurant staff know you appreciate their local wine list and dine there, in part, because of it.

Visit the wineries, and take your visiting friends and family on a tour. I did this last summer for the first time in a very long time and it was a great deal of fun. It's also educational, and to really appreciate wine and the region we're living in, it's essential to learn something about it. And don't be intimidated. I still can't quite pick up all the subtle flavors that wine experts detect in a glass of wine. But that's never detracted from my enjoyment.

Back to Asimov's column: He noted that our region gets very little attention in the wine world. (It was featured in a big spread in Wine Spectator last month, though.) Mr. Asimov's assessment of the local wines (both white and red) he tasted at a dinner arranged for him by Charles Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue was very positive.

"... Long Island wines are proving themselves worthy of respect," Mr. Asimov wrote. "The best have a style of their own, leaner than the California wines with lower alcohol and higher acidity. As tastes swing away from the fruit bomb end of the spectrum, people are going to find a lot of pleasure in the wines from the North Fork."

And that, my friends, is good for all of us.

No comments: