LI Vineyards & Breweries: What to Know Before You Go

When one thinks of a vineyard, they typically think of California, France, Italy.  New York-and more specifically Long Island-is not usually at the top of that list.  But what some might not realize is that there are over 50 vineyards on Long Island alone!  The first vineyard was planted in Cutchogue, on Long Island’s North Fork in 1973. Six varietals were planted between 1973 and 1974, and two years later, Hargrave Vineyards opened to the public.  Although no longer in establishment, Hargrave has since been purchased and renamed Castello Di Borghese, and is still operational today.

Mccall2I recently spoke with Brewster McCall, co-owner of McCall Wines, who gave some insight into vineyard life.  Russell McCall purchased the old farm in 1996 to preserve it from the threat of development.  In 1997, they planted Corchaug Estate vineyard (21 acres in total), and in 2007, they made their first wines under the McCall Wines label.  They sold their grapes and chose to wait for some maturity in the vineyard before making their own wine to focus on quality, above all else.

One look at the quaint restored barn and you can see why McCall is one of the most popular vineyards on the island-but once you sample the wine, you can really taste why they are one of the most popular vineyards on the island.  Their 2010 Pinot Reserve received “Best Pinot in NY State” at the 2013 NY Food & Wine Classic, and their Ben’s Blend-a merlot based Bordeaux blend-scored a 91 in Wine Spectator, and won a blind tasting by the Long Island Merlot Alliance.

I asked Brewster about the wine making process, specifically why some varietals take longer to make than others: “Unoaked whites and roses can be made rather quickly; our 2013 Marjorie’s Rose and Cuvee Nicola Sauvignon Blanc have already been released in the tasting room.  Oaked wines and reds take much longer to soften and come around.  For instance, we just released our 2010 Reserve Merlot after three years of aging in bottle, and some of our 2010s aren’t even ready to come out.  The very best wineries will only release wines once they begin to show well.  Of course that means sitting on your investment, which can be costly.”  Each varietal of grape has a different ripening time period.  Whites come in first, and Pinot Noir is the earliest ripening red, coming in around mid-to-late September.  Merlot and Cabernet are the last to harvest, as late as a week before frost, depending on the weather.

IMG_0766August and September are the busiest months for most vineyards, especially for McCall.  A lot of vineyards offer food, local seafood and cheeses, live music on the weekends, weddings, wine dinners, fundraisers, and a host of other activities.  I asked Brewster if he had any tips for first time vineyard goers – here are his suggestions: Designate a driver, ask questions, bring a water bottle and hydrate throughout the day, pace yourself and don’t be embarrassed to spit, and above all be respectful of the wineries you visit, because they may not allow outside food or smoking. Add in some stops off the beaten path-usually the staff at the tasting rooms are great resources to find out about the next best places to visit.  And most of all have fun!

A lot of out of towners, and I’m sure native Long Islanders, don’t realize that there are at least 23 breweries on Long Island between Nassau and Suffolk County. The majority of these are housed in Suffolk County, but several are located in Nassau County.  The first Long Island brewery was established in 1994, but soon closed its doors in 1998. BrickHouse Brewery, located in Patchogue, is the oldest, still operational brewery on the island, being founded in 1996.  In the past few years, several more breweries have started to pop up, including the Oyster Bay Brewing Co., located in Oyster Bay. I spoke with owner and brew master Gabriel Haim, who had some great wisdom to share.

qualityHops“Breweries can be separated into two categories – brewpubs and craft breweries. Craft breweries produce less than 6 million barrels annually, while brewpubs are restaurants where they make their own beer for consumption, and sometimes distribution” (think BrickHouse Brewery and John Harvard’s).

While wine can take years to perfect, beer can take significantly less time from start to drink.  I asked Gabriel exactly how long it takes to make beer.  He said a typical brew day takes approximately 6 hours, and they can have that batch in kegs, ready to drink within 10 days to 2 weeks.  But what exactly goes into beer?  We’ve all heard of “hops,” but what exactly are they?  As Gabriel explains it, “Hops are used for two purposes in the beer making process-bittering and aroma.  Hops are added during the boil and depending on when the hops are added can vary the bitterness and the aroma of the beer.”  Speaking of bitter, why are some beers more bitter than others? As Gabriel explains it, beers that are more bitter (Pale Ales, IPAs, ESBs) feature hops that are simply more bitter.  Beers are measured in IBUs (International Bittering Units) to determine how bitter they are.

Oyster-Bay-logo-1024x731We’ve also all heard of flavored beers – which some might think is full of artificial flavors and/or coloring.  And while some mass produced beers are artificial, Oyster Bay Brewing Co. brews are not.  Gabriel states that there are many different flavors you can use including typical fruits (blueberry, raspberry) to atypical choices such as peppers, basil and oysters (Oyster Bay Brewing Co.’s favorite!).  Another word that seems to be synonymous with breweries these days is “growlers”.  A growler is a 64oz jug (1/2 gallon) that you can fill up in the brewery.  You purchase the empty growler and pick your favorite beer to take home with you.  When you’re finished, you can bring it back empty and fill it back up again!  Oyster Bay Brewing Co. sells 16oz, 32oz and 64oz growlers.

I spoke with one future brewery owner Justin Vertichio, who plans to open his doors to Frank & Bones Brewing Co. in June 2015.  He and friend/business partner Jonny Rosero are in the very early stages of opening their brewery.  It takes time to obtain the appropriate licensing, branding, etc.  The idea for the brewery came about through their mutual love of beer, and they plan to focus specifically on Ales.  Frank & Bones brews should be available for consumption towards the end of this summer/early fall, so be sure to keep an eye out for this exciting new brewery!

The sense of pride when speaking to local vineyard and brew masters is overwhelming. They truly care about a great product and pleasing their friends and neighbors.  As Gabriel Haim of Oyster Bay Brewing Co. put it, “We all take pride in our product and our establishments and love when people come to visit to see our operation. We appreciate the local support from the towns that we are based out of, as well as those that travel from far away to see us.”

Next time you plan a trip to the vineyards or breweries, be sure to check out McCall Wines and Oyster Bay Brewing Co.

By Toni Calabrese

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