A common misconception about the wine world that we frequently encounter is who makes wine. While a lot of folks associate winemaking with grand estates and wineries that look like castles, the reality of the natural wine world is that many winemakers are farmers. To a lesser degree, many winemakers are operations born out of a passion for experimentation. These operations are often found in garages, basements, and backyards. For some incredible examples of such upstart winemaking endeavors, look no further than Long Island itself.
One of the most exciting fermentation projects on the eastern shoreboard is, believe it or not, happening right now in a tiny garage in Roslyn. Long Island natives Erik Longibardi and Benford Leplay released the first vintage under the name Floral Terranes in 2017, but they’re not just making natural ciders and wine for fun. In fact, Floral Terranes is serving a serious purpose. As one very talented wine writer put it, Floral Terranes is an “act of cultural preservation, art, and agriculture.”
All of the fruit for the Floral Terranes bottlings is sourced from New York. This approach, along with the fact that FT has bottled a bunch of different ciders and wines, is a true testament to an agricultural history that Erik and Benford are working to preserve. We are particularly fond of their ‘Suburban Morraines’ and ‘Upland Morraines’ ciders we currently have stocked, but we can’t wait to get our hands on some more of the wines when they are released!
Head out east about as far as you can go on Long Island and you’ll find another incredible group of folks crafting some amazing beverages. Matchbook Distilling began as a distillation R&D project in 2016 by Leslie Merinoff-Kwasnieski. While we don’t have time to run down the many many MANY different spirits they’ve created thus far, what we can say is that every step of this operation is sustainable and delicious. Leslie and her team spend time visiting neighboring farmers to find anything left over or growing well that they can potentially work with. They are constantly experimenting but have mastered a couple spirits - they make two impeccably smooth vodkas they call ‘Blingnova,’ one from wheat and one from corn. At the moment, we also have a Strawberry amaro (Italian style digestif, perfect for sipping) from Matchbook called ‘Day Trip’.
Perhaps a more traditional winemaking operation, at least to the casual observer, is Matchbook’s North Fork neighbor, McCall. Owned and operated by Russ McCall since the ‘90s, the farm at McCall is picturesque. But unlike many modern American wine estates, McCall’s top priority is quality wine, and their focus on sustainability and creating a healthy environment for their grapes is proof.
For Russ and his wife Nicola, “agritourism” isn’t an interest. So while you can go visit and be amazed by their wines (maybe even purchase some of their farm raised beef, if you’re lucky), you won’t find any of the shticks other wineries employ to distract you from mediocre wines. One of our favorites is the Sauvignon Blanc named after Russ’s wife, the ‘Cuvée Nicola’ - enough fruit for your New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc lover, enough minerality for your Sancerre lover - the perfect balance. They also make two fantastic rosé wines in addition to some complex reds they release with a bit of age - the Merlot is currently the 2014 vintage!
All of these projects are inspired and thoughtful, but most importantly they taste amazing. We are incredibly proud to fill our shelves with wines and spirits that are created by people with intention and standards. Being able to source many of those products from the surrounding area is a huge plus. Keep these people in mind when you’re heading out east or looking for that next bottle of delicious wine.