Land, Weather, and Winemaking Tradition
The reason for the unique and distinctive Merlots from the East End is its terroir. Terroir is the French concept of the combination of soil, climate, and winemaking culture that make wines an expression of the locale in which they are produced. It is what makes a Rhine Riesling so different from a Seneca Lake Riesling or a Pinot Noir so distinctive from Burgundy as compared to the Willamette Valley. The land and climate are critical components but the culture and aspirations of the winemakers are what is responsible for consistent quality and development of an emerging wine region. The drive to quality is part and parcel of the vineyards character and tradition.
The Earth of the East End
The land that the grapes grow on is critical to the flavors of the wines. They provide the nutrients, minerals, and water that make the grapes what they are. The land provides the amount of drainage or water retention. The standard view in viticulture is that Bacchus likes the hills. Grapes do not like soggy roots and hills provide runoff. Eastern Long Island is as flat as a pool table, apparently not the ideal terrain for the Greek god of wine. However, the soils are generally clay and sand, naturally acidic, and well-drained making them ideal for wine grape production. The drainage helps the vines to keep their feet dry. The island, composed of glacial outwash plains, provides good minerality for the vines. Basically it is a big sandbar of soil pushed down from the Hudson Valley and dumped by the last ice age. The topsoil is a bit thin, producing lower yields which generally results in higher quality grapes with greater flavor concentration.
Long Island Climate and Wines
Long Island is on the same latitude as Madrid. However, its climate is nothing like Spainish capital. The East End is a cooler maritime climate. The brutal summer heat seen in New York City or Madrid is tempered on the island by the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island Sound, and Peconic bay. These same bodies of water help to prevent late spring frosts, which kill young grape buds, effectively lengthening the growing season to approximately 210-220 days, similar to Bordeaux. The heat accumulation is similar to northern Sonoma County, another cool winemaking region. The local Merlots struggle to get to the sugar levels considered fully ripe in warmer regions. The slower and more gradual ripening allows greater complexity and aromatic characteristics to develop through longer time on the vine. Indeed, winemakers observe that on Long Island they get ripe fruit at lower sugar levels than are generally considered necessary elsewhere. This helps to produce solid and rich wines at lower alcohol levels.
Local Long Island Winemaking Culture
Long Island's wine industry was started by the Hargraves, a young couple who were chasing a dream of producing the French style wines which they had fallen in love with. Their drive and motivation was more about making wines of quality and elegance than producing a commodity or a mass market product. The Hargraves groundwork has been largely continued throughout the history of the development of the industry. There are no large bulk wine producers and no "Two Buck Chuck" commodity wine manufacturers in the region. Dominated by small farm wineries the East Enders are making hand crafted artisanal wines in relatively small quantities. The wines are less manipulated than many other regions and therefore more expressive of the land and climate. The aspirations of the region are to make great wines in general, and for many, Merlots in particular. The region has had an affinity of approach with the great winemaking regions of the world, especially Bordeaux. The cultural part of the local terroir is critical to the consistently increasing level of quality of output seen in the