Saturday, August 29, 2009

INTERVIEW WITH LENN THOMPSON OF LENNDEVOURS: THE NEW YORK CORK REPORT

Lenndevours: The New York Cork Report is simply the most important wine blog in New York State. It covers the Finger Lakes and Long Island with equal zest. And they have started to pick up more on the Hudson Valley. Lenndevours is a champion of the burgeoning wine region, and one of it's greatest cheeleaders and critics. Lenn Thompson loves the New York wine scene almost as much as he loves his wife, son, his dog, and his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. Between organizing wine blogging conferences and wine bar tastings and launches, Lenn is a ubiquitous presence in the east coast wine world. And he has assembled an excellent staff to cover the regions where he can't be everyday. While I have carried on email conversations with Lenn for the better part of almost four years, we have never actually met - though we have tried. I hope to be able to sometime soon.

Bio
Lenn Thompson, Founder and Editor-in-ChiefLenn, a proud Pittsburgh, PA native, moved to Long Island nearly a decade ago and promptly fell in love with the region's dynamic and emerging wine industry. An Internet marketing guru by profession, he founded LENNDEVOURS.com in early 2004 to share his passion for the wines of New York with his friends, family and readers. In five short years, the blog has become the premier source for New York wine commentary, tasting notes and news.
Formerly the editor of the Long Island Wine Gazette and a contributor to Edible Brooklyn, Lenn contributes to Edible East End, and is the wine columnist for Hamptons.com and Dan's Papers in the Hamptons. He is also a regional editor for Appellation America covering the Long Island and Hudson River Valley regions.
Lenn lives in Sound Beach, NY with his wife Nena, son Jackson and trusty beagle, Ben Roethlisbeagle.


THE INTERVIEW
What is the biggest challenge facing wine in your state today?
That’s a tough question to answer because I think each region has its own set of challenges. On Long Island, there’s the unfair criticism that “the wines are overpriced.” Sure, there are some wines that are priced well above their quality, but there are also great values at most every price point — except the under-$10 category.

In the Finger Lakes, I think the biggest challenge is really an identity crisis. That region has existed for a long time, with a great many wineries making — and succeeding with — sweetish wines from hybrid and native grapes. Now, as a relatively small number of wineries focuses on drier, vinifera wines, it’s a region with two faces — the “festival” wineries and those dedicated to quality and raising the region’s profile on the world stage with riesling, gew├╝rztraminer, cabernet franc and even pinot noir.

The Hudson Valley region often seems happy to cater to Manhattan daytrippers and other tourists, but if they want to move beyond that, they need to increase quality overall. Several wineries are on that path, which is great to see.

Those are just the three primary regions, of course.

If I had to point to one challenge that the entire state faces, I’d say that there is a dire lack of communication and cooperation between the regions. There isn’t a strong leader who can or will band the regions together and drive them forward.

What is the difference between wine in your region from ten years ago to today?
I’ve been living in New York for 10 years and drinking the wines here regularly almost as long, and I think the overall quality has improved tremendously.

On Long Island, where I live, growers have learned how to minimize the “green” flavors often associated with red wines on Long Island. They’ve learned how to reach sugar and phenolic ripeness much more consistently. Even in lesser growing years, very good wines are being made. 2006 is a fine example.

And, thankfully, most winemakers now understand that they need to make Long Island-style wines, rather than trying to make California-style or Bordeaux-style wines. Long Island is unique and that’s okay. In fact, it’s great.

Where do you think wine in your region will be 10 years from now?
It’s exciting to think about that — that’s for sure. I think that on Long Island, you’re going to see growers and winemakers really hone in on the site and techniques (not to mention clones and rootstocks) that will really raise the bar. I also think that you’ll see younger regions like Long Island and the Niagara Escarpment learning more about what works best. It’s important to remember just how young regions like these are — even Long Island, which was founded in 1973.

More specifically, I think you’re going to see Long Island get a lot of attention for wines made with sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc. In the Finger Lakes, I think you’re going to see a winery or two making top-notch pinot noir — not just for New York, but for the country.

Hybrids might continue to be the focus in the Hudson Valley, but I’m already starting to taste some hybrid wines that even the biggest vinifera snob would appreciate. With another ten years working with hybrids, I think you’ll see even better things.


Is there a new trend you expect to see in the next 2-3 years?
I think we’re going to see more wineries — even small ones — creating second labels so that they can offer more affordable wines meant for immediate or near-immediate consumption, without impacting their overall brand.

Do you find liquor stores and wine shops have been a good partner for your state grown wines? What have been some challenges?
I can only speak to this as a consumer, and I think it’s very hit and miss. Unfortunately, the ‘average’ Long Island wine shop may only carry wines from a handful of local wineries and those tend to be wines from the bottom rung of the quality ladder. There aren’t enough shop owners who are passionate enough about local wine to take the time to find the best wines for their customers rather than the ones they can make the most money on.

Region wineries sometimes find it hard to sell wines outside of their state. How easy or difficult is it for your wineries to export their wines to other states…countries?
I don’t think I can really answer this authoritatively.

How big a part do festivals and farm markets play in your state‘s wine distribution?
This year, I know that several Long Island wineries are selling their wines at New York City Greenmarkets and I hear it’s been very successful. Some Finger Lakes producers and one in particular, have been traveling down to Manhattan every week for some time. If they are willing to invest that time, they are clearly getting something out of it.


What are the challenges of getting your wines covered by local press and the wine media?
As a member of the media, my main comment here would be that it amazes me how many New York wineries lack basic media savvy. I’ve sent hundreds of un-returned query emails over the years.
The media is paying attention to NY wines more than ever — but are the wineries paying attention back?

Are there any fears you may have too many wineries in your state?
As a writer, there’s no such thing as too many wineries — the more wineries, the more stories to tell.

And even if there are too many wineries, I’m a big believer in natural selection…the best and best-run wineries will survive through any downturn.


Do you have any wine trails in your state? If so, how effective have they become? If not, why? How do your wineries effectively market themselves in groups? Or not? If not, why not?
This is something that I have many opinions about. I think that New York wineries, in general, do an awful job promoting themselves as a group. I’m not just talking about the lack of state-level promotion either. There are wine trails of course, and they do an okay job of pulling people to the regions for fairly lame events but beyond that, I can only think of one promotion group — Finger Lakes Wine Country — that has any impact beyond that. Or at least has had one to this point.

Are you finding there are enough grape growers to fill the demand created by wineries in your state?
Even with an expectedly smaller crop in 2009, I think there is still a grape glut. That said, I wanted to make some sauvignon blanc last year, but was unable to find any available here on Long Island.