Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Road Less Traveled – Shinn Estate Vineyards – Tasting the Difference

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost, The Road Less Traveled

I have drank many Shinn wines. But must embarrassingly I must admit that I never visited the vineyard. It was not a purposeful omission. My visits to Long Island, by necessity, have been very rushed in the last four or five years. I’ve made very few visits off the main roads. It was a hodge-podge of visits, employing journalistic guerilla tactics, hit-and-run visits, with all the subtle timing of a full on assault. Interview. Drink. Leave. Race to one more winery. Hit 495 West home. Race to avoid traffic. Ugh!

This last visit I had time to hit some of the back roads, and visit some wineries that were in fact not on the main road. I took the road less traveled….and at Shinn, it made all the difference.

I’ve read a great deal about David Page and Barbara Shinn, but I’d never met them. After just a few minutes with both of them, I cannot help but admit it, the rest of the world somehow melted away. When you enter Shinn Vineyards, it has an odd kind of calming effect. You’re at Shinn. It’s a very zen kind of moment. You get swept up in it, not like a tidal wave, but more by a gentle current. Am I a sucker? I don’t think so. Time seems to slow down when you’re at Shinn. But it’s a good thing.
According to the website, “Subtle shifts in the nature and ecology of these twenty acres of meadow and grapevines causes the life cycle to adapt. That is how a healthy vineyard responds; the vines are in tune with each other and dance to the symphony of the universe. At Shinn Estate Vineyards we grow our wine by the rhythms of nature, fostering organic and Biodynamic based farming.”

They planted their vineyard in the spring of 2000, after two years of working with the soil. David and Barbara over see a blooming meadow of clover, sorrel, vetch, dandelions, asters and goldenrod that grow between the vine rows and under the trellis. Their soil is fed a diet of organic inputs including seaweed, fish, composted pressings from our winemaking, mulched prunings, horn manure, and biological teas. The complex habitat they have allowed to evolve is teeming with beneficial insects, rabbits, birds, their honeybees and their roaming Bantam chickens. They have created a balanced ecosystem in the vineyard that allows beneficial insects to keep troublesome ones in check.

According to David and Barbara, “A close personal connection to the land drew us to a philosophy and practice of agriculture shaped by the anthroposophist Rudolph Steiner known as Biodynamics which addresses the subtle workings of nature that are not readily apparent to the human eye. We acknowledge the interconnectedness of Earth’s resources: soil, water, air and minerals while recognizing that Nature is more than a system limited to the seasons and the surrounding environment…The homeopathic Biodynamic preparations such as horn manure, horn silica, and plant composts stimulate and regulate the soil, groundcover and vines linking them together in a rhythm which brings complexity and life force to our wines.”

You can say it all sounds a little too woo-woo, but in fact Shinn Estate Vineyards is one of the founding members of the Long Island Sustainable Wineries organization, the first third party recognized sustainable practices organization on the east coast. They take it very seriously. A lot of wineries say their “sustainable” but you get the sense that it’s sloganeering, whereas at Shinn, you know it’s the absolutely something they believe in. Shinn has already taken the road less traveled for you. They have gone down a very intense, less traveled route, to get to their wines.

Shinn doesn’t do anything like anywhere else. Even when it comes to chickens. Barbara and David were making a chicken coop out of old barrels. The barrels were set on tees, but one end was recreated with a trapdoor and some chicken wire, so the birds could breathe and hide from the foxes at night in the safety of their coops. They were quite unique and distinct. Everything has a second use, it seems, even after its first use is done. They just keep working it at Shinn.

Now for the wines….

2011 First Fruit Sauvignon Blanc - This wine is called “first fruit” because it is the first fruit that they harvest from the vineyard every year. As described, their sauvignon blanc exhibits classic flavors of ripe pear, mineral and herbs, which come through loud and clear. Vibrant fruit with elegant floral and tropical notes. Incredible. One of my absolute favorites of the visit!!!

2010 Chardonnay – This unoaked Chardonnay features prominent mineral characters mixed with tropical fruit and well-balanced acidity. A long 8 month post fermentation on lees helps to bring complexity to the wine without becoming too big. Very flavorful. Pretty.

2011 Coalescence - A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer are combined in this light, delicious refreshing white. A big citrus bomb. Delicious.
2011 Rosé - Strawberry, raspberry and watermelon all come through huge on the nose. A subtle but fantastic wine with great fruit, and nice acidity. A nice, dry finish. Elegant. Wonderful!

Red Blend – This is a non-vintage blending of a little bit of everything, including Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Syrah. This is a great, every day table red. Delicious. A very, very nice wine. A solid wine you should buy by the case as your house wine.

2008 Estate Merlot - Classic flavors of black cherry, chocolate, coffee and vanilla all come through as promised. Lots of spice, a hint of tobacco leaves, a whiff of cocoa? This wine can be drunk now and/or saved for 5-10 years. A very, very solid Long Island Merlot.

2009 Wild Boar Doe – This is Shinn’s playful turn on Bordeaux-styled blend or meritage. The wine is a blend of 40% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 15% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. Big ripe flavors of dark stewed fruits like blackberry, dark cherry, dark raspberry, big cocoa and vanilla. A hint of cassis. Wonderful! Really like this wine! And it will age fabulously.

2008 Nine Barrels Reserve Merlot - Blackberry and black plum come through as promised as well as a hint of violet and chocolate, and earth. Lovely.

2010 Late Harvest - In October of 2010 Shinn harvested two rows of Sauvignon Blanc and one row of Semillon after it had been dried to raisins by “noble rot.” The grapes were de-stemmed, combined, and then fermented together. After pressing, the wine was aged for ten months in a single three year old barrel. It was finished in new oak for 10 days before bottling. The wine is a delicious, subtle with hints of honey and apricot. Lovely!

2009 Veil - In October of 2009 they harvested two rows of ripe (instead of raisin-ed) grapes Sauvignon Blanc and one row of Semillion. Like the late harvest, the grapes were fermented and pressed together, and aged for two years in three year old barrels.

A special tip of the hat to Robert Frost. As always, the sage old Poet Laureate was correct. This was an awesome experience. Shinn is another world away. And their wines, coincidentally, are out of this world. Fantastic stuff. Absolutely wonderful. I took the road less traveled, and that made all the difference.