Tuesday, May 21, 2013

2002 Wolffer Estate Premiere Cru - The Green Light of Daisy's Dock

So, there I was in Montreal, with the Taste Camp 2013 crew, at the BYOB dinner that bloggers and writers famously throw for themselves on the second night of the dinner. The idea is you bring your best or funkiest or coolest bottle. Some bring wines that best represent their region, new forward thinking or natural wines, something local (for them). No rules, just great wine and fun.

Ring leader of this show is fellow blogger and friend, Lenn Thompson, editor-in-chief, of the wildly successful New York Cork Report, and founder of Taste Camp which is a annual gather of bloggers in small, local wine regions in the US and Canada. With him, he brought a 2002 Wolffer Estate Premiere Cru Merlot.

Premiere Cru represents numerous things about the estate and about Long Island's aspirations. In a way it is a strange juxtaposition to be drinking it when the Great Gatsby has just recently been released.

To Wolffer, Premiere Cru was and is the highest expression of that estate's terroir and what it can produce, and by extension, what Long Island could produce.

Lenn wrote about the wine, "Wolffer's Premier Cru is 100% Merlot made with grapes from their oldest vines (planted in 1990) on their steepest slopes, ensuring good drainage. Ocean breezes also protect the vines from cold snaps, allowing them to ripen fully into November. Through a time-consuming, hands-on process, the grapes were hand picked, hand sorted and any stems that slipped past the de-stemmer were also plucked out, leaving only the best fruit. The juice spent 28 days on the skins and the wine was moved to 100% French oak for almost 20 months." This was and is wine making technique at it's height.

For Wolffer, it was like they were saying to the wine world, 'We are making world class wine. This wine is unbelievable. This wine is as good as it gets....anywhere.' It was also a statement -Wolffer is an estate to be recognized, and winemaker Roman Roth is a world class winemaker. It also meant that they and by extension other wineries, could raise the bar on prices of their lesser wines, many of which were also good.

The Great Gatsby is possibly the greatest American novel, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which epitomizes the beauty and horror of the American dream. In America's vain promise of riches to any man, like Midas, the golden touch is sometimes ruinous. One true fact remains - money can't buy you love. The green light at the end of Daisy's dock, to Jay Gatsby, is the thing he yearns for like nothing else. It is his prize, his dream, his obsession. It is the promise of riches, acceptance, love, and all dreams realized. Yet in the end, it is unattainable, always illusive, always just beyond reach. And of course, written and set in Long Island, it is a quintessential part of Long Island history and folk lore.

For Long Island wine, Premiere Cru was the green light on the end of Daisy's dock. When the first vintage was released, at $100, in 2002, it has represented the aspirations of the Long Island wine community. It was a bar stretcher. It was a bold statement, that said, "Our region has arrived. we are this good!" It was supposed to be the shape of things to come. It was controversial at the time. No wine in all of New York was worth $100, some said. $100???

It was so important, upon it's first release, Howard G. Goldberg wrote in the New York Times, "In May, the Wölffer Estate expects to release a wine that Roman Roth, the winemaker and general manager, calls its masterpiece. It will be Long Island's first $100 bottle, and experts on the state's wines cannot recall any New York wine priced at $100 on release...Since merlot is the Long Island wine industry's métier, and the 15-year-old Wölffer Estate, in Sagaponack on the South Fork, is a leading producer, the wine is creating excitement, although few have tasted it. Few will. Only 1,200 bottles -- 200 six-bottle cases -- were made. Of these, 194 cases of 750-milliliter bottles remain.
'Most likely the wine will be sold out before release,'" Mr. Roth told the Times.

When Lenn pulled out the cork, and I poured some for myself, and I thought to myself, "We were drinking history." But isn't that what all wine drinking is? Yes, in some ways, but here it was a much bigger piece of history. To Long Island, when Roman released the wine, it set a new bar. While winemakers wouldn't say it out loud, some asked or said in hushed tones, that maybe Long Island could attain the aspiration that had so quietly dreamed of - of becoming a world class wine region.

Estates filled with $50 and $75 bottles of wine, with great ratings in Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, and articles in the New York Times. These were the dreams of those winemakers and winery owners. To become wines that would be sought out by aficionados and collectors throughout the wine world. And what's wrong with dreaming like that? It's the American dream!

The wine was a dark, deep red, almost purple. The bouquet was of raspberry and vanilla, and mocha, and cherry. We tasted the wine.

Lenn wrote of one of the other vintages, "California is known for "big" Cabernet Sauvignon and this is a "big" Merlot. Concentrated with a rich, full mouthfeel the palate offers full, but smooth tannins (given the 100% new oak cooperage), more berries and a faint mineral/lead pencil note toward the end that gives it a Bordeaux twist. The finish is War and Peace long, lingerly nicely on the back of my tongue with a subtle sweet spice..."

The wine was fantastic. It was big fruit upfront, sill vibrant and exhilarating. And the structure was impressive, with nice acid, good tannins, and a finish that lasted a long, long, long time. Roman's art was well evidenced here. Fantastic!

This bottle of wine proved Christian Wolffer and Roman Roth's point. Great wine can and is being made on Long Island. This is a premiere cru, a first growth if you will. It is spectacular. It is Merlot and it tastes great! To that point, almost every writer and blogger was talking about it by the end of the dinner there in Montreal, hundreds of miles away, in another country.

And so I pondered the light on Daisy's dock. Maybe Long Island isn't Bordeaux yet, with it's $600 to $1,000 bottles. But it's moving forward. It's tasting rooms are filled with great wines patrons are willing to shell out big bucks for - though there is still plenty of affordable wine. Long Island definitely moved closer to it's dream....though the green light still out distances it's reach.

But in reaching, in grasping, Wolffer and Roth pushed the boundaries anyone thought could be reached more than 10 years ago! And in doing so, they moved an entire region, and entire industry, an entire state, forward. I say congratulations to Roman Roth, an artist with a grape! An in his passing, I salute Mr. Wolffer, who had the strength of character to stand up and stake the flag for the region.

Yet, the green light at the end of Daisy's dock still shines in the night for Long Island wine, and by extension, New York wine. Which winemaker, which owner, is staring at it now?