Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Promise of Summer - Kelly Urbanik and Macari Vineyards (NY)

What is it about the promise of summer that it is soooo enticing?
Especially after this Ethan Fromm-esque winter, filled with cold and gray, and blanketed in a thick dough of snow and ice, the promise of the summer months looms like the greenlight at the end of Daisy’s dock beckoning Gatsby.
Recently a friend lamented that she was, “Sick of winter.” Well, actually quite a few of my friends have said that. But two weeks ago, there was a shimmer of summer. A glimpse of hope. And it was magical.
A fortnight back I was fortunate enough to visit Long Island on a relatively warm spring weekend. I had a strong desire to visit a beach, and a half-dozen friends offered their hands. It had been two years since my feet, my toes to be exact, had felt the sand between them. Private tours of the Hamptons and lunch were offered, meant to buoy my up-state flagging spirits. Unfortunately, I could only accept one offer. I have a lot of making-up to do with the others.
I arrived in Bridgehampton, not far from my cousins’ house and was eventually whisked off to the beach. Once there, dazzling conversation complimented the shimmering ocean. A cold wind blew in off the sea, and whipped across the beach. But the warm, bright sun was enough to offset the chill.
A long walk spent exploring houses old and new, while side stepping broken sea shells and pebbles of sea glass with a good friend was enough to instantly clear the winter doldrums from the corners of my cold soul. When the winds momentarily paused, the sun’s warmth rubbed our shoulders and massaged our faces. In an instant one felt younger, vivacious, more relaxed….and excited. I experienced an epiphany of sorts, in which things cloudy suddenly became quite clear. It was a gentle slap to the head like a glass or two of champagne. It was luxurious and invigorating.
My misspent youth was tossed like so much suntan lotion on the beaches bordering Long Island Sound and the Jersey Shore. From the far east end of Long Island, to Fire Island, Jones Beach and Long Beach, to the beaches of Greenwich, Fairfield, and Southport, CT and Sherwood Island. And of course Spring Lake, Asbury Park, Mannesquan, Avon, LBI, and many, many more.
We were excited. Spring and summer were/are just beyond our grasp right now. Like the greenlight at the end of Daisy’s dock, it beckons us all, little Gatsbys each of us, looking for that promise of long, languorous warm days and leisurely evenings. That’s what summer offers.
I left, thrilled and excited. 
Enamored from my visit, I zoomed to a tasting in Mattituck, Long Island wine country on the North Fork. There I participated in a grand barrel tasting with a number of other wine writers and Alex and Gabriella and Joe Macari. And I experienced another kind of epiphany there as well.

Long Island wine lovers have been spoiled for more than a generation. They have some of the best winemakers in the state plying their trade there. Richard Olsen-Harbich, Eric Fry, Roman Roth, Gilles Martin, and Miguel Martin are experienced winemakers, masters of their art. But what of the next generation?
At the barrel tasting offered there (where Eileen Duffy was signing copies of her new book Behind the Bottle) confirmed for many what we all had already expected – that Kelly Urbanik has not only solidified her place as one of the up-and-coming winemakers in the region, but with this newest slate of wines from the most recent vintage, ensured her place among the best of what is to come in Long Island wine. A torch, for lack of a better metaphor, was passed. In effect, to paraphrase Jon Landau, I have seen the future of Long Island wine. And her name is Kelly Urbanik Koch.  

Kelly has everything a great winemaker needs. To borrow another phrase, she is a five tool player. She can talk. She can talk with wine writers. She can make wine. She likes the vineyard. She is a wine geek which means her game will keep evolving. She is comfortable in her own skin. She's giddy and chatty, and very real. She can communicate her winemaking goals to the lay person putting aside all the technical geek lingo. And she's pretty to boot. This makes her an easy win with the consumers and wine club members as well as with the press. Secondly, and most importantly, Kelly can make wonderful wines. Is she still finding her style? Probably. Has she made her greatest wines yet? Nope. Has she made some excellent wines? Absolutely. Over a number of vintages already, she has proven her mettle.

And lucky for Kelly, she has an astounding team of people behind her. Joe Macari Jr. is already a legend in the Long Island wine country. A very down to earth guy, who's gruff, everyman exterior belies the shrewd CEO underneath. Joe's secret weapon in the past has been Alexandra who has the stunning face of the winery for years. Teamed now with her daughter, Gabrielle (A Fordham grad...go Rams!) Macari Vineyards has a duo that can sell wine like nobody's business.

The mother/daughter super duo of Alexandra (above) and Gabrielle (below). There's a lot of big personalities in the Macari household, which is helping to positioning Macari to be a powerhouse in the next generation.
I was impressed by the way that the Long Island wine mafia (dare I use that expression) was out in force. Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report, Steve Bedney and Bruce Stevens of a Vintner's Tale were on hand to chat with Kelly. As was Edible East End Editor Eileen Duffy (below) who was promoting her new book BEHIND THE BOTLE. This kind of journalistic star power doesn't gather for just anything. Another sign of Macari's continued ascendancy. (Note: I hung out with the mafia at the back of the tasting, like the bad boys sitting in the back of the class. We got a couple of cold looks during the tank room sampling, as we chatted during the presentations...Apologies to Alex and Gabriella and Kelly...ps. thanks Lenn Thompson for the rose' photo).
OK, onto the tasting. First two wines we had were the Chardonnay Reserve 2014 and the Dos Aguas White. Both were impressive. LOVED the Chardonnay Reserve. Elegant. Well made. Nice fruit. Nice acidity. Good balance. The Dos Aguas was lovely. Fragrant and beautiful. A fabulous table white, easily impressive. A fabulous wine to entertain with, especially for those who do not favor Chards. A great way to start of the tasting. The next was the Rose. Still a little unsettled in the tank, with a touch of haziness, the wine had lovely pink grapefruit flavors and impressive lingering fruit.
One of the stars of the show was the estate 2014 Cabernet Franc Lifeforce. Still very young, the wine is made in the new cement egg shaped tanks suddenly becoming all the rage in the cutting edge of the winemaking community. The wine was exceptional. A gorgeous saturated red, with lots of fruit, dark fruit, ripe fruit, dark and bright cherry, dark raspberry, graphite. The wine was an instant Yes! You know the wine is good when the writers started to nod their heads at each other immediately. Very impressive! Here's the egg below, drawn on with chalk for a recent wine magazine competition.


The next part of the tasting was four wines from the current lineup. For this we went upstairs to one of their banquet rooms. This was served with some small plate foods paired with the wines. It was delicious. And the wines showed beautifully with the them.

Sauvignon Blanc 2013 was a delicious wine. Kelly absolutely has a way with this grape. Big and powerful on the nose with lots of citrus, this wine delivers green apple, grapefruit, and lemon in a zesty enterprise of fruit and acidity. Zippy yet elegant. Well crafted Well balanced. An elegant wine that never stops having fun. Buy a case for the summer!

Chardonnay Reserve 2012 was impressive. Hints of toasty oak flow over ripe red apples and Bosc pears, with hints of vanilla and spice. This is an elegant, complex wine. I am sometimes dodgy with oaked chards, but this was done beautifully. The fruit and acidity showed through beautifully, and the oak was a nice addition to the wine, not overpowering. Absolutely a classic chardonnay. I know some people e down on Chardonnay if for no other reason than because there is so much of it on the market. Ha! Too bad there aren't more Chards like this. Fantastic!

Dos Aguas 2010 was among my favorites. I have loved Dos Aguas since they first started to make it. More Long Island wineries need to be making this kind of blend. This is the style of wine that made Bordeaux famous and what many of the North Fork wineries should be emulating. 2010 Dos Aguas is the third vintage of this wine. It is a blend of 81% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc. The glass bursts forth with dark cherry, dark raspberry, red and black currant, and hints of plum. Notes of spice, vanilla, mocha, and leather also come across. Big beautiful fruit sit in your mouth like a dark sour cherry pie, and slowly dissolves into a gorgeous layer of fruit. Firm tannins

Block E Red 2012 Dessert wine was a special treat. More like a dust rose' colored wine, it had great acidity and almost a sweetness tinged with a hint of sherry. But in a stunning way. Almost like liquid figs. So impressive!!!!

I tried the Macari Early Wine Chardonnay 2014 in the tasting room. It's the Sauvignon Blanc lover's Chardonnay. Massively impressive. Great, zippy acidity, super fruit, and easy drinking with little tannin, this wine is an instant crowd pleaser. And super popular with the Long Island wine mafia.

The other wine I had was the estate Macari Cabernet Franc Lifeforce 2013. Again, just a gorgeous wine with ripe cherries exploding out of the glass. Nice hints of cedar, toast, spice, and red currant. A lovely, lovely wine. So impressive.

The tasting was followed by a book signing by Eileen Duffy of her new book Behind the Bottle. It is the tory of the rise and rise of Long Island wine. This was the kick off event for Eileen and the Mcari's were exceptional hosts.

At Macari's tasting room you can buy copies of the book not only signed by Eileen but with Kelly's autograph as well.
Kelly Urbanik Koch represents the summer of Long Island wine. She is not the next NEW thing. She represents the future. She is what is just beyond. She is the promise the island's wine country has held out for over the last ten years - that it would continue beyond the people who made it happen to begin with. Kelly is among the vanguard who will carry it into the next decades. And I for one am glad to see a woman move into these ranks! specially on Long Island and in New York state.
As for Long Island wine lovers, unlike Gatsby, you may actually reach out, like the old Dutch sailors, and touch the green new world that sits before us. Long Island is now nurturing a string of young new talents to eventually survive and flourish after it's first stars exit the stage. And Kelly Urbanik (no Daisy, to be sure) is now a mature winemaker, who now shows command of her surroundings and her medium. She is an artist who has begun to paint museum quality material. An important step in the into the future, not only for Macari but for Long Island wine country as well.
Again, congrats to Kelly, Joe, Alexandra, Gabriella, and the rest of the staff at Macari! Fabulous!