A WINEMAKER’S WONDERINGS: Love Making Wine

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Winegrowing on the East End of Long Island is not for the faint of heart. From the difficulties of our climate to the feeding frenzies of the local deer population and flocks of birds to the demands of running a small business, we are faced with daily challenges. On bucolic blue-skied days when folks feel like they are in paradise we often hear, “Oh, you must love what you do.” They haven’t witnessed the necessary fortitude and unbelievably hard work that it takes.

But, yes, it’s true. I do love what I do. Winegrowing is one of the few things on earth that inextricably links you to a place, a group of people and a culture. These links are in the here and now but also run far and deep to the first people who selected, planted and cultivated vines. Making wine fuses art and science, even alchemy. It is an undertaking where ecology comes before economy. The process of growing and fermenting grapes ends with an expressive, alive product that is first delicious then reflective of a particular terroir, style and collection of individuals. A bottle of wine brings human beings joy and allows them to consider the hedonistic, social, historical, philosophical and even biological aspects of life. Each bottle of wine and every growing season provides the opportunity to grow and to learn.

So, perhaps it’s not surprising that people in the winemaking business tend to be passionate, alive folks who truly seem to love what they do. As usual this got me wondering.

I posited the question, “Why do you love making wine” to four other winemakers on the East End of Long Island and was pleasantly surprised at the consistent themes as well as slight variations. Creativity was mentioned time and again. Eric Fry of Lenz in Peconic says, “It’s the creativity thing.” Roman Roth, winemaker at Wölffer Estate in Sagaponack and the Grapes of Roth, amongst others, writes, “I love the creative part of it. To physically hold your own finished bottle in the hand is very rewarding. I love the seasonal aspect of it. The rush at harvest, the peace in January and February, then sharing of the wines with people in summer.”

Kareem Massoud, the second-generation winemaker at Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, is bursting with ideas. “I love making wine because it is one of the best ways man can be true to himself and his environment.” Kareem speaks about the “rewarding lifestyle,” not monetarily but the “literal labor of love,” the hard work, “the shedding of blood, sweat and tears that can result in all for naught or end up being incredibly rewarding.”

Without sounding trite, he wants to pay homage to the idea of becoming one with the earth, acting as a steward and then sharing the result with other people. These are profound and beautiful thoughts.

Fry also thinks “it’s very visceral.” “Besides the fact we get to drink all day…and it’s OK…and we get to make people feel good and know you did it.” He speaks quite thoughtfully about “taking a product that doesn’t taste the slightest bit like wine,” namely grapes, “and creating something that didn’t exist before that is delicious and people are pleased about, and people enjoy. Then they tell you that and it feels good.”

I couldn’t agree more

I’ll let Rich Olsen-Harbich, the winemaker at Raphael in Peconic, have the final say on this matter. His words are a lovely summary that echo many of the themes touched on above. “Making wine is a continuation of a tradition that began thousands of years ago; it feels like a gift that I am continuing to pass on. A unique combination of science, art, history, religion and romance—all things that I love—that culminates with the creation of delicious nectar. I t’s the guiding of the natural world, through our hands, into something ethereal that brings hope, happiness, relief and love into people’s everyday lives.”

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James Christopher Tracy is the winemaker and a partner at Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton.