The terms “Old World” and “New World” have been part of the wine lexicon for decades. Old World wines, defined as the product of terroir and tradition, are grown in less than perfect conditions and yield wines of elegance and balance. New World wines, commonly grown in warmer climates, are dark with inky extraction, high alcohol and overtly ripe fruit. This holds true for the most part, except when it comes to a certain atypical member of the New World: Long Island.
Often, the zeitgeist in the U.S. drifts from west to east; trends developed in California eventually make their way to the Atlantic. With wine style, however, the Western U.S. seems to be more of a follower than a leader. We’ve seen it before; California producers look for love in all the wrong places, from the barrel-fermented chardonnay euphoria of the 1980s to the steamy yet doomed love affair with merlot in the ’90s. More recently, it was the geeky young-love nerd fest with pinot noir.
Now the wandering eyes of the West Coast have a new muse, one that is much different from its long-term partner. She is ethereal and elegant, refreshing and low in alcohol and inspired by the Old World. Her name is Balance, and she is the hot topic in American wine today. Winemakers and the media are engaged in a philosophical debate about how to achieve balance, discussing the merits of early picking and more judicious use of oak while describing balanced wines as the true measure of dedication and passion in the wine cellar.
Why is this happening? Simply put, wine consumers have become tired of high-alcohol, overly extracted wines. They want variety and choice, but mainly they want sincerity, purity and something they can actually drink with a meal. We’re seeing the evolution and maturation of the American palate leading to a more serious level of wine and food appreciation. In response, California winemakers are scrambling to produce wines with lower alcohol and more finesse.
The big problem is the climates of California, Australia and other new-world regions can’t easily produce this style of wine. In fact, it’s getting more difficult here as our climate continues to warm. It can be done, mind you, but not naturally. The West Coast’s push toward more balanced wines started in the 1990s with the use of alcohol-removing technology, eventually evolving into the now common practice of adding water to grape juice before fermentation. But let’s be honest: the trend in California to produce wines with less alcohol and more acid is based not on a dedication to terroir, but on a calculated manipulation of juice to make wine that meets new market expectations.
The happy reality is Long Island has produced crisp, elegant and low-alcohol wines for almost 40 years—completely naturally—with ever-increasing quality and little need for winemaker intervention. Our style has never wavered; we have a dedicated, monogamous relationship with aromatic whites and ripe, elegant reds, all with moderate amounts of alcohol, refreshing natural acidity and an earthy minerality. We don’t have to change our techniques to be fashionable. It’s what our vineyards genuinely produce and the wine we sincerely create. Our terroir does this all by itself, and it’s the coolest wine style going at the moment. We may not always be hip, but we’ll always be steady.
Balance shouldn’t be short lived or difficult to obtain. It’s inherent in the terroir and so will take root as a persistent character of that district’s wines. If it’s too difficult to achieve naturally, then nature is telling you to do something else. Balance can’t be forced, and it certainly shouldn’t be manufactured. It is the natural state of good wine and a necessity in great wine.
We make wine in one of the oldest parts of the New World in a style all our own. This requires a new definition along with a new nom de plume, one that breaks with common dogma and accurately describes our region—an edgy, temperate zone of four seasons, unpredictable rainfall and cool ripening conditions. It’s a place near the sea with fertile soils, mild temperatures and lots of sunshine, all wrapped up in a distinctive New York groove. It’s a place like nowhere else on earth. I like to call it the Cool New World.