Riverhead's Martha Clara Vineyards
(MCV) is one of the North Fork's busiest wineries. In addition to having one of Long Island's most ambitious events calendar, they also have one of the region's largest wine portfolios, producing no fewer than two dozen different wines - and with new ones being added regularly.
In the past, MCV has been best known - I think - as the place with the busy tasting room and approachable, affordable wines. Wines like their rose - which features Bernie, the winery's favorite pooch on the label and Glacier's End series of wines. In some ways, this reputation is valid. They do make eminently approachable wines - it's one of their goals. But does "approachable" mean that wines need to be sweet or boring?
New winemaker Juan Eduardo Micieli-Martinez, who joined MCV last year after working at Shinn Estate Vineyards, Pellegrini Vineyards, and Premium Wine Group, clearly doesn't think so. His first wines, whites from the 2007 vintage, have hit the market and they show marked improvement already. When I asked him what he hopes to bring to MCV, he told me simply, "Attention to detail."
Micieli-Martinez, along with recently departed Director of Operations Ben Coutts have plotted a new course for MCV - one with new energy, ideas and creativity. New tasting room manager Chris Ryan is also working to improve what had been an underwhelming tasting room staff.
To get a better sense for where MCV is going, I stopped in recently for a tasting and tour - both of the new demo kitchen and event facilities and at Premium Wine Group, the custom winemaking facility where the wines are made.
We started off by tasting some of those 2007 wines, and I came away impressed overall. Here are some of the highlights:
The MCV 2007 Pinot Grigio ($16) surprised me - mostly because I hadn't cared for previous releases much. On the nose, all of that classic Pinot Grigio citrus character is here - coming through mainly as grapefruit, lemon and lemon zest aromas - but what sets this apart from the boring lemon-water Pinot Grigios that line wine shop shelves is a subtle richness and faintly herbal, faintly almondy note. Similar flavors come through on the palate. My notes say "fresh-squeezed lemon, lime zest, sweet grapefruit" and the acidity is terrific. When ice cold, there is a bit of a sour, bitter citrus pith flavor. Letting it warm a bit helps.
Also better than previous releases is MCV's 2007 Viognier ($19). This is Long Island's only varietal Viognier bottling and the nose is expressive, but not overly so, showing nice peach aromas with honeysuckle and some just-barely-ripe honeydew melon as well. The palate, which is medium bodied and features a bit more acid than many Viogniers I've tasted, offers straight-forward peach and nectarine flavors with a lemon zest note on the end of a medium-long finish. It doesn't have much of the oily, glycerin mouth feel common in Viogniers, but with so much acidity in its youth, one wonders if it will reveal itself with another year or two in bottle.
I also tasted Micieli-Martinez's new Gewurztraminer, riesling and chardonnay. The first two are a bit sweeter than I'd prefer, but still well made - and sure to sell quickly. The chardonnay is a vastly different wine from previous vintages, showing a lot more fruit character and less heavy-handed oak.
Tasting through his 2007 reds - which are still in barrel and won't be released for some time - quality is there too. Sure, 2007 was a stellar vintage in terms of grape growing conditions and ripeness, but the winemaker still has to do his job too.
Different lots of merlot were all flavorful, with ripe, dark fruit flavors, substantial tannins and varying early hints at secondary earthy, spicy flavors. A pinot noir showed nice lightly tart cherry flavors. And, perhaps most interesting of all, was a blend of syrah and Viognier. Made in the style of Cote Rotie in France, Micieli-Martinez fermented the red Syrah with the white Viognier. Mostly, it smells and tastes like Syrah, but the Viognier brings subtle peachy floral aromas and a faintly glycerin mouth feel on the palate. It's a wine I'm looking forward to tasting upon its release in a couple years.