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Quality Not Quantity Rules the Hamptons Winery Scene

Originally Posted: September 06, 2006

Lenn Thompson

Almost a month ago, we began our tour of Long Island's wine trails on its northernmost route, Route 48, where small, owner-run operations are the norm. This week, we'll hop on the Shelter Island ferry and head to the Hamptons not for the beaches or the rich and famous but for the wines.

There are only three wineries in the Hamptons, but two of the three are among the Island's best and the third has show marked improvement of late. And, as you probably know, waiting until after Labor Day means you can navigate the area without sitting in maddening "Hamptons traffic."

On Sagg Road in Sagaponack, Wolffer Estate Vineyards, German-born Roman Roth has served as both general manager and winemaker for over a decade. Roth describes Long Island's climate as "Close to Bordeaux when compared to the hot climates of Australia or California. (But) Long Island is unique. We are much further south."

In describing the differences between Bordeaux, often the benchmark for Long Island wines, and Long Island, Roth continues, "Old World wines are not always fruit-driven and balanced like ours. Also, we are allowed to grow chardonnay next to merlot, which they can't do in Bordeaux."

Roth is one of the Island's most respected winemakers and his wines are widely regarded as elegant, refined and well balanced. Pair delicious wines with one of the East End's most spectacular tasting rooms and vineyard views and you have a delectable wine country destination.

 • Must-taste wines: Wolffer Estate 2004 La Ferme Martin Chardonnay, Wolffer Estate 2005 Pinot Gris, Wolffer Estate 2002 Estate Selection Merlot, and Wolffer Estate 2004 Late Harvest Chardonnay.

Channing Daughters Winery, in Bridgehampton, believes in using similar traditional winemaking processes, they it looks further east to Italy, specifically the Friuli region for its inspiration.

"Like Friuli, we are a maritime, cool-climate wine-grape growing region," says winemaker Christopher Tracy, who is also a trained chef. "This is an excellent opportunity for white grapes to achieve optimum ripeness, flavor and acidity levels year in and year out."

Channing Daughters is known for experimenting with different varietals that other wineries don't bother with trying to find grapes that do well on LI. To that end, their bottlings go well beyond the usual merlot, cabernet franc and chardonnay.

"What better way to achieve the best results than to experiment?" says Allison Dubin, Tracy's wife and Channing Daughters' general manager. "We are always striving to find what's best for our climate, our soil and our cellar."

Channing Daughters has a large, loyal wine club that receives and buys many of their small-production wines, so if you a chance to taste all of their wines, join the call the winery and join.

 • Must-taste wines that aren't sold out already: Channing Daughters 2005 Sylvanus (white blend), Channing Daughters 2003 MUDD (red blend), and Channing Daughters 2005 Pinot Envy.

Heading further west to Water Mill, you'll find Duck Walk Vineyards. Owned by the same people that own Pindar on the North Fork, Duck Walk makes a variety of wines, including several popular, somewhat uninteresting sweetish blended wines for the wine cooler crowd. But, winemaker Bernard Cannac, a native of France, has taken over and is improving the overall quality. Over the next several years, I expect the wines to improve quite a bit. For now, taste through the entire portfolio and you're bound to find a few wines that you'll like.

 • Must-taste wines: Duck Walk 2004 Chardonnay, Duck Walk 2004 Sauvignon Blanc, Duck Walk 2004 Aphrodite (Late Harvest Gewurztraminer), and Duck Walk 2004 Blueberry Port.

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