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Italian Roots. Long Island Grapes.

Originally Posted: April 05, 2007

Lenn Thompson

Taking a look around Long Island wine country, it's easy to see the Italian and Italian-American influence. Among the thirty-plus East End producers we have ones named Pellegrini, Pugliese, Castello di Borghese and Diliberto and others that are owned by people of Italian heritage, many of whom grew up making wine with their families.

Denise and John Medolla

Two of the region's newest producers Medolla Vineyards and Scarola Vineyards continue that tradition by bringing family passion to the commercial wine industry.

Medolla Vineyards, owned by John and Denise Medolla, operates under a tenant winery license at Lenz Winery. Of the arrangement Medolla says, "In other words we are an 'alternating proprietor.' We use their equipment when not in use by Lenz. We oversee all aspects of the operation." Lenz winemaker Eric Fry also serves as the consultant winemaker.

Both John and Denise work in the aviation industry, but their family has winemaking roots that can be traced to the base of Italy's Mount Vesuvius. John's grandparents were wine makers from the nearby town of Torre Del Greco. "My family used the Piedi Rosso ("red foot") grape and as legend has it the Moscato grape as well."

One of the smallest producers in the region, the Medollas who share winemaking duties have annual production of 500 cases, and will focus on selling their wines to fine restaurants and to select wine shops.

Without any vineyard holdings of their own, the Medollas hand harvest grapes from local vineyards. For their 2002 merlot ($23) the grapes came from Dzugas Vineyards but since then, the Medollas have been working with Sam McCullough of McCullough Vineyards (and Lenz).

That 2002 merlot, their first release, is a great example of Long Island merlot, with a little rustic edge to it. The nose is very Old World with tobacco a dominant aroma along with raspberry and cherry. Medium bodied, the flavors are similar to the nose with some minty eucalyptus nuances and well-incorporated ripe tannins.

Frank Scarola, owner of Scarola Vineyards, was born in Montreal but moved to Astoria at the age of one. He made wine growing up with his family in Queens and wine was a part of every day life. "I drank wine almost every day with the family - even as a 5 yr old. It was served every day at dinner. Always a bottle of wine smack in the middle of the table. At first it would be diluted with water or soda and then straight up as you got older. I would have to say it was never something that I thought of or analyzed when I was younger. The wine was there, you drank it, and simply enjoyed it with food," he remembers.

Similar to the Medolla-Lenz relationship, Scarola makes his wines at Wolffer Estate as a tenant winery under the watchful eye of Wolffer's winemaker, Roman Roth. "Roman serves as my winemaker and I as apprentice. I'm involved in all aspects of wine production but Roman is the expert."

Scarola currently makes cabernet franc, merlot and chardonnay with grapes sources on the North Fork. He is also in the process of planting a small vineyard of his own in Southold. In the future, he plans to explore Italian varieties.

Of Scarola's first releases, there is a light bodied 2004 Cabernet Franc ($21) with cherry, red berry, smoke and spice. It's a little heavy on the oak for the body though, I think.

Better is his 2002 Merlot ($17) which has rich blackberry, blueberry and vanilla aromas and flavors. It's a little rustic, but charmingly so, with noticeable tannins that will mellow some with time and a little sweet oak flavors.

The real revelation of the Scarola portfolio was a 13-dollar 2003 Chardonnay. The fresh nose is loaded with citrus aromas with honey, toasty vanilla, roasted nuts and spice. The palate is impeccably balanced with nutty, citrusy flavors, a slightly creamy palate and lively acidity. The finish is lengthy too. A steal at $13.

Both the Medollas and Scarola are living their dreams with their winemaking ventures, but they recognize that it's not all fancy winemaker dinners and sipping wine overlooking vines. Scarola says "Most people including myself tend to glamorize and romanticize about vineyards, wineries, and wine. It's also a lot of very hard work. (But) if you enjoy what you do, you don't have to work a day in your life."

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