Two questions for Long Island wineries: Uncork the Forks

Two questions for Long Island wineries: Uncork the Forks

What does the future hold for Long Island’s wine industry?

One could argue that’s to be expected. This isn’t a new region anymore. We know what it takes to make good wine here. These days, there are very few outright bad wines here. There are very few wineries whose wines I simply won’t put in my mouth.

But there is very little “new” happening. Very little overt push to make things better. Maybe it’s because some in the region feel that Long Island is no longer an emerging region, that they’ve arrived. I don’t think that’s true. There is so much more to be explored and refined.

Maybe the “sameness” is due in part to the fact that there are about half as many winemakers as there are wineries — with some winemakers making wine for up to four or five wineries. There is very little outside winemaking talent coming into the local industry, thereby limiting new ideas and new approaches. There is even less opportunity for young assistant winemakers to find head winemaking jobs.

Then there is the ongoing issue of whether Long Island will be a wine region — a district known for the quality of its wines — or an agritainment region known for live music, festivals and the like that just happen to take place at wineries. This isn’t a tourist-or-not proposition, as I once thought. Now it’s a battle for what types of tourists the region wants to and will attract. This chapter is very much unwritten and it may not be sorted out for decades to come.

At the same time all of this is going on, local governments are making life more challenging for the wineries by instituting policies like a two-week minimum stay for AirBnB rentals. There is also, of course, Southold Town’s rejection of Southold Farm + Cellar’s request for a variance to build a small winery on its property, a decision that will cause one of the region’s most innovative producers to leave the North Fork.

I don’t know any members of local government personally, so I have no direct knowledge of their feelings, but from where I sit, they don’t seem to be interested in working with the industry to nurture its growth. That’s happening in wine regions across the country. NIMBY attitudes from a vocal minority of residents don’t help either. Maybe everyone would be much happier with more mansions and fewer farms — and fewer tourists.

A lot of writers — particularly in the wine world, it seems — are fond of making declarations. We always want to at least pretend we know what’s going to happen. That’s not the case here. I have no idea how this will play out. When and if these two questions can be answered, we’ll be on our way to finding out.

Lenn Thompson,

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