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05.27.2014  
 

Long Island Focuses on Merlot

Winery group hires executive director as part of plan to promote 'Merliance' winery trail

 
by Andrew Adams
 
 
“long
 
The Long Island Merlot Alliance debuted its 2011 Merliance blend—along with a winery trail by the same name—during Memorial Day weekend.
Cutchogue, N.Y.—A new winery trail formed by the Long Island Merlot Alliance (LIMA) debuted this weekend to help draw attention to an area its members consider one of the best places to grow Merlot in the United States.

The alliance formed its Merliance Wine Trail in conjunction with the May 24 release of its 2011 Merliance cooperative Merlot. The wine is made with grapes from each of the alliance wineries, which include Sherwood House Vineyards, Clovis Point, T’Jara Vineyards, McCall Wines, Lieb Cellars, Raphael and Wolffer Estate Vineyard

Member wineries pledged between one and four barrels of finished wine to make Merliance, for which the inaugural vintage was 2004. The final blend is assembled during a blending session attended by the winemaker from each member winery. The wine then ages in barrels for another year before its release.

Most of the wineries in the alliance make less than 10,000 cases of wine per year, according to the Wines Vines Analytics database. Wolffer Estate is the exception, producing 30,000 cases annually.

LIMA hires executive director
As another step in its development, the group recently hired Deborah Brenner, a native New Yorker and author of the book Women of the Vine, as its new executive director. She is also a member of U.S. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand’s New York Agriculture Working Group and a partner of MORE Magazine’s wine club, which features wines made by women winemakers. Brenner says she’s focused on raising the profile of the alliance among the media and consumers.

“Next year LIMA will celebrate its 10th anniversary, and they have been making tremendous strides producing world-class wines,” Brenner told Wines & Vines. “I wanted to take the leadership position to help educate the media and consumers about the region and to assist them in growing the alliance.”

Roman Roth, winemaker and part owner of Wolffer Estate, is also the president of LIMA. He said Brenner’s “enthusiasm and expertise” would be vital to helping the alliance maintain its cooperative effort to promote the region.

Collaborative effort to ensure quality
In recent years, Roth said, the alliance members have been sharing information, equipment and supplies, and the group has hosted international vineyard and winemaking consultants to help members make better wine. The alliance also has hosted trade and consumer tastings at the East End of the Hamptons and in New York City.

“Young people seem to be more open to explore varietals and regions,” Roth said. “Our vibrant and elegant Merlots that are not too fat or bold, with alcohol content around 13% or 13.5%, are very much sought after now.”

Roth said the Long Island area is particularly well suited for Merlot because there’s no significant winter damage, allowing vineyard managers more flexibility in pruning for quality yield. Long Island also enjoys a longer ripening season since it is the last part of New York state to see frost. Since Merlot ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc, growers have a larger window in which to achieve balance, Roth said.

“We take Merlot seriously,” he said. “It is one of the great red wine varieties, and by having a clear goal to make top-quality Merlot, we are slowly and steadily succeeding.”

He said another key to a successful future is ensuring a consistent level of quality among all members over several vintages. To that end, Roth said the group benefited from Mother Nature last year. “2013 was the best vintage Long Island ever harvested,” Roth said. “A vintage one only reads or dreams about.”

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