The Shelter Island Historical Society gave Islanders a taste of recent history with a presentation on Aug. 25 by winemaker Tom Spotteck, reviewing the history of Long Island wines. Although Long Island has supported strong farming traditions for centuries, the winemaking culture has flourished here only within the last few decades. Mr. Spotteck is the winemaker and oenologist at Lenz, owned by Peter and Deborah Carroll.
Their Peconic winery was one of the first established after New York State regulations were changed to encourage the nascent wine industry, especially on Long Island. Before the New York Farm Winery Act was passed in 1976, wine producers were only allowed to sell their products to wholesalers. With the change in the law, small businesses that made wine from New York-grown grapes could sell their own wines in tasting rooms. It reduced licensing fees, eliminated the restrictions on direct-to-consumer sales and provided state help in marketing. The East End’s climate turned out to be ideal for producing wines, with warm summers, winds off the ocean and a long growing season.
Today, more than 60 vineyards dot the North and South forks, some concentrating on a single specialty, like Sparkling Pointe’s champagne-like wines or Croteaux’ rosés. Lenz produces numerous varieties, including merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, petit verdot, cabernet franc, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris. Following the historical presentation, Mr. Spotteck invited the two dozen or so guests to sample different reds, whites and rosés he had brought. The newly refurbished history center provided a comfortable setting for both the presentation in one room and the tasting in another. “Does this wine go well with scallops?” and “What is your most expensive wine?” were among the questions. (Yes, the prize-winning pinot gris pairs well with the shellfish and merlot is Lenz’s most expensive.) Merlot is a variety that does especially well in the Long Island climate.
Mr. Spotteck, who has spent six seasons at Lenz, developed a new line of wines for them under a “Firefly” label, named for the owners’ boat. The Firefly rosé, as compared with their traditional rosés, is “richer, riper, more fruit-forward,” according to Mr. Spotteck.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in viticulture and oenology at Washington State University and worked in Washington’s Columbia Valley and South African vineyards before returning to Shelter Island and joining the team at Lenz. “I taught myself to make beer because I was too young to drink legally,” he told the guests. Later, he worked with his father at a vineyard in Virginia, “where we were paid in buckets of grapes.”
Throughout the year, Lenz offers numerous events, including barrel tastings with the winemaker, Dinner in the Vines and the Merlot Classic. Live music is presented on most weekends in the fall. For more information, visit lenzwine.com.