At Blue Hill, a locavore restaurant in Greenwich Village, Wine Director Claire Paparazzo sometimes plays a trick on customers. “Every now and then I do a sneak attack and I‘m just like ‘Try this, seriously this wine is really good’ and ‘HA! It’s from New York.’”
Why the ambush? New York is the United States’ second largest producer of wine, home to Brotherhood, the nation’s oldest winery, and birthplace of Constellation Brands, today the largest wine company in the world. New York wines, particularly Riesling from the Finger Lakes region, are gaining international recognition. But New York remains the only major winegrowing region in the world where winemakers are not embraced by their local urban center, New York City. At Frankly Wines in Tribeca, where Manager Nick Venditti has given special attention to local wineries, French wines still outsell them 10-to-one.
Paparazzo isn’t sure why, but she sees it happen. While New Yorkers come to Blue Hill to eat local foods, they often turn up their noses at a Long Island Merlot or Finger Lakes Pinot Gris. But Californians, Europeans and other tourists react with delight. “when they want to come to Blue Hill they want that experience.”
“It’s so interesting because I was just in Portugal on a wine trip and when we were there we drank nothing but Portuguese wine; it didn’t cross our mind to immerse ourselves in anything else.” She speculates that because New York City is expected to serve the best of the best, “it’s difficult to pull off ‘all we have is New York wines’, but if you go to other places around the world you’re in that region and that’s all you’re drinking.”
She thinks many New Yorkers remember when New York winemakers hadn’t adapted to the challenges of cool climate winegrowing and the wines were under-ripe and imbalanced; out-of-towners, ignorant of that past, don’t come with preconceptions.
Neither do younger New Yorkers, says Jacques Gautier, chef and owner of Palo Santo in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “I think that our crowd, being a younger, Brooklyn crowd, a crowd that is really in tune with eating local and with the farm to table movement, I think of serving local wines as an extension of that and people get it, people really like our local wines.”
One winery with momentum in New York City is Channing Daughters. “We find New York City to be an absolutely outstanding market,” says Christopher Tracy, winemaker and partner at the Bridgehampton, New York vintner, about 100 miles from New York City. But Tracy says it takes immense amounts of work to sell wine in New York, for anybody. “People have all the choices in the world, tens of thousands of choices.” So he’s in the same boat as everyone else.
Tracy: New York City is the world’s stage…
Gautier says Palo Santo always keeps a local red – at the moment, Channing Daughters’ Rosso Fresco – and a local white on the menu to sell by the glass, and they sell as well as the Argentinian Malbecs that are the more obvious match to his Pan-Latin menu. Palo Santo’s list was all South American until Gautier visited some Long Island wineries in 2007. “Before that, like a lot of New Yorkers I was skeptical when I heard about Long Island wines. But that trip – actually visiting the wineries, tasting the wines, seeing the wineries – that really changed my mind.”
Gautier does think that some New York wines are pricey for their taste compared to those from Chile and Argentina. After all, real estate on Long Island is pricey. But the Finger Lakes wines are more comparable to their South American counterparts.
Josh Kanuck, a film and TV editor who lives in Park Slope, says he enjoys visiting New York’s wineries more than he likes the wines themselves. “I like the idea of New York wines, but I’ve yet to be impressed with them. The quality doesn’t seem as good as other more established wine regions in the country. But as long as I am not close enough to drive to Napa or Willamette valleys, I think I will keep supporting local vineyards.”
In Kanuck’s case, at least, New York wines don’t have to sneak up on him so much as convert him. For the state’s winemakers, that’s cause for a toast.
The first posted version of this story misspelled Claire Paparazzo’s name in the photo caption.