Long Island vineyards riding rise of US wines

Winemaker Roman Roth pours a glass at the Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack.

The U.S. overtook France as the top-consuming wine country in the world last year for the first time ever. Americans shelled out $30 billion for 330 million cases of vino in 2010.

At the same time, the wine-making industry on the East End of Long Island is growing at an unprecedented rate.

“Gen X is waking up to the pleasures of wine,” said Roman Roth, chief winemaker for Wolffer Estates and Roanoke Vineyards. “We had a 15 percent sales increase at Wolffer last year. It’s a snowball effect. It’s more fashionable to drink wine now than beer.”

In a little over 30 years, the Long Island wine industry has skyrocketed from one small vineyard to 3,000 acres of vines and over 30 wineries. It is the youngest and fastest-growing wine region in the state.

But it wasn’t always easy to get drinkers to take Long Island wines seriously.

“In the mid-70s, the vineyards in Long Island were run by people who had other careers and an intense love of wine,” said Roth. “Now there are more wine-making professionals in the area — and it shows in the world-class wines we produce.”

Long Island wines, on average, have a lower alcohol content than California wines — which some vintners say helps the region’s growing popularity. Long Island wines have a 12.5 percent alcohol content, compared to an average 14 percent alcohol content of those on the West Coast.

“Maybe it’s the down economy or the medicinal effects, but people are drinking more wine,” said Peter Carey, the tasting room manager at Osprey Dominion Vineyards in Peconic. "It’s a good thing. I’ve noticed in restaurants that since men are drinking more wine, a couple will now order a bottle; before it was just a glass for the lady.” 


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