WINE AND SCALLOPS FROM THE EAST ENDR. Francis Thomson interviews winemaker Leslie Howard of Jamesport Vineyards.
Jamesport Vineyards, located in Cutchogue, is one of the oldest wineries on Suffolk Count's north fork, and is known for a line of consistently distinctive, elegant wines. With the East End Series, the winery is now also making a contribution to the health of Long Island's ecosystem. Leslie Howard, who became Jamesport's winemaker in January of 2005, was kind enough to answer my questions despite his busy schedule.
Jamesport is one of the older Long Island wineries. May we get a brief history?
Leslie Howard: Jamesport Vineyards is a father and son [Ron Goerler, Sr., and Ron Goerler, Jr.] collaboration that began in 1981. The first plantings included sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, merlot and cabernet franc, which are some of the oldest vines on Long Island.
Do you remember your first glass of wine? At what point did you realize that winemaking could be your calling in life?
Leslie Howard: When I was 19 years old, back in the summer of 1994, I decided to take a job at Pindar vineyards to earn some extra money before going off to college. At the time I didn't know that I would end up being a winemaker. The first wine I ever had was from Pindar, and I soon became very interested in learning more about the winemaking process.
Previous to becoming the winemaker at Jamesport, you worked in the cellar at Pindar, and as an assistant winemaker at Wolffer, Bedell and Osprey Dominion, correct? Is there any one thing you've found Long Island wineries have in common in approach?
Leslie Howard: Yes, there are similarities that I've seen in the wineries that I've worked for, though each one has had its own style. Iím sure that if you were to give one ton of fruit from the same vineyard to each winery, you would probably find that the wines made would be quite different.
If you had to sum up your personal approach to winemaking, how would you do it?
Leslie Howard: I do use a lot of the techniques that I have learned from the wineries I've worked in. My winemaking style is to express the natural potential of the grape without over-manipulation.
The Jamesport 2005 sauvignon blanc seems to be getting a lot of attention. What, specifically, do you feel might make this vintage particularly sought after?
Leslie Howard: The 2005 growing season was the warmest and sunniest that I've ever seen. The sauvignon blanc became very ripe and had incredible flavor in the grapes. Iím sure that this high quality fruit made it what it is, along with the cool stainless steel fermentation and the creamy flavor of the barrel-fermented portion that was blended with it.
Please tell me about the Jamesport East End Series. I understand that proceeds from sales go to replenishing scallop and clam beds. How did this idea come about? Are the East End Series varietals chardonnay and merlot, or are there others as well?
Leslie Howard: The Goerlers have been members of the S.P.A.T. (Southold Project For Aquaculture Training) foundation for some time and thought it would be nice to make a special series of wines to benefit the program. So, we created the East End Series chardonnay, merlot and a varietal blend of five grapes named Cinq, which is the French word for five.
The 2004 East End Series chardonnay is especially distinctive. It's clean and fresh, but has a silky mouthfeel one might associate with much higher-priced chardonnays. Can you shed some light on how you gave a crisp wine such a silky body without resorting to heavy oaking? I suspect you achieved the exact effect you wanted...
Leslie Howard: The very popular East End Series chardonnay is a blend of stainless steel fermented and barrel fermented components. The steel portion gives it fruit and crispness, the barrel fermented portion gives it its texture and length. Only older barrels were used in the blend, and the lees stirring adds to its weight.
On Long Island, there was a lot of rain late in the last growing season, which translated into a smaller yield for many of Long Island's wineries. How was Jamesport affected by these late rains? And, how did affect your winemaking strategy?
Leslie Howard: Fortunately enough for us, our grapes were not affected much by the rain. We did drop some fruit before harvesting, and what we took in became some of the best wines we've ever made!
It's rumored that staff members of Robert Parker's publication, The Wine Advocate, have been recently tasted at some of the Long Island wineries. Can you, in fact confirm this is true? If so, have you gotten any feedback yet from the Parker camp?
Leslie Howard: Yes it's true, and we'll have to wait until the June issue to really find out what they thought--I think it's going to be a good review...
What do you feel are some of the greatest challenges facing Long Island vineyards, and what are their greatest strengths?
Leslie Howard: Some of our greatest challenges are growing grapes in a maritime climate that can often be humid, and also that Long Island is a major bird migratory path, bringing huge swarms of birds to eat the crop! Our strengths are that we're always learning to overcome these issues year to year, and being close to the water helps buffer the air temperature, allowing us to grow the vinifera that we do.
In closing, what's your favorite dish to enjoy with your 2005 sauvignon blanc?
Leslie Howard: The 2005 sauvignon blanc goes very well with seafood and poultry. I recently had it with lobster, and it paired wonderfully with it! Thanks for the interview. X