As much as I enjoy reaching for a familiar wine, and all of the memories associated with it, I can’t resist the excitement of trying a new wine. Hand me a glass of wine from a region that is new to me and you’ve likely just made my day. It is an irresistible opportunity to not only experience new flavors, but to explore the details of the wine region. Lieb Cellars, located in Cutchogue, New York, recently provided us with just such an opportunity when they sent us three of their wines as tasting samples. What a delicious introduction to the the wines of North Fork Long Island AVA.
Meet Lieb Cellars
Lieb Cellars began in 1992 as a 12-acre vineyard established by the Lieb family in Cutchogue, New York. Over time the vineyard acreage increased to 85 acres, included a custom crush facility and a tasting room. In 2012 a group of investors purchased Lieb Cellars and that group continues to work with winemaker, and Australian transplant, Russell Hearn who has been making wine in the area since 1991.
The 85 acres of vineyards, which are the sole source of the wines made under the Lieb Cellars label, are spread among four locations within just a few miles of each other. Riesling and Cabernet Franc were the first varieties planted in 1981, followed by Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc in 1983. The final vineyards were planted in 1997 and 1999. In all, 11 vinifera varieties have been planted.
The vineyards are farmed sustainably and without the use of herbicides or pesticides to the degree it is possible given the challenges of growing grapes is a humid environment. They take a proactive approach to canopy management, to help control damage caused by humidity, using vertical shoot positioning (VSP). At Lieb Cellars the goal is to farm the vineyards with minimal impact on the environment. Birds can be pests in the vineyards and they are controlled through the use of netting over the vines. Fencing the vineyards keeps deer from nibbling at them. In addition, all harvesting is done by hand and care is taken to choose eco-friendly packaging.
Welcome to North Fork Long Island AVA
The first vineyards were planted in what is now designated North Fork Long Island AVA in 1973, so this is a relatively young wine region. The AVA was officially established in 1985 and is home to the majority of the wineries on Long Island. The Hamptons Long Island AVA was designated in 1984 though it is home to only a few wineries. The Long Island AVA, which includes the rest of Long Island in addition to both sub-AVAs (North Fork and Hamptons), was made official in 2001.
At its widest North Fork Long Island AVA stretches barely 6 miles and it tapers down to less than a half-mile in width. The AVA is about 40 miles long and is surrounded by water (Long Island Sound to the north, the Atlantic Ocean and to the south the Great Peconic Bay) resulting in a cool, maritime climate. Moderating breezes that blow in from the water allow the growing season to extend into October and November before the area falls into a cold, snowy winter. Temperatures during winter are warmer than many surrounding areas thanks to these large bodies of water, lessening the chance of winter damage to the vines.
Soils are loamy, with sand and gravel beneath, and generally well-drained. According to average monthly rainfall amounts it rains every month of the year in Cutchogue, NY. Thank goodness for those well-drained soils. Topography is relatively flat.
Three Wines from Lieb Cellars
2011 Lieb Cellars Reserve Blanc de Blancs — pale yellow in the glass with generous bubbles. Leesy, baked bread aromas support generous aromas of melon and pear. Toasted almond flavors appear first and are followed by hints of pear and green apple. Fruit flavors are generous but the wine is not perceivably sweet to my palate. The finish is moderately long and clean with bright acidity. 12.5% abv. 880 cases produced. $30.
This sparkling wine is made in the traditional method, as in Champagne, but from 100% Pinot Blanc. It has such a lovely, bright flavor and such a clean finish both of which make the wine completely refreshing. These qualities will make this sparkler a great match for food as well. Think salads, charcuterie, seafood and chicken.
2015 Lieb Cellars Reserve Pinot Blanc — pale yellow in the glass with tropical fruit aromas. Ripe melon flavors and stony minerality gain complexity with a citrus pith finish. The wine is clean on the finish with flavor and acidity. 11.9% abv. 1,400 cases produced. $22.
Lieb Cellars takes pride in their Pinot Blanc, the age of the vines exceeds 30 years, describing their vineyard planting as “the largest contiguous plot of Pinot Blanc in the US (14 acres).” They really believe in the variety and certainly winemaker Russell Hearn knows how to coax flavor from it. He blended 2% Riesling into this vintage. I love Pinot Blanc when it’s done well — as is the case with this wine. Give me a glass of this wine on a warm summer afternoon and you won’t hear another peep from me — except to ask for a second glass.
2015 Lieb Cellars Cabernet Franc — light ruby in the glass with red raspberry aromas. Blackberry and red raspberry flavors combine with crushed flower stems and significant, drying tannins and a light to medium body. Flavors last a moderately-long time with tannins on the finish. 12.8% abv. 335 cases produced. $30.
Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite varieties, so I was very happy to have the opportunity to taste this wine. It is more of a cool-climate version than a warm climate, California-style Cabernet Franc. The thing I like about a lighter style of Cab Franc is the versatility of the wine — it is lovely in warm weather, which a heavier Cab Franc is not — at least not to my taste. This is a Cabernet Franc I would happily drink in warm weather or cool.
In addition to the above wines, Lieb Cellars produces a Reserve Sparkling Rosè, Chardonnay, Dessert Wine, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Meritage. A wine for every occasion.
One more point to note about the wines from Lieb Cellars is the labeling. All have wrap-around labels and include many details such as oak treatment (or not), residual sugar and dosage in the case of the sparkling wine. I love having all of these details right on the label, and I bet many other consumers do too.
Thank you to both Dana and Ami from Lieb Cellars who graciously provided additional information on, among other things, the farming practices and growing conditions behind these lovely wines from Lieb Cellars. Lieb Cellars’ wines are distributed along the East Coast of the U.S., are available online and in their tasting room.
In addition to the three wines from Lieb Cellars, we also received three wines from Lieb Cellars’ second label Bridge Lane. These wine might be a second label, which you should read as value wine and not second-rate wine, but we found these wines performed way above their price point. That review is coming next.