Macari Vineyards: Taking a Biodynamic Approach Before It Was Cool

By Bob Johnson

Part 2 of a 5-Part Series

We hear a great deal about Biodynamic winegrowing these days. Not every winery goes to the extremes that a Biodynamic approach requires, but almost all wineries now take stewardship of their land very seriously.

At Macari Vineyards — owned and operated by three generations of the Macari family on Long Island’s North Fork — Joe Macari Jr. had embraced Biodynamic farming before Biodynamic farming was cool.

Macari refers to the 200 acres of grapevines on the 500-acre estate that backs up to Long Island Sound as a “vinegarden.” A virtual Noah’s Ark of animal life contributes to the estate’s composting, and cover crops are embraced instead of sprays to help keep the vines healthy.

“It’s expensive,” Macari admits. “There are much cheaper ways to grow grapes. But I think it’s important to do it the right way. This property has been in our family for a long time, and the only way it’s going to stay in our family is if we take care of it.”

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Like most vineyard plantings on Long Island, the Macari vineyard is relatively young, established in 1995. Through the years, Macari has experimented with a great many winegrape varietals, working to determine which fare best on the estate.

“You do all your homework when you’re first getting started,” Macari says. “You talk to experts, you choose specific clones for specific reasons. But until you have several harvests under your belt — a track record — there’s still a lot of experimentation and guessing.”

Merlot was an early star on Long Island, and Macari has made several very good bottlings. But he’s not about to jump on that bandwagon.

“I think it’s way too early for anyone to say that Merlot is the wine of Long Island,” he says. “I also think it’s too early for anyone to dismiss Chardonnay. Every vintage, we learn something new, and sometimes what we learn is very surprising.”

Winemaker Kelly Urbanik agrees. The University of California at Davis graduate grew up in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena, and says she enjoys the breadth of winemaking work she gets to do at Macari.

“Some people think I’m crazy for coming here,” she says with a smile. “You can’t get much farther from Napa Valley than Long Island, and still be in the United States. Even though it can be challenging some years, most of what I get to do here is really fun. [For example], we do three different kinds of Chardonnay.”

There’s the “Estate,” which spends no time in oak. There’s the “Reserve,” which mirrors the oaky style made famous in her native state/county/city. And then there’s the best of the three, at least as far as my palate is concerned — a 100% Chardonnay called “Early Wine.”

The grapes used to make the Macari “Early Wine” are picked earlier than others during the harvest season, so the flavors tend to mirror those found in a Blanc de Blanc (grapes for sparkling wines also are picked early in the season).

The wine is bottled and released mere weeks after being made, so in that sense, it also fills the role of a “Nouveau” wine — the first release of any given vintage. Also like a “Nouveau,” it’s bright, refreshing and all about the fruit.

Urbanik had the best word for it: “fun.”

That’s also an apt description of my favorite wine among Macari’s current releases: the 2010 Rosé. To understand this wine, you need to forget virtually everything you know about rosé-style wines.

First of all, it is not sweet. That’s true of France’s great Rhone rosés as well, but in many wine regions, a rosé is presumed to be sweet.

Secondly, the Macari Rosé is not light-bodied. This is a big rosé, both in mouthfeel and its alcohol level — 13.8%, higher than many red table wines.

Finally, the varietals used to make the wine are unusual. It’s basically a traditional Bordeaux-style blend — a melding of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec — but made in a very different style. And in this case, different is good. Very good.

We reviewed a baker’s dozen of Macari Vineyards wines, and not one scored lower than 86 — amazing across-the-board quality, especially considering the far-from-reliable Long Island weather.

Is it the Biodynamic farming? Is it Joe Macari’s willingness to experiment? Is it Kelly Urbanik’s UC-Davis training?

We can only surmise that the answers are yes… yes… and yes.

– – – – –

Here are our reviews of the 13 Macari Vineyards wines tasted:

2012 Macari Vineyards ‘Early Wine,’ North Fork of Long Island

2012 Macari Vineyards ‘Katherine’s Field’ Sauvignon Blanc, North Fork of Long Island

2010 Macari Vineyards Riesling, Finger Lakes

2010 Macari Vineyards ‘Estate’ Chardonnay, North Fork of Long Island

2007 Macari Vineyards ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay, North Fork of Long Island

2010 Macari Vineyards Rosé, North Fork of Long Island

2008 Macari Vineyards ‘Estate’ Merlot, North Fork of Long Island

NV Macari Vineyards ‘Sette’ Red Wine, North Fork of Long Island

2008 Macari Vineyards Cabernet Franc, North Fork of Long Island

2007 Macari Vineyards ‘Reserve’ Merlot, North Fork of Long Island

2008 Macari Vineyards ‘Dos Aguas’ Red Wine, North Fork of Long Island

NV Macari Vineyards ‘Collina 48’ Merlot, North Fork of Long Island

2009 Macari Vineyards ‘Block E,’ North Fork of Long Island

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