LI Wine Country celebrates 50th anniversary

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By Dan Sears

Cheers to 50 years, and beyond. That’s the mantra of Long Island Wine Country, formerly Long Island Wine Council, which on Saturday celebrated its 50th anniversary in style at Peconic Bay Vineyards in Cutchogue.

Fifty years of planting, harvesting and winemaking -and yes, as an agricultural community, sometimes hardship – while transforming the East End into a destination for oenophiles and casual enthusiasts alike.

“It’s a very special moment in time,” said Kareem Massoud, president of Long Island Wine Country, and the winemaker at Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue.

Long Island vineyards see a collective $113.6 million in revenue, according to published reports. As an industry over half a million cases of wine a year, Massoud said

“It really is a turning point for our industry not just because it’s this magic number of 50 years, but it just so happens to be a point in time where the uniformly high quality of Long Island wines is unprecedented,” Massoud said. “We’ve never seen our industry have, across-the-board, such a strong offering of quality wine.”

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That offering, Massoud said, “is a a result of decades of effort and learning and discovery on behalf of the growers and the winemakers and the owners who have invested so much to bring us to this point.”

Saturday’s celebration featured winemaking pioneers and other local industry leaders who mingled with attendees all evening. More than 35 vineyards offered tastings of more than 135 wines, which were organized by styles and varietals. Food offerings were provided by more than a dozen East End restaurants such as Braun’s Seafood, The Frisky Oyster, North Fork Table & Inn, PAWPAW, Love Lane Kitchen and Noahs. There were Long Island oysters, Sterling Caviar, North Fork Potato Chips, and Gourmet Food’s International selection of cheese and charcuterie.

“It’s wonderful that all those folks are here tonight, and this is really a who’s who of the Long Island industry,” Massoud said, introducing his father to a reporter. “Everyone’s here including the fans, who are key.”

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Long Island’s wine region got its start when Louisa and Alex Hargrave planted the first wine grapes in 1973. Louisa Hargrave offered some insights into the region’s early days.

“We came here because we were confident that this was the best place to grow the best grapes in the world, and we were proven to be correct,” Hargrave said. Saturday’s celebration “shows the massive success that we achieved.”

Still, there are concerns, including over climate change. “We’re adapting how we grow our grapes, with different viticulture practices,” Massoud said.

In addition, not all Long Island wines are available at retailers in the region.

“Each winery has its own business model and so forth, and it’s true that some wineries are more are more well-distributed than others,” Massoud said. “Some are content to sell everything they make at the winery, while others are very much looking to go beyond.”

“Stores can also make a little bit of a greater effort to support what’s in their own backyard, and many of them have,” he added.

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Yet even with those challenges, Massoud said, “we are really excited about what the future holds.”

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