I’ve been hitting the ground running lately. And by ground, I mean the dirt ground of some of New York’s finest vineyards. I’m preparing to teach an upcoming webinar on the New York wine industry for the Society of Wine Educators on May 14th. The webinar, titled I’m in a New York State of Wine, has led me to visits with some of the pillars of the state’s wine industry. This is the first in a blog series on those founders and innovators.
Listening to Greg Gove’s life in wine is like driving down the North Fork Wine Trail. We met for breakfast on a very rainy morning at the charming Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck. I was excited to meet this veteran North Fork winemaker, whose new label Race Wines had been selling so well at Vintology. The conversation led us from winery to winery, and into the real science of making wine on Long Island.
“19 grams of sugar gets you a sparkling wine. 35 grams of sugar gets you a court date,” said Mr. Gove, humorously discussing a new sparkling wine he has in the works. Our conversation was filled with both his humor and clarity in explaining complex winemaking principles, a talent that likely came from studying chemistry in college. He went Cortland and Columbia Universities, and later worked for Columbia and the Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory, a research unit located by the Palisades cliffs, where he did PCP analysis of the Hudson River.
It’s with a science background and a leap of faith that Mr. Gove arrived at Hargrave Vineyard in 1985. Then husband and wife Louisa and Alex Hargrave were the first to plant vitis vinifera grapes on the North Fork of Long Island. Mr. Gove spent three years at Hargrave, learning winemaking, truly, on the job!
Thus launched an extensive, multi-faceted career, with 9 years at Pindar Vineyards, fully designing and launching the winery at Laurel Lake Vineyards, and numerous accolades and awards at Peconic Bay Winery. Shortly after the close of Peconic Bay in 2013, Mr. Gove was ready to launch his own brand. Race Wines is the culmination of 30+ years of Long Island winemaking know-how.
I padded a few bottles of Race Wines to survive the Long Island Expressway drive and brought them with me into Love Lane Kitchen. My advice, never miss an opportunity to have a winemaker sign their bottle… wine just tastes so much better that way! The two bottles, a 2012 Semi-Dry Riesling and a 2012 Red Blend, have been selling extremely well at Vintology.
Mr. Gove shared that he’s been working with Riesling for many years, and Alsace was the model for the Race Wine 2012 Semi-Dry Riesling. It’s fermented in stainless steel and never sees oak, but with a little extra time on the lees, it has a rounder mouth feel. He only vinified 150 cases, so I am glad I’ve snagged one signed bottle!
The consummate scientist in Mr. Gove shined in discussing the 2012 Red Blend. He borrowed my notepad from me to make a rough sketch of a chart, demonstrating how the Cabernet Sauvingnon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot interplay and create balance. He understands where each varieties dominates in flavor from the attack to the finish, and composes a wine that has both finesse and force throughout the palate experience.
Over many refills of coffee, Mr. Gove explained the chemical, ecological and agricultural challenges and benefits of the North Fork terroir. He realistically accepts and explains that true organic practices are really impossible in the area, with downy and powdery mildew an annual certainty. Winegrowers also contend with fruit stealing birds, as Long Island is in the path of a major migration route. Bird cannons, mylar reflective strips… the birds seem to keep winning. A winegrowers travails never ends, and Mr. Gove says it’s actually less expensive per ton for him to purchase fruit for Race Wines than it was for his wineries to grow a ton.
It’s the sandy soils that are both the region’s achilles heel and it’s greatest weapon. The sandy soils are not amenable to high growth, explained Mr. Gove. He estimated about 4 tons an acre for white… just 1/5th of what you’d get in other global wine growing regions. “Not ideal for quantity, ideal for quality,” he said. Mr. Gove said that sandy soils, with gentle slopes and good draining, make for world class fruit, with a great balance of acids, tannins and flavors.
A true scientist never stops learning and growing, and Mr. Gove is not resting on his resumé. He has a sparkling wine in the works for his new label, composed of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay. He’s also stepping beyond the wine world as the Cider Master for the future Riverhead Ciderhouse. Soon, we’ll all be able to taste his hand at cider at a huge tasting room and production facility in Riverhead, a new must for the North Fork weekend.
Many years ago, the North Fork was Greg Gove’s classroom. Today, Race Wines is top of the class.