Move Over Rosé! There’s a Nouveau Kid in Town - 27 East

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Move Over Rosé! There’s a Nouveau Kid in Town

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North Cliff Vineyards co-owner and winemaker Edmund Power with some of his Merlot grapes last August. S. DERMONT

North Cliff Vineyards co-owner and winemaker Edmund Power with some of his Merlot grapes last August. S. DERMONT

North Cliff Vineyards co-owner and winemaker Edmund Power with a bottle of his La Crush Merlot. S. DERMONT

North Cliff Vineyards co-owner and winemaker Edmund Power with a bottle of his La Crush Merlot. S. DERMONT

North Cliff Vineyards' La Crush Merlot. S. DERMONT

North Cliff Vineyards' La Crush Merlot. S. DERMONT

author on Apr 9, 2024

Every year, on the third Thursday of November, over half the countries in the world officially rejoice in Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the annual release of the famous French Beaujolais region’s newest, fresh wine — their Beaujolais Nouveau. It’s a huge celebration of the Gamay grape.

What does this have to do with a hill covered with Merlot vines in Mattituck?

“Everything,” said North Cliff Vineyards co-owner and winemaker Edmund Power. “I always wanted to make a Beaujolais-style wine. I knew Long Island’s fruity Merlot grapes would work, I just had to get it just right.”

Beaujolais Nouveau is a young, light red wine. So the Merlot grown in our region is an able substitute for the traditional Gamay.

According to Long Island Wine Country, Power’s is not the first Long Island wine made in the Beaujolais Nouveau style to date, but it appears to be the only one currently in commercial production.

And Power plans to stay the course. La Crush Merlot is the name he has given his Beaujolais Nouveau-style wine. And La Crush is “la crushing it” — outselling his other varietals three-to-one.

In this first vintage, Power produced 150 cases of La Crush. He plans to double production this fall.

“I wanted to make a North Fork Beaujolais, to celebrate the vintage in its fruity youth,” Power said.

Cheers to that. Power’s new wine, quietly released last month, is a triumph. With just a touch of “earth” on the nose, his fresh wine says “tart cherry” from start to finish. Power suggests serving this wine chilled. A very quaffable, refreshing wine, it could give rosé a run for its money, if it catches on with other wineries.

Carbonic maceration is the key. This just means that whole bunches of grapes are put into a tank of carbon dioxide to vinify. What you get is a fruit juice that has just become wine — a lively and playful wine. Because it is bottled early in its vinification, the wine is close to purple in color when bottled.

“We hand-picked the Merlot grapes early in the season to preserve their mouthwatering fruit flavors,” Power said. “La Crush is a young, vibrant wine that was allowed to ferment inside the grape before being crushed. No sulfur was added to the grape clusters when they entered the winery. No factory yeast was added. Only the natural yeasts from the vineyard were used.”

Like all of North Cliff Vineyards wines, La Crush Merlot is hand-harvested and herbicide-free.

“We don’t worry about the weeds because we don’t like chemicals on our grapes,” Power noted.

A classic Beaujolais Nouveau has obvious fruity aromas such as banana, strawberry, citrus and pear. Long Island’s Merlot take on the classic is a bit more subdued, perhaps best paired with simple foods such as roast chicken or poached salmon.

Of course La Crush Merlot does have the vinosity of wine, that salivating feel that only wine delivers.

While La Crush is not your typical Long Island wine, North Cliff Vineyards is not your typical Long Island winery. This is a young winery — based on 20 acres of well-established vines — with a buoyant outlook. It is their fifth season of operation, Edmund Power and his wife, Jennifer, having bought the winery in 2019 at her suggestion.

“Jennifer and I learn new things every day by embracing the challenges,” Power said. “After I retired from my job as a New York City teacher, she encouraged me to head out east and grow grapes. It was the right choice.

“Early on, we sold some of our grapes to Wölffer Estate Vineyards, which is located in Sagaponack, on the South Fork,” he continued. “But there comes a time when you just have to do your own thing and hope it works out.”

Last year North Cliff released New York State’s first commercial Bourbon-barreled Merlot.

“I got a bee in my bonnet to try my hand at a bourbon-barrel-aged merlot,” Power explained. “I was fascinated with the idea of imbuing every drop of fine Merlot with a hint of bourbon country.”

North Cliff Vineyards hand-harvested grape juice is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Expect to taste the barrels’ hint of caramel, brown sugar and vanilla notes, as well as some smokiness and oak.

This wine has proven to be a hit with both wine and liquor drinkers alike. The winery is nearly sold out of it.

North Cliff Vineyards is definitely not the first Long Island winery to do its own field work— that honor goes to Louisa and Alex Hargrave, founders of Hargrave Vineyard, who began to plant Long Island’s first commercial winery located in Cutchogue in 1973.

Harvest season is naturally Power’s favorite time of year — when he can begin to test out his planned wines.

“In the meantime,” he said, “we’ll be out in the vineyard with our small crew trimming, tying, caressing and marveling at our vines.”

In addition to Merlot, the vineyard produces other classic red grapes — Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, which Power bottles as varietals. In New York State a “varietal wine” is at least 85 percent the named grape on the bottle. Power’s are 100 percent the given grape. He doesn’t tinker with anything but wine resting times — La Crush was aged for six to eight weeks in steel tanks. His other wines are typically aged 11 to 18 months in their barrels. By not treating the grapes with sulfur, the natural yeasts are not killed off, so no additional yeast is needed. But Power is meticulous about using only clean, pristine fruit and he tops off his barrels daily, often tasting as he goes.

“When tasting our 2019 Cabernet Franc last year, I exclaimed ‘Oh my goodness!’” Power recalled.

He found it to be an outstanding vintage, naming it the vineyard’s first “library wine” — “one we have put away for safe keeping and will sell at a higher price point than our others,” he added.

While the vineyard is in Mattituck, the North Cliff Vineyards tasting room is located at 22355 County Route 48, No. 15, in nearby Cutchogue and is open on Sundays by appointment. Beginning next month, the tasting room will be hosting public events. Sign up on the website, northcliffvineyards.com, for details. You can meet Power every Saturday at the East End Food Market in Riverhead through April 27. Summer Saturdays will find him at the Havens Farmers Market on Shelter Island. North Cliff Vineyards wines are for sale at Michael’s Liquors in Riverhead; Wines by Nature in Wading River; and Vintage Mattituck.

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