Brutal Winter Led To N.Y. State Grape Shortage, Forced Wineries To Improvise

MATTITUCK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — When you buy a bottle of wine, you think you are paying for vintages made in a specific region – but what are you really getting?

As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, some local farmers whose vines suffered in the bitter chill of winter plan to change their recipes – adding in supplements.

At Macari of Mattituck, they are popping corks on the North Fork of Long Island. There are 373 New York state wine producing vineyards, and Macari just won winery of the year at the 2014 New York Wine Classic.

On a 180-acre grape growing farm, winemakers have been battling the elements constantly. This year, the rich soil was protected by feet of unexpected snow, but the temperature also dipped below zero – creating one of the harshest winters since vineyards sprung up in the area 40 years ago.

“If it’s a real emergency and they did not have enough grapes to make their wine, they would bring in some from upstate,” said Joseph Gergela of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

But upstate New York also had extended cold, leading to fruit bud death on the canes and fewer grapes.

As a result, New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball has announced wineries that suffered 40 percent crop loss are now allowed to buy grapes and juice from out of state. The imported grapes and juice will make up for shortages after harvest that for some will be well below normal.

North Fork wine buff Hertzie Clain had no problem with the practice.

“I think that is done all over the place, and people get from neighboring wineries, and why not get from, you know, far away?” Clain said. “If it keeps the show on the road, that’s just fine.”

But other self-proclaimed wine buffs said they find the practice unacceptable.

“If I want a blend, I’ll go buy a blend,” said North Fork wine buff Bill Simonetti. “I’d rather just buy a New York, North Shore Long Island, 100 percent.”

And the Macari owners said it is all about taste and trust.

“There’s lower quantities, so of course, you make fewer cases of wine — that‘s the sacrifice you have to make as a farmer, you know, and so if you don’t have the abundance of the grapes that year, you make less,” said Alexandra Macari. “For us, we would make less wine.”

Macari said her winery will not supplement with out-of-state product.

But McLogan advised that you take note when you buy this year’s vintage. To be labeled “New York,” at least 75 percent of the fruit must be grown within the state.

If a wine does not meet that threshold, it will be labeled only “American.”

Grape harvest begins after Labor Day.

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