A few weeks back I was invited to spend some time at Raphael Vineyard. I had been in contact with Melissa Martin at Raphael after doing a review of their rose. She had asked that I pay a visit the next time I had a chance and to meet with Richard Olsen-Harbich, their winemaker. I was looking forward to this opportunity for a while and could not wait for this to happen. It took about 2 full months for us to meet, but it was worth the wait.
Raphael Vineyard is one of the most breathtaking wineries on the north fork. When you first pull into their parking lot in Peconic, you cannot look past their facade and fountain that greets you when you arrive. You have to double check your license plate to make sure you are still in New York let alone the United States. At Raphael, it truly is a splendid sight for your eyes; from their grand Mediterranean style tasting room, to their estate like balcony that overlooks the acre upon acre of vines, to their dining & banquet hall that they use for private parties. Also a nice feature is the ability to look into the cellar where you can visibly see where there wine is stored in stainless steel tanks. They look so grand side by side as you peek through the window. But I was there for a taste of their splendid wines.
When I first pulled up, I was very nervous, as I am the first time I meet someone new. More importantly I was about to be tasting wine with someone who had a hand in making wine on Long Island from the start. Richard has been working on vineyards on Long Island since 1981, and he has been at Raphael since they opened the doors in 1996. He is an extremely knowledgeable person and a leader in making great long island wine.
I was first greeted by Melissa who gave me a tour of the workings and doings of Raphael. She told me how the season was going and how things were looking going into the harvest. She was talking about all the new stuff that is going on and what has been released. We then went down into the office of Raphael’s winemaker, Richard Olsen-Harbich. We could not find him at first, but it was very welcoming to hear classical music playing as we walked around. Melissa showed me the barrel room and the stainless steel vat location and the wholesale storage area. The beautiful classical opera music that was playing as we walked through the barrels was just incredible. I was getting goose bumps, I really felt as if I was in Europe.
As we continued around, we found Richard, a very tall man, much taller than I. Melissa, Richard and I talked for a while, and I admitted to them how nervous I was. We all got a chuckle out of it, and Rich had me calm in minutes. He told me in so many words, don’t worry about note taking, just enjoy. And from that moment on, I felt like I was with and old friend. Needless to say there was a link that shocked me and brought comfort and familiarity to the situation. Rich’s family is from Ridgewood, Queens, NY, where I was born and my family still lives, well Glendale to be specific. And to boot, his grandfather worked at Rheingold just like mine…it’s a small world.
Melissa had to leave us for a while, then Rich and I were able to talk about wine, grapes, and how he does his thing. He first showed me the old world style, and quite large wine press that he uses to squeeze the juice from all of the grapes harvested. He showed me the destemer that he had all set up waiting for harvest to happen. He gave me a brief showing of how the destemer is able to remove all the stems and just produce the tiny berries for the wine. When stem mixes with the wine, it can and will produce a bitter taste to the wine. He is very careful not to allow anything other than the natural berries enter the press.
He asked me what wine I like and we went into discussion about the grapes on long island and the wine they produce. We covered a large area here. We talked about how Petite Verdot, my Megan Fox of wine right now, can grow very nicely here on Long Island; it’s just that some are afraid of it and not sure how to handle it because it needs to hang on the vine a lot longer than most. He told me that it is a good grape to grow on long island cause it could stand up to this climate and is relative easy to grow. He pointed out to me that at that point, (This was early September) the crape did not start veriasion yet. I was shocked. It is probably a November harvest grape.
We then went into a discussion about my favorite, Cabernet Franc, and something I noticed that he does that not too many if any do. Ferment Cabernet Franc in Stainless steel. I could not understand this and I wanted to know more. We had a great conversation about this and he made me understand and believe that he may be right; it can and should be fermented in stainless steel. It is a unique berry and deserves to show only the best of itself. He could not see masking some of the green flavors and try to make it something it is not. Spot on. But keep in mind that this is his style of making Cabernet Franc; most others will ferment it in oak. Which is not all lost here, but I now have a better understanding of the process of how stainless steel fermenting will work.
Rich then took me into the library and selected some wine that he thought I would like based on our conversation and what I said was my type of grapes. We then proceeded up the tasting room where it was just Rich, a couple of bottles, a spittoon and me.
Rich had me taste all of the current releases of the Raphael white wines. The stand out was Raphael’s 2008 Naturale ($20). This is an old world style wine. It is natural, no finning and no filtering. It is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc and Semillon. It was slightly oaked during termination, and finished in stainless steel. IT really was a sold, mouth fulfilling wine. Remember I took no notes at the time of the tasting…this is from memory, and if left a lasting. It was cloudy, and that was ok. It had great body and there was a touch of acidity at the end. IT was toasty and lemony and herby. A really well done wine, in the natural way. Only the natural yeast that naturally develops is used. This is the wine that your grandfather used to make in his basement. Well, Rich is making it and making it well.
Rich and I then did a vertical tasting of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. I tasted Cabernet Franc from 2004, 2005 and 2007. We then tasted Merlot from 2001, 2002 and 2005. We also tasted some Malbec and Petite Verdot, both from 2005. I will be featuring most of theses in my blog in the upcoming days, I have already profiled the 2007, and you can read it here.
After that, Rich and I went back down into the cellar and tasted a few of the 2008 from the barrel. Here is a quick rundown; 2008 Cabernet Franc, in oak, was getting alot of flavors, some cherry and blackberry, and some nice green herbal notes.
Next up, was a Merlot, from 2008. I liked this more than the Cab Franc. It was showing a nice raspberry aroma. It had a very nice mouth feel and had this wild and crazy copper or strong metallic flavor. It was good and I liked the different flavors that were happening. There was also this eucalyptus note that I found so exciting.
We then finished up with some Petite Verdot. This to me was the keeper of the 2008′s I have tasted. This was ready to go into the bottle. There was a wonderful element of dark berries, some leather and a slight floral note that was very enjoyable. The dark berries were there in the taste and it was such a smooth well rounded wine that had me craving for another glass.
In summary, I had a wonderful experience with a man I truly respect and commend. Rich had been here from the start and continues to make strides to show what Long Island has to offer and what we can put into bottles. At Raphael, you get to taste firsthand the good things that Rich has brought to Long Island, and you can see why Long Island is about Merlot. I look forward to the next opportunity to meet with Rich, and just sit back and taste some wine.
I will always remember this visit and I will appreciate the time that Rich took to educate me and show me the way that wine on Long Island can and should be made. Every time I open a bottle of Raphael wine in the future, I will hear Rich’s soft spoken voice, that make Raphael Wine’s the most comforting wines on Long Island that are just splendid on the palate.
*(All photos are taken from http://www.raphaelwine.com/)