Whisper Vineyards has released five of its first wines in its new St. James tasting room, which opened on Nov. 25 despite controversy. The refurbished Borella farm stand on Edgewood Avenue now serves as a refined boutique serving wines that are nearly 10 years in the making.
"We've gotten a very positive response. People are happy and thrilled, we've been waiting for this for so long," said Barbara Perrotta, co-owner of Whisper Vineyards along with Steve and Laura Gallagher.
Inside the boutique, Whisper Vineyards has three wines offered as part of its Reserve tasting, called "Reserve" as they are the first wines produced by the winery.
"They are our first wines and they are also the first ones made in one of the best years ever on Long Island," said Pascal Zugmeyer, general manager and sommelier at Whisper. "Everything you can expect from a vintage was there in 2007. We got very fortunate it was our first year making wine."
Zugmeyer said Whisper Vineyards is focusing on producing small quality, but high-quality wines. They have chosen to use hand-harvesting practices that involves 'dropping' up to two-thirds of the fruit, or cutting most grapes off the vine before they are fully formed so plants produce less grapes, but it intensifies the flavor.
"We do the same attention to the grapes and the same sustainable practices to the grapes that we give to the vegetables, that we have used for the past 50 years and Borella is known for," Zugmeyer said.
The St. James vineyards has release its three reserve wines, its first wines produced under Long Island winemaker Eric Fry: a 2007 Chardonnay ($30 a bottle/$10.50 per glass), a 2007 Reserve Merlot ($35 a bottle/$11 per glass), and a 2007 Reserve Red Cape Blend ($40 a bottle/$12 per glass).
The 2007 Chardonnay is a medium-bodied wine offering aromas of orange blossom and honeysuckle, while tasting of pear, red apple and lemon with a long finish. Wine lovers might be surprised not to taste a woody note, as Whisper Vineyards has chosen not to age its Chardonnay in oak barrels as is a common practice in California, according to Zugmeyer.
The 2007 Reserve Merlot offers a bright taste of cherry with fruity and spicy notes over a rich texture and balanced tannins with only 222 cases made. The 2007 Reserve Red Cape Blend has an aroma of blackberry, liquorice and coffee accented by lavendar, cedar and graphite offering a concentrated taste of dark fruits and spice, lingering with mouth-coating tannins.
Whisper Vineyard has started releasing its 2008 vintages offered in an Estate Tasting: 2008 Chardonnay ($24 a bottle/$8.50 a glass), 2008 Red Cape Blend ($32 a bottle/$10 a glass).
Production in 2008 was a challenge, according to Zugmeyer, due to the weather staying cool and rainy. It resulted an marked difference in the taste of the wines.
"It transferred to the wines being lighter in style, not as intense or concentrated," Zugmeyer said.
The 2008 Chardonnay is a blend of three Dijon clone vines, bringing vibrant citrus and floral notes while bright of apples and macadamia nuts. It has a higher acidity than the 2007 Reserve.
The 2008 Red Cape Blend is full-bodied wine made of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvingnon and 30 percent Cabernet Franc. It smells of black currant, black liquorice and peppermint aromas while tasting notes of violet, blackberries, plum with spicy and peppery accents.
For those who are non-wine drinkers, the tasting room will feature a different local beer each month starting with Southampton Public House's Double White ($5 a glass), as well as a variety of New York spirits.
"My goal is to reach as many people as we can to show them good wines or something that they’ve never had before," Zugmeyer said.Designated drivers and non-drinkers can try a Verjus, an unfermented green grape juice ($11.50 a bottle/$6 a glass) that's tart and sweet, or Montauk Ice Tea mixing white tea with peach and red berry Hibiscus ($3 a glass).
Zugmeyer said to address locals' concerns, he has undergone TIPS certification a Training for Intervention Preventions that teaches alcohol servers how to recognize and judge a clients' intoxication and take appropriate action to intervene with a potentially drunk patron.
He says the rest of the staff is or will be undergoing the same certification process.
To further address local concerns, the St. James winery has created a website titled, "Setting the Record Straight on Expansion of Whisper Vineyards" to answer questions on noise, traffic and prevention of drunk driving in relations to its pending application before Town of Smithtown to build a new and larger building.
Whisper Vineyards is open located at 485 Edgewood Ave. in St. James. The winery's tasting room will be open from 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. most days, through Christmas.