Channing Daughters: The Best of the South Fork
It had been over a year since we’d been to one of our favorite wineries, so it was time to make the trek to the South Fork. We took the ferry from Greenport to Shelter Island, and then from Shelter Island to Sag Harbor, as wind whipped the usually calm Gardiner’s Bay into waves and sea spray hit our windshield. Despite the loss of the Sag Harbor movie theater to fire, the town looked much the same as ever, though new boutiques are gradually replacing some of the quirkier shops. Happily, we noted that the Sag Harbor Variety Store and the Wharf Shop are still there.
And so is the Channing Daughters tasting room, down a pebbled driveway off Scuttlehole Road, sitting amidst vineyards and wood sculptures made by the owner. The tasting room is small, with a bar along one side and no tables, though in the summer there are some outside. A standard tasting is five wines for $16, or you can order a glass of wine for $15. Simple crackers are put out as palate cleansers.
We had the room to ourselves on this sunny but blustery winter day, so we had the full attention of the genial and very well-informed server. He was delighted to hear that, after having resigned from the wine club last spring due to various changes in our lives, we were ready to rejoin it. The wine club involves accepting six shipments of two bottles each per year, and then you get free tastings of any wines you like to try plus invitations to various events during the year and discounts on other purchases.
As a result of rejoining the club, our tasting was free, and we tasted quite a few wines—so many that we ended up dumping parts of the last few tastes, just so we could stay on our feet. And even after trying eleven wines we had not begun to exhaust the panoply of wines on offer, a truly varied and impressive array for a small winery. One of the reasons we love Channing, and rejoined their club despite living on the North Fork and having access to so many other wineries, is their willingness to experiment and try new ideas all the time. Check out their web site to see all they offer and to read about their philosophy of wine making. According to the web site, they make almost three dozen different wines!
- 2016 Scuttlehole Chardonnay $18
Of all the chardonnays on Long Island, this remains our favorite, a steel-fermented beautiful expression of the fruit. We taste some pineapple and minerality, with aromas of pear and citrus. Yum.
- 2014 Sylvanus $24
A combination of muscat ottonel, pinot grigio, and pinot bianco, the name recalls the Roman god of the fields and agriculture (like Pan or Bacchus) for a very good reason. It is what is called a “field blend,” which means it is a blend of various grapes all of which were grown together in one field. So they share the same terroir, yet the taste varies from year to year, depending on how each variety grows. As we discussed with our server, this is more like the way people grew grapes in the past, planting whatever vines they got wherever they fit. And the vineyard in which it grows is named Sylvanus. In any event, this year’s iteration is quite good, a light, delicate dry white with just a touch of wood. He thinks it would be good with appetizers, perhaps a charcuterie platter.
- 2015 Cuvée Tropical $23
This is another blend, of 78% chardonnay, 8% tocai friulano, 8% pinot grigio, and 8% muscat ottonel. As I said, they like to experiment. The name comes from the flavor, which has notes of tropical fruits, like lychee and guava and pineapple. In the past I really liked the fruitiness of this wine, and this iteration is less fruity, a bit more austere, so though he recommends it with spicy food, I don’t think that’s necessary.
- 2014 Clones $29
Why Clones? Because this wine includes ten different clones of chardonnay, plus gewürztraminer, tocai friulano, pinot grigio, and sauvignon blanc. Now here comes the experimentation—some of the wine is aged on the skins for a little while, they use wild yeast, and it spends twelve months in old French oak barrels (plus maybe more I forgot…). Another good one. Dry, with just a touch of the oak, with citrus flavors of lime more than lemon, and some interesting complexity. Our server recommends it with smoked trout or bluefish, and we recommend that he check out the North Fork Smoke House the next time he’s in Greenport.
- 2014 Mosaico $29
Again, the name relates to how the wine was made. This is another field blend, but this time the vines are literally planted in a mosaic pattern, and include pinot grigio, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, muscat ottonel, tocai friulano, and gewürztraminer. Whew. Another winner. Aromas of celery, citrus, and herbs and maybe chamomile, and a complex flavor that includes pear, pineapple, and citrus. Because the juice also spends some time on the skins, the color is a deeper gold than usual.
- 2014 L’Enfant Sauvage
The “wild child” is a reference to the use of wild yeast, sometimes a risk for the winemaker, and this time, I have to say, not as successful for me as in the past. I have loved earlier versions of this white, but this one is more minerally than fruity. That’s not necessarily bad, but I liked the fruit in the past. This is 100% chardonnay, aged in new French oak and also Slovenian oak, so maybe the Slovenian oak is a taste I don’t care for. The aroma is of over-ripe apples and something chemical. My husband says it has a “strong backbone.”
- 2014 Ramato $25
You can only get this wine if you are in the wine club. It’s an orange wine, which means it was fermented on the skins for quite a while until it has an orange hue, and was made from 100% pinot grigio. Our server tells us the grape itself has a pinkish hue, which adds to the color. It is tart and dry, with some taste of apricot.
- 2016 Bianco Petillant Naturel $28
What is this, you wonder, especially as you look at the bottle, which is sealed with a bottle cap and has a layer of sediment on the bottom. This is a lightly fizzy sparkling wine which does not taste at all like champagne, nor does it try to. Instead of the méthode champenoise, this is the méthode ancestrale, in which the yeast remains in the bottle and is not disgorged. This is a blend of pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, and tocai friulano and tastes like a great wine for a meal—light and fizzy and good to complement food. That’s the way they drink Cava in Barcelona, where we saw people ordering an inexpensive bottle to go with lunch or a few tapas.
- 2013 Dorn and Blau $28
At this point we said we would share a taste, so our server poured this red and the next one at the same time so we could compare them. These German grapes—a combination of 62% dornfelder and the rest blaufrankish—are also grown in the Sylvanus vineyard. If you’re thinking you haven’t heard of these grapes as growing on Long Island, you wouldn’t be mistaken. As far as I know, Channing is the only one that has them. This is a fairly light and dry red, with aromas of red fruit and tobacco and something funky. It is another wine with more minerality than fruit. I could see it with something rich, though my tasting buddy finds it a bit too austere.
- 2014 Blaufrankish $28
Reverse the proportion of grapes, and you get 62% blaufrankish and the rest dornfelder, and then, just to see what happens, use grapes from a different vineyard, in this case the Mudd vineyard on the North Fork. We like this one much better! The aromas are of dark fruits plus minerals or wet rock, and the taste is of red berries and plums with layers of flavor, including some minerality. Both of these wines have soft tannins, so I’m not sure how they would age, but they’d be fine to drink right now.
- 2015 Petit Verdot $38
I often like petit verdots, and this one is no exception. Though the aroma is somewhat smoky and funky, the taste is delicious, with depth of flavor, including blueberries, blackberries, and spice. Our server is willing to keep going, but since we have to get back in the car we decline.
Reasons to visit: the most interesting wines on Long Island, with something new every year; the Scuttlehole Chardonnay, the Cuvee Tropical, the Clones, the Mosaico, the Blaufrankish…actually, you can’t go wrong with any of their wines; and we didn’t even get to the rosés, which we’ve had and enjoyed in the past; you’re looking for a winery in the Hamptons that’s less formal and pricey than Wölffer (which does have the advantage of tables where you can sit and snack on their cheese, etc.), and did I mention they also make really good vermouths, which are excellent just over ice as an aperitif.