Merlot for Snobs

A Long Island winery is challenging Merlot's deservedly dismal reputation
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But wine was. A chance trip to visit an artist friend on the North Fork led to their falling in love with the area, and the success of their restaurant allowed them to buy a house on the water (then conceivable for arty but practical types) and, later, the farm. This summer, five years after they first planted grapes and three years after they released their first wine, the couple sold their beach house for a vast profit. All of it will go into a winery—they have been making their wine elsewhere—and a four-room bed-and-breakfast they will create next year in the former farmhouse. Page insists that running a winery at a profit is possible; he points to his own start and to the fact that he and Shinn do almost all the work other than harvest. They have no salesmen, no business manager, no greeter or even cleaner at the tasting room they open on weekends.

Styles in wine have changed greatly since the first wine was bottled on the North Fork—to Shinn and Page's advantage. When the first generation was getting started, the revolution was in California, and Robert Parker gave his highest ratings to powerful, high-alcohol wines. But lately an appreciation of cooler-climate wines, which are higher in acidity and lower in alcohol, is growing. These wines go better with food, and Shinn and Page, chefs at heart, wanted to make food-friendly wines. In their first years on Long Island they played at making blends in friends' cellars, using beakers as if they were measuring cups, taking 80 percent of this and 10 percent of that from other winemakers' barrels, and bottling the blends they liked under the Home label, to be sold at the restaurant. This cook's apprenticeship informed the way they built their own vineyard and their own wines.

Shinn and Page make winemaking sound both simple and appealing. "It's like cooking," they told me. "Taste through every barrel, over and over again. It's like anything you taste—if it tastes good, you know it's right." At the new bed-and-breakfast Page will cook late breakfasts (he has grilled quail in mind, he told me) and the couple will offer "wine camp," in which guests will help them prune and then try to make blends of their own.

I intend to enroll, and I already know my benchmark: Shinn Estate's reserve Merlot from 2002, the first vintage the couple released. (The lower-priced Merlot long ago sold out; the reserve is available for about $40 a bottle from shinnestatevineyards.com.) This is the distinguished wine that changed my opinion of Long Island and made me assume I was drinking a very good French wine. My reaction is just the one Shinn and Page want to eradicate. "I don't want to make a wine that tastes like France," Page told me. "I want to make a wine that tastes like Long Island."

Subtle Chèvre
Another North Fork treasure

Good fresh chèvre should be pure white and spreadable, without the chalky, dry, crumble-to-bits texture of many logs. You can seldom find it so pure, because fresh goat-cheese logs are so often flavored with things like jalapeño or cracked peppercorns. As with many mild foods people monkey with, if the flavor is subtle, varied, and good on its own, there's not much point to piling on extra ingredients.

Catapano chèvre, a fresh white cheese from the only goat farm on Long Island, is sold in small plastic-wrapped discs resembling cream cheese in looks and texture. It would be very good on a bagel. Mild as it is, the chèvre has a tang and a salty bite. As for the goaty flavor that puts many people off aged goat cheeses, it's barely detectable in fresh chèvre. The lactose-sensitive are increasingly turning to fresh goat's milk, which they can digest more easily (Catapano doesn't sell it, because fresh milk requires a different license). For them, or for anyone who wants an interesting and satisfying cream-cheese alternative, Catapano chèvre is ideal.

You'll have to visit the farm to get it. Last July the American Cheese Society, the country's leading group of artisan-cheese producers, gave Catapano top honors in the category of fresh, unripened goat cheese, and demand for it only increased. "If the goats aren't milking, I don't have it," Karen Catapano said when I visited recently. Once, she told me, after she had sold out, a man kept her from leaving by standing in her driveway with his arms folded, insisting that she give up a square from her hidden reserve. She finally convinced him she didn't have one.

Catapano, a former nurse, and her husband, Michael, a doctor at a local walk-in clinic, bought their small goat farm in 2002 and turned to cheese-making partly as a form of occupational therapy when their son, Patrick, was sent to Iraq. Michael read veterinary textbooks, and Karen decided to learn to make goat's-milk soap after she tried a bar at a goat-cheese workshop and found that it made her skin feel softer and healthier—and after a large batch of her husband's yogurt failed to set. Their backgrounds equipped them for cheese-making, which requires extreme fastidiousness; goat's milk in particular easily picks up off flavors. "My husband likes doing the same thing over and over," Karen said. "He's a scientist. I'm a salad person."

Although their fresh chèvre sells out fast, the Catapanos make other cheeses, including feta and gouda. When I visited, they were living in a suburban ranch house, which had cabanalike wooden outbuildings that made a quaint but odd setting for cheese-making. (They have since moved the goats to a larger farm, where visitors can observe milking.) It seems in character for an area where people are still teaching themselves to make good food and wine on a homely scale. And the therapy worked. Patrick, whose picture was displayed in the tiny wooden shop along with accounts he sent from Iraq, came back last spring.

Five Northeastern Goat Cheeses

Catapano Dairy, Mattituck, NY (631-298-0043; www.catapanodairyfarm.com). Fresh, spreadable chèvre, salty and with a slight tang, available only on the premises at Long Island's sole goat farm.

Coach Farm Dairy, Pine Plains, NY (518-398-5325; www.coachfarm.com). The largest goat-cheese producer in the Northeast, and a national leader. Light, subtle fresh logs and many variations, including lemon and lowfat.

Hillman Farm, Colrain, MA (413-624-3646; www.shopwma.com/hillmanfarm). One of several New England farms specializing in aged rather than fresh goat cheeses. Its Harvest wheel is a fine introduction for anyone already sold on, say, aged manchego, the Spanish sheep's-milk cheese.

Twig Farm, West Cornwall, VT (802-462-3363; www.twigfarm.com). Another good introduction for goat skeptics: tomme, a mild-flavored, semi-hard cheese usually made with cow's milk but here made with all goat's milk (Twig Farm also makes a mixed-milk tomme).

Westfield Farm, Hubbardston, MA (978-928-5110; www.chevre.com). Expertly made fresh Capri on a French model, delicately flavored but a bit denser and more crumbly than other fresh logs.

Corby Kummer is a senior editor of The Atlantic.
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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.
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