Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Travel - Wine camp on Long Island, N.Y.

      Going off to camp wasn't an option for my wife Deb or me as kids. A normal summer day would include riding my bike all over town, a day at the pool and playing baseball.
A variety of wines.
     So as adults, Deb scouted a vacation on the internet that looked interesting to her. We were headed to summer camp. This wasn't a roll out the sleeping bags and pop up the tents trip complete with gnats and mosquitoes. Our destination was the North Fork of Long Island, New York for a five day adventure at Wine Camp.
     Our stay was at the Ellis House Bed and Breakfast and we were shuttled around to wineries by limousine for a relaxed learning experience on the fine art of growing grapes and wine making.

Limosines shuttled us across the North Fork.

     On arrival we were greeted by Ellis House owner Connie Ellis and she briefed us on our afternoon activities. Her husband Scott was always busy behind the scenes helping prepare breakfasts, one which included Creme Brulee French Toast and raspberry sauce. Tasty. There were a total of thirteen campers with some in the group staying at the Harvest Inn B & B.
     We met up at the Paumanok Winery where owner Charles Massoud gave an overview of the Long Island wine industry. He talked about his first life as an executive with IBM and now how he, his wife Ursula and family manage their vineyard. It was a very casual setting as we sat among the growing vines. After our chat we headed inside for our first wine tasting and got to know the other campers.
Our morning menu.
     Every camper came from a different background but our common interest was gaining some new insight on wine and having fun while learning. It wasn't a dry teaching and listening experience. We were involved in various aspects of the vineyards. There were novices in the group just beginning to branch out enjoying wines to experts including consultants from Yellow Tail Wines of Australia who were on a winery touring vacation across the United States.
Anthony Nappa at the Winemaker Studio.
     DISCLAIMER: I am not a wine expert nor do I pretend to be. Deb and I enjoy traveling and participating in different experiences on the road. That said, I am a wine consumer. At home in Pennsylvania, we drive around the Berks County and Lehigh Valley Wine Trails sampling various bottles of whites and reds. And we buy from the local wineries including the Manatawny Winery which is in our back yard in Amity township.
     There isn't a need to travel far for a taste of grapes, but we've also traveled to the California wine country. One of the highlights of the trip was a ride on The Napa Valley Wine Train for wine tasting and dinner on board. We also stopped at Nicholson Ranch in Sonoma where we toured the winery and again sampled wines while enjoying a gourmet lunch outdoors surrounded by vine covered hillsides.
A catered lunch under a canopy of wine leaves.
     Back in Long Island wine country we learned that the first vineyard was planted only 39 years ago as the agricultural industry of growing potatoes, cauliflower and other vegetables fell on hard times. Farmers were selling out as second and third generations of families lost interest in the strenuous work for little profit.
     Back then, the ground was moderately priced. Newcomers who were tired of working in the big city or finishing up first careers bought up the acreage and began a new way of life on Long Island's North Fork. Early on in the '70s was a learning experience for the founding owners on what grapes worked during a growing season with land surrounded by water and how vines should be planted. They found that planting rows east to west didn't allow for enough sun exposure on the vines. So now the majority of vines are running north to south. As the sun rises over the vineyards it sweeps over the leaves evenly from morning until dusk. I get an A for remembering that history and wine science. Can you say photosynthesis.
Eric Fry talks on wine blending at Lenz Winery.
     At Sherwood House Vineyards we learned how to taste wines and figuring out the flavors. What we liked, what we didn't and that everyone has different opinions on wines. We had a science class on the chemistry of winemaking with Anthony Nappa. Then we traveled to Lenz Winery which was founded in 1978. We learned the art of blending wine with winemaker Eric Fry trying to figure out what we wanted in a red wine blend.      
    We paired with several campers and four teams competed to see who could make the best wine. The blending was made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Our group liked our finished product and toasted each other clinking glasses thinking we had a winner. Needless to say we lost and my wife Deb's team won using equal parts of the three wines. I have yet to live down her victory as she teasingly reminds me at times when we are sipping a glassful at home.
Strick's Pics blending wine.
     We also learned the fine art of tasting wines that were still aging in barrels and spitting out the juice into a bucket. My accuracy was lacking and much ended up a maroon spot on the concrete floor. I love camp! Fry was an expert and could hit that bucket from across the room like an NBA player swishing a jump shot. But joking aside he is a master winemaker with degrees in microbiology and scientific knowledge helping to keep his vineyard healthy and to craft great wines.
Deb works at the Old Fields Vineyard.
     The next day of travel included talks about sustainable vineyard management at Jamesport Vineyard where we met Ron Goerler Jr. and his father Ron Sr. who started up one of the first vineyards on the island. We sampled more wine seated at a large table, surrounded by barrels in a smartly built cellar tasting room.
     Afterward, we were transported to The Old Field Vineyards where owner Roz Baiz put us to work in the fields. Her husband Chris stopped his tractor long enough to say hello then was back in the field trimming row after row of grapevines. At this point of the growing season, it was time for the campers to help at Old Field and raise the wires attached on the posts to their top position. The vines were growing fast and are trained between these wires. The grapes were the size of a firm pea and the clusters were just starting to grow. Deb and I worked as a team and started slowly making sure not to damage the vines. But we rookies got the system down and completed our work on a long row. Our reward was another wine tasting under the shade of oak trees on the property.
Ron Goerling Jr. and Sr. at Jamesport Winery.
     During one of our catered lunches we met author Jane Taylor Starwood who wrote an interesting book entitled "Long Island Wine Country" on the North Fork wineries. I had her autograph our copy. The people we met on the trip were very friendly. Not like some of the tense folks that are rushing around in New York City. Maybe it's the lifestyle, maybe it's the wine but we felt as if we became a part of their culture that week.
    Our final evening dining event was a food pairing and wine dinner with Marco and Ann Marie Bourgese. Mr. Borgese is an Italian prince whose heritage can be traced back nine centuries. He had an easy going manner and smile and an intelligent wine maker while his wife was a charming and knowledgable co-owner. She talked about their acquiring Long Island's first vineyard in 1998 from the original owners Louisa and Alex Hargrove who planted the first vines in 1973. Castello di Borghese Vineyard & Winery grows a variety of grapes from Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and others.
     We received a case of wine as a complimentary part of our tour including bottles from each winery we visited. And we bought others that we really enjoyed during our tasting events that week.
Young grape cluster on the vine.
    On completing wine camp our camp counselors Connie, Darolyn and Christopher presented us with certificates. Each couple was also bestowed a special honor. Deb and I were told that we are destined to be the next couple to own a vineyard on the North Fork determined by our work at Old Field Vineyard. We thanked them for the honor but I politely declined laughingly knowing how weeding the flower gardens at our home isn't for me.
     We'll travel back to the North Fork as there are more wineries on the island we'd like to visit and to stop and say hello to the friends we made on our trip. And next time we will take the time to sit along the Long Island Sound and watch the sailboats and enjoy the sunshine on a breezy summer afternoon.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Celebrating Independence Day

     Celebrating Independence Day for me normally involves covering 4th of July festivities for The Mercury. This year I photographed the first of the two day celebration in Pottstown shooting pictures of a group of hot air balloonists lifting off over Memorial Park, a country rock band and the big draw of the evening, THE BABY CONTEST.
     The events at the park make for numerous photo possibilities for the paper and website. The weather this year was ideal, no rain, not too warm. Just a perfect evening for activities. But don't think for a minute I wasn't sweating the baby contest.
      All the babies are winners in my book. The little girls and boys are smartly dressed for the occasion. But the mom's holding their children make me nervous. I'm kidding of course but it's hard to take a picture of each child and put them in the paper. But the looks I get at times seem to be asking me, "What about taking my baby's picture?" This year I had a father ask me laughingly, " How much money to take a picture for the paper?" I think he was serious.

      I work quickly scanning the crowd for a child that would make a good front page photo. A child learning to walk for the first time. Another waving a flag. All the girls are pretty as a picture and the boys are snappy looking. I can't go wrong by whomever I photograph.

     I keep my head down and try not to make eye contact with the moms. They look at me and then at their babies and then back at me. I'm intimidated. I have covered some of the toughest events for the paper for years but that baby contest has me back pedaling. So on this blog I'm including a number of the photos that may not have gotten covered in print but will make it onto the digital world for all to see.
     It's not hard to get a really good photo from the event, but I wish I were invisible. And to be a judge is a thankless job. I was asked to judge a contest years ago at a Berks County event and gladly participated. Little did I know what I was in for. Everyone wants their baby crowned as the winner. I felt like a baseball umpire making a bad call during a game. When it was over I made a hasty retreat to my car.
     But in the end, the parents do enjoy the day and maybe next year I will take pictures of their baby.