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Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate on Finding Balance in Winemaking

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The McCall Vineyard and Ranch hosted the Harvest East End last night, an event that celebrated 40 years of winemaking on Long Island. We attended and tasted some particularly unique vino as well bubbles and dessert wine (hello blueberry port!). With such excitement going on, we sat down with Roman Roth, winemaker and partner of Wölffer Estate, to discuss wine. We discovered the key aspect to all of his success is balance?

As a Long Island winemaker, what does it mean to you to celebrate 40 years with your fellow wineries at the Harvest East End?
Well, the quality has improved dramatically as the wines mature, and the wines have achieved more of a balance. So it's a great statement that we are there for 40 years, and we are here to stay! I am very prod of this event. You have to be a region, and there's no point if only a few people are making good wine. I think we have all worked really hard to build this region. I am always happy to donate my time to any event that the wine council has pushed.

What are the challenges that vineyards face on the East End?
There are challenges in every region. In Germany, for example, they must overcome acidity. And when I first came to Long Island, everybody wanted French wine, because it had a big name. Then everybody wanted the big fat Californian wines. [Laughs] And we were not French, and we were not fat.

So how did you deal with that?
Luckily, the local movement took off. And people are embracing the fact that wine does not have to taste like cough syrup and be sweet and rich. Wine can be light, elegant, and vibrant. This is the style that Long Island is good at. All of a sudden, we are ahead of the curve. So after many years of working hard, we are finally fashionable and trendy! The style of what people like has changed, and the prejudice towards Long Island has gone down. This is a great time to be in the wine business on the East End.

What weather patterns are unique to the East End, in terms of the winemaking process?
Most people don't realize that we are on the same latitude as Madrid and Naples. We are much further south than the French vineyards. That means we have great sun, which helps to ripen skins and grapes through photosynthesis. The other thing that's special is that we are surrounded by water. We have a cool influence that gives our wine liveliness and acidity. There is a natural balance, which really comes through. And the Hamptons are the last area in New York State to get a frost. That gives us an extra 2-3 weeks of growing time. At the end, when it's crucial to ripen fruit, we have more time. I think that's what makes Long Island wines the best on the East Coast.

Many publications (including Curbed) have coined this the summer of the rosé. Why has Wölffer been so successful at crafting this wine?
I think we finally reached that tipping point. We made one of the first dry rosé wines in 1992 when people were drinking sweet blushes. People loved it. And now the whole style of that wine has changed. Now, it's cool to say that you drink rosé, so the perception has changed. And with our rosé, the alcohol is low, it's only 11 ½ volume percent. It is completely dry, so it doesn't overload you with sweetness or heavy flavors. Most importantly, our rosé is a blend of five different grapes. I'm not trying to make one statement. The key is that's is subtle and elegant. The statement is that it's an understatement.

Your winery is well known for hosting some of the most sought-after events in the Hamptons. What is the reason for this? And are there any plans for expansion? Perhaps a spa and a B&B?
[Laughs] You know, many ideas are always floating around, but first and foremost, we are a winery. The grounds are immaculate, and there aren't too many places like Wölffer Estate. The setting is special, so this lends itself to many opportunities here in the Hamptons. Our focus is always the quality of our wine. Without that, nobody would want to come here. We are consistent, so people want to be associated with us. Events happen quite a bit, but that's not our main focus. For us, it's about balance and turning out the best product possible.
· Harvest East End [Official site]
Jamie Sharpe