Widgets Magazine

Chatting North Fork Wine with Ali Tuthill, Executive Director of the Long Island Wine Council

Ali Tuthill with LIWC President Winemaker Roman Roth

Q: First of all, what is Long Island The Wine Council? What does it do?

A: The Wine Council is the industry trade association that works to promote, protect and strengthen the Long Island wine region. We have 40 active member wineries, almost all of whom are on the North Fork.

We’re committed to establishing the region as a top quality producer of wine. Our quality has improved tremendously over the years to the point where our wines are competitive with those from top regions in the world.  So when we talk about trying to “grow the industry,” we are talking about trying to grow its reputation worldwide.

Q: What sets Long Island wine apart?

A: We are especially proud of the balance that our wines can achieve.  That’s a huge differentiator for us in the US market; our maritime climate and long growing season produces very balanced wine, it’s a very food friendly style of wine.

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Photo credit: Bridget Elkin

Essentially all winemakers are trying to achieve that perfect balance between acidity, alcohol, tannin and sugar.  In other regions it can be difficult to do this due to, for example, higher temperatures, which can cause winemakers to have to manipulate the wine to get a balanced, consumable product.  In the marketplace there’s a perception that wines are what they are, but that’s often not true. But because of our unique climate, Long Island wines are naturally balanced and see very little intervention.

Q: I’m glad to hear that unlike many other wine regions, wines from the North Fork require very little ‘intervention’; that our wines’ balance simply reflects the grapes grown here. As a whole the North Fork is about food purity and authenticity. Are there any other distinctive features of Long Island wine?

A: Two more come to mind. Long Island wine very alcohol moderate, which means they’re easier to enjoy. Our wines are typically 12-13% alcohol, whereas California wines can upwards of 15%.

Another distinction is the huge range of grapes that grow well here. People can really taste a wide spectrum of wines here. Sure we have our particular strengths, which most producers grow, but our breadth is really striking.

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Photo credit: Bridget Elkin

Q: That’s great to hear—that the North Fork can grow an unusually broad range of grape varietals. That’s very in keeping with our vegetable, fruit and landscape plant farming. What are those varietals?

A: From a red standpoint, our most commonly planted grapes, our particular strengths, are Cabernet Franc and Merlot. But we also produce varieties such as Malbec, Syrah and  Petit Verdot.

From a white perspective, chardonnay is our most commonly planted white, followed by Sauvignon blanc. But we also produce Gewürztraminer, Albarino, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Viognier, to name a few!

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Photo credit: Bridget Elkin

Q: When you are promoting North Fork wines, what is your message, and who is your target audience?

A: The approach is wine first, focusing on the product and place; what makes Long Island wines unique and worthy of respect. Right now our efforts are completely focused on trade and educators—an influencer effort aimed at the wine food and lifestyle community so they can advocate on behalf of long island.  Our wines’ reputation is growing, and there’s a desire for LI wine on NYC menus, and you see more and more places dedicating space on their wine lists to our wines.

Our marketing tries to drive home the value proposition of our wine, which indirectly recruits people to our tasting rooms who are interested in learning about the wine, and about the pride we take in the product and the place in which it is grown and produced.

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Photo credit: Bridget Elkin

To build a wine-first region, we are making a shift from a focus on non-wine related entertainment to more wine-centric experiences.  We want people to experience how enjoyable it is to learn about the wines made in their own backyard, and there is no better way to do so than by sitting in our beautiful vineyards and discovering them with your friends and family.

Q: Your last name is Tuthill, which is a very historic name around here. What are your ties to the North Fork, and how did you end up at the wine council?

A: My husband’s family are direct descends of John Tuthill, one of the original settlers of Southold. My family started summering in Shelter Island before I was born, so I basically grew up here. And we’re so happy to be raising our kids here.

I’m from a very large family, and our whole family’s dynamic centers around the kitchen, and food, and coming together. I have a lot of family members who are very interested in wine. So wine was always a passion of mine. My college degrees were in psychology and English, but I spent all my time travelling, focusing on wine and wine experiences and travel writing.

My husband and I were always focused on trying to move back here—this is where we always wanted to raise our kids—but it took time. It’s hard for a young couple to get work here that enables raising a family.

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When the marketing director job opened up at the wine council a year and a half ago, it was a perfect opportunity. My marketing skill set and passion for wine complemented my passion for and understanding of this region. Now as Executive Director I’m really excited to help shape the future of North Fork wine culture.