The Peconic Bay just a mile away carried its air onto the vineyard, wrapping its way through dirt, soil, and grape vines. I looked at my Ann Taylor loafers to only realize they were covered in dirt. It was a rather perfect day at the Shinn Estate. The air was mild, the sun was bright, and a group of Japanese Bantam chickens were clucking away in their cages. It was an almost perfect day at the vineyard because the grapes weren’t ripe or visible this time of year. I pulled up into the pebbled road and immediately the twenty acres of grape vines were in sight. A welcome sign directed me into a gray wood barn, which was the Shinn Estate tasting room.
In 1988, Barbara Shinn and David Page planted twenty acres of grape vines on Oregon Road, Mattituck. With biodynamic care they watched the grape vines prosper into New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Food & Wine Magazine recognized wines. However, things didn’t come to such a peachy start. When beginning this project Barbara and David realized the estate lacked life and a balanced ecosystem. Barbara and David then wanted to understand and accommodate the land to be in harmony with nature, which for hundreds of years has always been the traditional and most effective way of making wine. The couple then became interested in the philosophies and practices of bio-dynamics in agriculture mentioned by the anthropologist Rudolf Steiner. These influences have allowed Shinn Estate Vineyards to cultivate a unique organic soil made up of a compost blend integrated with fish, seaweed, whey compost, compost tea, sea minerals, and peanut meal. The chicken bedding from the Japanese Bantam chickens also contributes to their compost blend. It has become essential for Barbara and David to recycle nutrients. The same nutrients have become a source to the strength and fertility of the grape vines, as well as the vibrant taste the grapes produce because of this unique soil.
The vineyard was constructed with a vertical trellis system, which is a very effective and common way of systemizing a vineyard. This system allows the proper distribution of sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water coverage for the vines. Rows and rows of buds from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Pinot Blanc were beginning to open. I received a moment of bliss walking through the vines. There was a stillness to it all, a deceiving stillness from the forces of nature that were slowly cultivating the growth of these grapes. There are over 45 species of grasses, broad leaf species of plants, and wildflowers growing miscellaneously within the vineyard such as clover, dandelions, asters, vetch, and goldenrod. All of these aspects in their ecosystem contribute greatly to the natural yeast cultivation on the grapes. Shinn Estate Vineyards only uses the natural yeast that attaches itself on the grapes skin. When reading their wine list ingredients are stated as “grapes and love” because nothing is added or altered in their wines which is why it’s so important to have a balance with the vineyard’s surrounding attributes since the magic all happens on its own.
Patrick Caserta, Winemaker at the Shinn Estate Vineyard started his journey into wine through an eye-opening trip he took when he was in culinary school to a Hudson Valley vineyard. After that trip Patrick immersed himself into the wine world ever since. Walking with him through the estate you notice the gratitude he has for curious visitors and their questions on the wine making process. You notice proudness in him that births from the philosophies and practices of the vineyard. He walked me through the fermenting process at Shinn Estate Vineyards. Whites and reds are fermented in stainless steel vessels with the exception of certain vintages that are fermented in French oak barrels. The year 2007 was when the vineyard produced the best grapes. “Clarity” and “Grace” were produced on that year. Clarity, a $100 wine consisting of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged in the French oak barrels for 18 months. Grace, a $75 wine with a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot aged in French oak barrels for 18 months. Patrick and a small team of workers handpicked and harvested the grapes in September and pruned them right around Christmas. Everything holds a touch of craftsmanship at the estate. It starts with the hand picked grapes up to the finished product and packaging.
If interested in this biodynamic vineyard, visit on a weekend for a vineyard walk and tasting with Barbara at 1:30 pm, or a winery and barrel cellar tour with David for $20 at 2:30 pm. The estate is a two-hour drive from the city but well worth it. You get the chance to step away from the New York City rumble into this small town in Long Island distinctive with its own charming qualities of roads lining with wineries. If unable to visit the vineyard the wines are scattered all over the city. They’re distributed to ABC Kitchen, Bareburger, Bar Boulud, Blue Ribbon, and more. Shinn Estate Vineyards has demonstrated to me yet again why a movement of biodynamic wine cultivation is occurring. Wine is best when the grapes used to make the wine grow as their natural selves. Nothing is forced upon them or the wine creating what a harmony with nature has the power of doing—beautiful, bold, elegant wines.