Long Island's maritime climate and its unique glacial soils form the key natural components of our terroir. Our long, warm summers are tempered by cooling breezes off the Long Island Sound and Atlantic Ocean that prevents excessive summer heat. The surrounding water gives off warmth to the East End that extends summer into a mellow fall, allowing us ample time to ripen our fruit well into October and November. It also provides buffering breezes during the winter months, protecting the vineyards and allowing us to be the largest producer of European grapes in the Northeast.
Our climate is characterized by warm summer day temperatures and warm summer night temperatures creating a relatively low diurnal fluctuation and moderate rainfall in each month of the growing season. Nearly every summer contains a stretch of dry weather lasting between 3 to 4 weeks. Our average growing season accumulates between 2,800-3,500 Growing Degree Days (UC Davis system, >50F) depending on the distance of the vineyard site to cooling breezes coming off the Ocean and Sound. The hamlet of Cutchogue, in the heart of the North Fork of Long Island AVA, is considered the sunniest location in New York State, indicating that Long Island wine country has relatively high insolation.
Our moderate climate with plenty of sun allows the East End of Long Island to grow and ripen an array of grape varieties from the most dependable and widely planted duo-Chardonnay and Merlot—to the whites Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Gruner Veltliner, Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Semillion, Tocai Friulano, Pinot Blanc, and the reds, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere, Blaufrankisch, Dornfelder, Syrah, and Pinot Noir.
Geologically, the soils of the East End of Long Island are relatively young. The last glacier of the Wisconsin Age receded from the region about 11,000 years ago. As the glacier moved over the area it carried large quantities of rock, much of which was ground into gravel, sand and silt-sized soil particles. When the advancing ice stopped, the material ahead of the glacier was left in place as a ridge called a terminal moraine. Two moraines make up the East End – the Ronkonkoma Moraine to the south and the Roanoke Point Moraine to the north. As the glacial ice melted, enormous quantities of water ran from the glacier, carrying and sorting the soil materials. Most of the material was sand and gravel which was deposited on a broad plain in front of the moraine. This area is known as the glacial outwash plain and makes up the majority of the farmland on Long Island. As the ice kept melting, most of this plain was covered by water or wind-deposited silt, clay and fine sand to varying depths, making the topsoil of the region.
Our soils have excellent internal drainage, modest fertility and moderate water-holding capacity which control and limit the impact of the periodic summer rains, controlling vine growth and promoting grape ripening in the fall. The three main soil types are the Haven Loam and Riverhead Sandy Loam on the North Fork and the Bridgehampton Silt Loam and Haven Loam on the South Fork.
The grape growing region of the North Fork is encompassed within the area of the towns of Riverhead, Southold, and Shelter Island. This area, when compared to the South Fork, has distinctly different soil types. The difference in soil types begins north of the Peconic River and continues eastward toward Orient Point.
The major soil types which exit on the North Fork, according to the United States Soil Conservation Service, are as follows:
Carver-Plymouth-Riverhead Association: These soils are excessively well-drained and are very sandy, which may limit its farmability. They are located primarily on the perimeter of the North Fork and are usually rolling or sloping. The natural fertility of these soils is low and the rapid permeability of water through these soils make irrigation a desirable option for vineyards -in these areas. They are found mainly along the North Shore adjoining the Long Island Sound.
Haven-Riverhead Association: These soils are characteristically deep and somewhat level and are located further inland on the North Fork. They are well-drained and have a medium texture. Most of these soils have a moderate to high water holding capacity and crops respond well to lime and fertilizer when grown on these soils. Due to these factors, this soil association (which is the predominant one of the North Fork) is considered one of the best farming areas in Suffolk County.
Westward from here and into New York City, the soil associations become even more foreign to those found on the Eastern End. It must also be pointed out that while various soil types found in western Long Island may be similar to those found on the North Fork, the encroachment of suburban development and industry on Long Island has made commercial agriculture and land available for it, almost nonexistent in the townships west of Brookhaven
The grape growing region of The Hamptons is encompassed within the area of the towns of Southampton and East Hampton. This area, when compared to the North Fork, has distinctly different soil types. The difference in soil types begins at the edge of the Pine Barrens in Southampton Town and continues eastward toward Montauk Point.
The major soil types which exit on the South Fork, according to the United States Soil Conservation Service, are as follows:
Plymouth-Carver Association: These soils are rolling, hilly, deep and excessively drained. Characteristically, scrub oak and other minor trees are found as cover. Permeability is rapid and natural fertility is low. Most of these soils have never been farmed due to these factors and hence they are known to be poor supporters of crops.
Bridgehampton-Haven Association: These soils are deep and excessively drained and have a medium texture. It is its depth, good drainage and moderate to high available water-holding capacity that make this soil well-suited to farming. Most of these areas ate currently under cultivation of potatoes and vegetables. These soils are the main reason why South Fork potato and vegetable growers have consistently used less irrigation water than their North Fork counterparts.