Channing Daughters is a maximalist, catholic-minded winery on the South Fork of Long Island, New York, making exuberant, omnibus wines that defy categorization. The wines are in a so-far small class that permits inhabitants of the northeastern United States to drink regionally produced wine without compromise. If you drink the wines now, you will tell old-fogey stories about how you knew them when.

You might start by telling the young’uns that it didn’t used to be so easy to learn about the distinctive character of Long Island terroir by drinking the wines from there. Time was, lil’ scamp, a Long Island wine tasted like it was trying to be a California wine, or failing to be like a French wine. Nowadays y’all take it for granted that you pick up a Hamptons AVA and it drinks a sort of delicious ya can’t find anywhere else on this planet Earth. Wasn’t always this way.

Channing Daughters makes more than three dozen wines, including whites, pinks, reds, oranges (yes, plural oranges), vermouths, sparklers, dessert and a Madeira-style merlot. Many of their products come out in vintage runs of just a few hundred cases each. It’s not something for everyone as much as it’s an open invitation to join an exciting set of experiments.

“Long Island’s greatest strength lies in its diversity,” Channing Daughters’ winemaker and partner, Christopher Tracy, told me. “There are all these different times, foods, moods, all sorts of contexts in everyone’s lives, and so we make a lot of different wines in that spirit.”

Tracy grew up in a family with intense interest in food and wine, and continually tasted wines from around the world. Years with different wines and foods on the table bred in him an open-minded spirit about what’s delicious and why. Though he studied performing arts and philosophy in school, he pursued a career in food, training as a chef and earning diplomas and certificates from several nationally recognized wine programs. Tracy cooked in New York restaurants for several years before moving to Long Island with his wife, Allison Dubin, a fellow wine explorer who became a partner at Channing Daughters and its general manager.

When Tracy claims that Long Island’s strength lies in its diversity, he has science to back him up. A trove of geological, meteorological and enological research reveals tremendous variation throughout Long Island’s East End. The fact that the prime mover of that research, the soil scientist and viticultural consultant Larry Perrine, is also CEO of Channing Daughters is not coincidental to the winery’s ambitiously heterogeneous program.

The winery’s production has grown to approximately 14,000 cases annually. Roughly half the grapes come from Channing Daughters’ vineyards, the other half sourced from vineyard sites on all three Long Island AVAs, both South and North Fork.

Perrine’s work over many years, Tracy said, assessed soil samples and conducted extensive rootstock and varietal trials, all in an attempt to determine how Long Island might become a world-class wine region. A relatively young wine industry would have to punch above its weight to prove itself more than a curiosity conveniently located a couple hours’ drive from one of the largest markets in the world.

“There are really only a few places in the world where only one or two grapes work,” Tracy told me. “Many great regions have tremendous diversity: the Loire, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino, Bordeaux.”

Perrine’s and colleagues’ data showed feasibility for many varietals not ordinarily associated with American winegrowing. Chardonnay and sauvignon blanc make appearances, but so do muscat ottonel, friulano, gewurztraminer, malvasia and ribolla gialla. Channing Daughters makes reds from Long Island’s lead characters, merlot and cabernet franc, but also from teroldego and blaufränkisch, refosco and lagrein.

Sharp eyes will note the correspondence of that list with northeastern Italy’s. “I’m not trying to make Friulian wines,” Tracy said, “but we share a lot with Friuli.… There are similarities between parts of Long Island and parts of Friuli in temperatures, hydrology, soil.… But we also share an attitude of multiplicity, freshness, lower alcohol, aromatic complexity.”

Though both Friuli and Long Island produce fascinating reds, Tracy says the spectrum is far broader on the East End for wines that use white grapes. “We’re a cool, maritime, moderate district, and sometimes we get heat but we also get hurricanes! So we’re not going to make rich, dark, high-alcohol red wines. Our reds are going to have more juicy acidity, more floral and savory flavors, lighter in body.”

While Channing Daughters produces many reds, only one – the Sculpture Garden 2008, majority merlot co-fermented with some blaufränkisch – is currently available in Maine.

The whites and oranges are the wines from this winery that excite me the most, because they paint with the broadest brushes. “The spectrum there is huge,” Tracy said. “We can make delicious sparkling wines, from pét-nat to traditional method; we can make fresh, light aromatic whites and rich, barrel-fermented whites; we can make skin-fermented, savory orange wines, and sweet wines; and we can do that year-in and year-out, even in difficult vintages.”

Yes, expect vintage variation. The only way to guarantee vintage consistency from wines made in the northeastern United States would be excessive use of stabilizers, oak and hard-to-pronounce treatments. Channing Daughters, Tracy said, “lies in a region that celebrates vintage, that must celebrate vintage.”

Long Island’s geographic location, he suggested, therefore asks for the small production runs and multiplicity of styles at which Channing Daughters excels. “We can’t do anything by rote here. We set out in our mind with a style we want to make. Whatever style we want to make, we need to respond to the weather, alter our practices in the vineyard if necessary, maybe even not make a particular wine in a particular year if that style won’t work.

“Or look at the Ramato, which every year is going to be this skin-fermented, coppery, amber pinot grigio. But it’s different every year, even though it’s the same wine.… We’re lucky that most people who like our wines have come to expect that. They want character in their wines, something expressive and unique, a snapshot.”

Tracy’s enthusiasm for the constant meteorological vagaries his team encounters merges a Europhile respect for terroir with a distinctly American spirit of innovation.

“I treat the grapes each day as if I were going to the green market and asking: What’s good, what’s in front of me, what am I in the mood for? Do I need to change what I’m doing?”

Tracy warned that wet, maritime Long Island is “not a region for the faint of heart.” Making wine there requires careful attention, but also a playfulness more hidebound regions might discourage. “We’re lucky enough here that no one’s saying we have to do things a certain way. We want to create all these different styles because we can, and because they’re delicious.”

See for yourself. I wrote in a recent column that first encountering the Ramato 2013 ($27) was one of my favorite wine experiences of 2015, and I’ve since come back to it several times. The pinot grigio grapes spend more than two weeks on their skins, then are elevated in French and Slovenian oak for nearly a year. It’s copper-colored, rich in savory flavor but bright in character, vibrant and only 12 percent alcohol. I’m not sure I can picture the wine-lover who wouldn’t be fascinated by it.

The Envelope 2011 ($42) is outside category, somewhere between white and orange, a deep amber dry white wine somehow more intense than the Ramato but also more lithe. After a two-week co-fermentation of chardonnay, gewurztraminer and malvasia bianca on skins, the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and ages in a combination of new and used oak for nearly two years before bottling. Nut-scented, stone-fruity, honeyed and exotic, butterscotchy, it goes and goes. How many other wines could captivate an oak-tinged-chardonnay lover but clock in under 11 percent alcohol?

Channing Daughters’ more conventional wines are no less fascinating. I particularly like the Sauvignon 2013 ($27), which blends majority sauvignon blanc with 18 percent tocai friulano, a varietal known in Italy and Slovenia as sauvignon vert or sauvignonese. Compare it with the Mudd Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($20), which is straight-up acid-and-herb-driven sauvignon blanc slightly rounded off by a blend with 18 percent chardonnay. Channing Daughters’ tocai-affected sauvignon is more woody and settled, due in part to fermentation in oak barrels. The herbal, bitter notes of good sauvignon blanc are here, refracted through a waxier, lightly bitter mineral lens from the tocai friulano. It’s long-living, luxurious sauvignon, incredible with rich seafood dishes.

The Mosaico 2013 ($28) seems to combine all the attributes of the aforementioned wines into one. Pinot grigio, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, muscat ottonel, tocai friulano and gewurztraminer all hold hands here: harvested, whole-cluster-pressed and fermented together mostly in stainless steel, then spending a year aging on the lees. Spicy and aromatic, beeswaxy and brimming with Asian spice, its rich texture is balanced by tremendous acidity and mineral cut.

What did I miss? Plenty, for sure. Yet Channing Daughters’ multiple touchstones are so evocative that even a small sampling of the wines provides more than most of us expect or prepare for.

Joe Appel is the Wine Buyer at Rosemont Market. Contact him at:

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