Book Review: "Sun, Sea, Soil, Wine: Winemaking on the North Fork of Long Island," by Richard Olsen-Harbich

With or alongside many of the region’s pioneers, Richard Olsen-Harbich has made wine on Long Island for more than 40 years, and I sincerely doubt there is anyone better positioned to write such a book as this. Names like Hargrave, Bedell, Mudd and Perrine are more than names to him; he is able to speak about such local legends from firsthand experience. Olsen-Harbich also played a huge role in authoring Long Island’s three American Viticultural Area (AVA) applications, so he knows his facts, and what makes Long Island’s vineyards—and wines—unique.

For international readers who might not be familiar with Long Island, it is the long narrow landmass that extends East-Northeast from New York City. The modern wine industry there dates back to only 1973, when Alex and Louisa Hargrave planted their eponymous vineyard on the North Fork.

The book is strongest when it sticks to these strengths, summarized neatly in the book’s title and reiterated multiple times in approximately the first third of its pages. Olsen-Harbich gives a concise history of the region, starting from its geological origins as a result of ice-age glaciation (thereby explaining the soils). Further, he outlines the climatologic and meteorologic effects of the surrounding water bodies—Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Once past this fact-based material, the book heads into shorter essays on numerous hot-button topics, such as natural wine, climate change, sustainability and wine ratings, among others. Some of these make for interesting reading on their own, and Olsen-Harbich does make many valid points in these chapters that extend well beyond Long Island wines. So, there are reasons to read the book, even if Long Island isn’t of viticultural interest to you.

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