How does a North Fork rosé get to Cambridge? In a keg.
When hard-to-get pours start showing up on local wine lists, there’s a story behind how they make it into your glass.
On the patio of Kendall Square’s State Park, one glass pour — a 2015 Bridge Lane Rosé — hails from the North Fork of Long Island. Visitors who have toured this bucolic stretch of wine country, just a ferry ride from southeastern Connecticut, will be delighted: The region’s bottles are hard to find in Massachusetts. Most inventory stays in New York, frequently snapped up by day-trippers from the city, visiting the area’s 60 wineries. But change is afoot, thanks to an ambitious producer, a convenient keg format, and Boston-area sommeliers who champion these wines.
Bridge Lane pours are crafted by the same team that makes wines for Lieb Cellars, established in 1992. Both utilize grapes grown on 85 acres spread across four North Fork vineyards. Australian-born Russell Hearn makes both brands. His role as managing partner and director of winemaking at Premium Wine Group, a premiere custom-crush facility, provides both brands with the capacity, equipment, and expertise to scale up. In 2016, these two brands accounted for the equivalent of 14,000 cases, putting the operation among the five largest producers on the North Fork.
A couple of years ago, with Bridge Lane poised to expand beyond New York, the team decided to increase use of alternative packaging, including kegs. This recyclable format, which holds the volume of 26 standard bottles, is well suited to the brand, described by general manager and certified sommelier Ami Opisso as “light, fresh, and affordable.” New wine consumers, she adds, are especially open to pours packaged in material other than glass, and are excited about locally crafted pours.
Joe Goldsmith, a portfolio manager at Massachusetts distributor Ruby Wines, says that consumers care more about how a wine tastes than its packaging. That makes the keg version of Bridge Lane Rosé — a sprightly dry pink, mainly cabernet franc and merlot — easier to sell to restaurants than even a few years ago. Kegs, which keep wine fresher for weeks longer than opened bottles, represent a growing segment of the market. More bars are setting up tap-line systems for wine.
Offering this rosé is an easy choice for Heather Mojer, owner and bar manager of State Park and adjoining Jewish delicatessen Mamaleh’s. “We inherited a wine-specific draft line from the previous business,” she says of the deli space, which formerly housed the restaurant West Bridge. Mojer, keen on finding distinctive East Coast wines, thinks the friendly price point (around $8 a glass) takes any customer hesitation out of trying wine from a tap.
Ashish Mitra, of Harvard Square’s Russell House Tavern, is also a fan of this pink. The bar manager, always looking to add to his all-domestic wine and beer list, says it’s a bonus to find pours hailing from places other than California or the Pacific Northwest. Long Island is special.
“The North Fork is like the Sonoma County of our neck of the woods,” he says.