A version of this column originally appeared on northforker.com

Recently, a friend asked me where I thought Long Island wine would be five or 10 years from now. I thought about it for a moment and then told him, “I really have no [expletive redacted]idea, brother.”

And it’s true. Looking around at the industry, local governments and the market at large, it’s nearly impossible to know where things might go and what might be next for the region. There is so much happening and yet, if you look beneath the surface, things seem a bit stuck. The industry isn’t stagnant — there is still a group of producers doing great things and trying new ones, pushing quality and making stunningly delicious, expressive wines.

But for the bulk of the industry, there is a lot of the same going on. And it all feels a bit precarious at times if you’re really paying attention.

It’s a complicated situation, but I think it boils down to two main questions: What does the wine industry want to be and what will the wine industry be allowed to be?

Long Island wine, by and large, is all fine enough, right in the meaty middle of the quality bell curve. One could argue that’s to be expected. This isn’t a new region anymore. We know what it takes to make good wine here. These days, there are very few outright bad wines — though there are still some wineries whose wines I simply won’t put in my mouth.

But there is very little “new” happening. Very little overt push to make things better. Maybe it’s because some in the region feel that Long Island is no longer an emerging region, that they’ve arrived. I don’t think that’s true. There is so much more to be explored and refined.

Maybe the “sameness” is due in part to the fact that there are roughly half as many winemakers as there are wineries — with some winemakers making wine for up to four or five wineries. Very little outside winemaking talent is coming into the local industry, thereby limiting new ideas and new approaches. There is even less opportunity for young assistant winemakers to find head winemaking jobs.

Then there is the ongoing issue of whether Long Island will be a wine region — a district known for the quality of its wines — or an agritainment region known for live music, festivals and the like that just happen to take place at wineries. This isn’t a tourism-or-not proposition, as I once thought. Now it’s a battle for what types of tourists the region wants to and will attract.

This chapter is very much unwritten and it may not be sorted out for decades to come.

At the same time all of this is going on, local governments are making life more difficult for the wineries by instituting policies like a two-week minimum stay for AirBnB rentals. There is also, of course, Southold Town’s rejection of Southold Farm + Cellar’s request for a variance to build a small winery on its property, a decision that is forcing one of the region’s most innovative, forward-looking producers to leave the North Fork.

I don’t know any members of local government personally, so I have no direct knowledge of their feelings, but from where I sit, they don’t seem to be interested in working with the wine industry to nurture its growth. That’s happening in wine regions across the country. NIMBY attitudes from a vocal minority of residents don’t help either.

Maybe everyone would be much happier with more mansions and fewer farms — and fewer tourists.

A lot of writers — particularly in the wine world, it seems — are fond of making declarations. We always want to at least pretend we know what’s going to happen. That’s not the case here. I have no idea how this will play out, but when and if these two questions can be answered, we’ll be on our way to finding out.

About Author

Lenn Thompson, a proud Pittsburgh, PA native, moved to Long Island more than a decade ago and quickly fell in love with the region’s dynamic and emerging wine community. A digital and content marketing and community professional by day, he founded NewYorkCorkReport.com in early 2004 to share his passion for the wines, beers and spirits of New York State. After running that site -- which became the premier source for independent New York wine commentary, reviews and news -- for 12 years, he launched TheCorkReport.us in late 2016 to add the wines of Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont and beyond to his beat. Lenn currently serves as the wine columnist for The Suffolk Times weekly newspaper and is the former editor of the Long Island Wine Gazette. He contributes or has contributed to publications like Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Beverage Media, Edible Brooklyn, Edible East End and Edible Hudson Valley. Lenn served on the board of directors for Drink Local Wine, and is the creator and founder of TasteCamp, an annual regional wine immersion conference for writers and trade. An admitted riesling and cabernet franc fanatic, he’s intensely passionate about eating local and the many local wine regions of America. Lenn lives in Miller Place, NY with his wife Nena, son Jackson, daughter Anna and their dog, Casey Lemieux Thompson.

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