Wine Wizard

Channing Daughters’ innovative winemaker continues to test the limits.

Under the direction of winemaker Christopher Tracy, Channing Daughters produces 12,000 cases a year across 26 different bottlings.
Grape Expectations | Under the direction of winemaker Christopher Tracy, Channing Daughters produces 12,000 cases a year across 26 different bottlings.

Christopher Tracy, of Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton, is leading the charge for innovative winemaking on Long Island—and setting the pace for smaller outfits across the U.S. Every year, Tracy, who’s closing in on a prestigious Master of Wine title (a notoriously rigorous, lengthy process), produces as many as 26 different bottlings from 32 types of grapes—most grown on the very vines stretching across the Channing Daughters estate.

Tracy experiments with grapes rare in this country (yet somehow right for Bridgehampton’s moderate maritime climate), such as Tocai Friulano, Malvasia, Blaufränkisch, Dornfelder and Lagrein varieties, and is partial to Austrian, German and northeast Italian cool-climate harvests. To put out 12,000 cases a year is a remarkable feat for any maker—especially one operating on just 25 acres.

Like a mad scientist, Tracy finesses different elements, always making slight adjustments. He creates traditional field blends and single-vineyard varietals, incorporates “wild” or naturally occurring yeast on the grapes themselves, and experiments with aging in various-sized barrels. He conjures up all conceivable hues, too: red, white and pink—even orange (by fermenting white grapes on their skins).

Tracy’s very first vintage bore Long Island’s first wild-yeast Chardonnay (L’Enfant Sauvage) and its first blended white (Vino Bianco). And both put Channing Daughters on the map. Soon after, the winery developed its still-popular white field blends: the juicy Sylvanus and the smoky Mosaico. Every year, the winery releases four dry-style Rosatos (Rosés) from single-vineyard varietals of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Refosco.

Last year marked the first offering of Channing Daughters’ Lagrein, a dark, spicy red. This year, keep an eye out for the Due Uve, a Syrah-Merlot blend with a violet/black pepper/cinnamon expression, and also deep-gold Envelope, which “tastes faintly of oranges and is a favorite of Manhattan sommeliers,” Tracy says.

Channing Daughters wines have been making their mark beyond the world of four-star New York restaurants, too. “We’ve just expanded to eight U.S. markets, and internationally to Quebec, Denmark, the U.K. and Beijing,” he reports. No doubt that oenophiles will be savoring Tracy’s Channing Daughters oeuvre for years to come. “I’ve always wanted to make flavorful, aromatic wines that reflect Long Island’s East End personality,” he says, “while testing the boundaries of traditional winemaking.”