No, this winery has not entered the witness protection program or committed a crime; rather they have diversified their offerings to include both the lower priced options from Bridge Lane and their slightly higher end wines bearing the Lieb name. Premium Wine Group—which appears prominently on the sign outside the tasting room—designates the facility attached to it where various wine makers on the North Fork come to use the production facilities, rather than make the rather hefty investment in their own.
What’s unique about the Bridge Lane wines is that they are offered for sale by the bottle, the box, or the keg, giving a whole new dimension to the term “kegger.” A keg holds the equivalent of 26 bottles and, according to our server, is particularly popular for weddings and other large parties. Just to give you a sense of relative costs, a bottle of Bridge Lane Chardonnay is $15, while a box is $40 and a keg is $240. In the tasting room the Bridge Lane wines are poured from the tap, like beer, rather than the bottle. You might think that this all indicates a lesser quality of wine, but we would be perfectly happy to drink most of them. Busy Russell Hearn, who also has his own small label SuHru, is the winemaker for all the wines.
The tasting room is small, set up like a lounge (or, as a certain four year old—non-drinking—visitor opined, “like a living room” ) with a bar on one side and banquettes around the walls. We were there late on a week day, and had the space mostly to ourselves. There are also picnic tables and comfortable Adirondack-style chairs outside. The menu offers five Bridge Lane wines for $12 or five “featured” wines (Lieb label) for $12. We opted for one tasting of each, so we could sample all of them. Packages of crisp skinny bread sticks are on the bar for palate cleansing, and the four-year-old quite approved of them.
I list the tastes here in the order we had them, with the Featured selections second, marked with an *.
- 2013 Bridge Lane White Merlot $16
White merlots have become more popular on the North Fork lately, and this one reminds us a bit of Anthony Nappa’s Anomaly, though it is lighter. It is tart and citrusy, a good summer quaff.
- *NV Rumor Mill Hard Cider $9
Yes, that’s $9 per bottle! And you could serve this to wine lovers who would be quite happy to drink it. It is made, as our server informed us, “from ten different varieties of apples,” all grown on the North Fork. It does not taste particularly like a cider, and is tart, crisp and light, with a slight trace of bubbles.
- 2013 Bridge Lane Chardonnay $15
A steel-fermented chard, this has the fairly typical veggie aroma, and tastes citrusy and grassy and tart.
- *2010 Lieb Cellars Blanc de Blanc $30
Made from pinot blanc grapes in the Méthode Champenoise, this is their entry in the sparkling wine category. I smell a bit of yeasty bread, taste some green olive taste. It is very dry, and pretty good, though I’d probably get a Cava or Prosecco rather than spend $30 for this level of sparkle.
- 2013 Bridge Lane White Blend $16
A mixture of 29% chardonnay, 26% pinot blanc, 16% riesling, 14% viognier, 9% sauvignon blanc, and 4% gewürztraminer—everything except the kitchen sink, observes my husband—this is a quite pleasant drink, with a good balance of sweet and tart. When I came here with a group, this one was very popular. The aroma has a bit of the forest floor funk, but the taste is not at all funky.
- *2014 Lieb Pinot Blanc $22
Our server proudly informs us that Lieb has the largest planting of pinot blanc in the United States, which they started in 1983. In any event, this is a delicious wine, with some baked pear aromas and flowery, pineapple-y tastes.
- 2013 Bridge Lane Rosé $18
They make their rosé from a blend of cabernet franc and merlot, and we smell the typical strawberry aroma, taste some fruit. Not complex, no finish, still no competition for Croteaux, but certainly drinkable.
- *2013 Reserve Merlot $24
This is also very drinkable, a dry soft, very cherry merlot. It spends 10 months in Hungarian oak, which, our server notes, is milder than French oak. No tannins.
- 2013 Bridge Lane Red Blend $16
For $16, this is quite a good everyday red, which I could see enjoying with spaghetti and meatballs any night of the week. It is a Bordeaux-style blend of 46% merlot, 37% cabernet sauvignon, 12% petit verdot, and 5% malbec, with a touch of earth and forest floor as well as dark fruit aromas and good fruit tastes, not sweet. We notice that if one buys three bottles of any wine one tasting is free, and decide three bottles of the Red Blend would be a worthwhile investment. Unfortunately, the red is served a bit too cold, perhaps a result of the tap system.
- *2013 Lieb Reserve Cabernet Franc $40
By the way, calling a wine “reserve” means whatever the winery wants it to mean, but usually means they think this is a particularly good wine. They would be correct with this one, which we would buy for our cellar if we had room at the moment. Lots of dark fruit, interesting tannins, it’s a delicious dry red that could stand up to steak.
Reasons to visit: you can buy a keg of wine, how cool is that?; wine on tap; a pleasant calm tasting room (or go to their Oregon Road room if you want to get further off the beaten track); almost all the wines, but for fun the Rumor Mill Cider; more seriously the Reserve Cabernet Franc; for an inexpensive everyday red, the Red Blend or white, the White Blend.