Tag Archives: Hargrave Vineyard

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Castello di Borghese

Castello Borghese started as Hargrave Vineyard in 1973, the very first vineyard and winery in Eastern Long Island. By 1999 the Hargraves, Louisa and Alex had established not only that vinifera grapevines could be grown in Long Island, they had also proven that fine wine could be made from the fruit of those vines. It was a remarkable achievement and it gave rise to an industry that as of this writing includes over 60 vineyards, 24 wineries, one crush facility, and 53 tasting rooms serving a total of over 70 brands of wine. But time and the stress of raising a family and running a winery and vineyard had taken its toll on the Hargraves and in 1999 the property was put up for sale.  (A few years later Louisa would write a book, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery, based on the experience.)

The winery and its land in Cutchogue were put up for sale. That was when Marco Borghese and his wife Ann Marie were visiting friends in the Hamptons who suggested that they pay a visit to the North Fork and taste some wines. (At the time they were living in New York City and had a wine shop which carried fine wine from around the world. It was there, as Marco said, “that the palate was born” for fine wines.)  They twice visited Hargrave Vineyard, tasted the wines, were impressed by everything there.  Jane Starwood, in her book, Long Island Wine Country, provides this anecdote about the purchase of the winery:

“[Marco] was impressed by the quality of the wine and the beauty of the North Fork, so when he heard that Hargrave Vineyard was up for sale, being between business opportunities, Marco was intrigued.  One thing led to another and, as Ann Marie likes to tell it, ‘He said he’d bought it.  I thought he meant the bottle; he meant the vineyard!’
“Marco laughs when his wife offers her abbreviated version.  ‘Believe it or not,’ he asserts, ‘I did discuss it with my darling wife.'”

Borghese Vineyard, 01For a while after the purchase the property was designated the Hargrave/Borghese Vineyard and Louisa Hargrave was a consultant, but once they parted ways the name was changed to what it is today, with the designation, “The Founding Vineyard.” It is readily identifiable from County Road 48 (aka the North Road) not only by the sign but also the old truck with weathered barrels displaying the name of one of the varieties that is grown in the vineyard.

Marco Borghese, of the great noble family that began its prominence in Siena in the 14th Century, and included a 17th-Century Pope, Paul V, and a Cardinal, Scipione Borghese, who established the great art collection with works by Bernini, Caravaggio, Raphael, and others now held in the Galleria Borghese in Rome, was himself entitled to refer to himself as Prince, but sensibly did not, though royalty-besotted Americans insisted on the title for both him and his American wife, Ann Marie. Marco was in fact an unpretentious man of aristocratic mien, according to all accounts, and worked as a businessman living in Philadelphia, he in the leather business and Ann Marie in jewelry. They were also raising two young children, Giovanni and Allegra. Marco had a son, Fernando, by an earlier marriage, who lives and works in Philadelphia.

Marco soon found himself working in the vineyard and in the cellar, and Ann Marie was an events manager at their new property who also hosted weekend vineyard walks.  Again, Anne Marie’s wit led to this remark, “Marco thought he was going to be a gentleman farmer.  Instead he became a gentleman farming.”   Like many other small wineries, they held parties, events, and weddings. They were determined to create a unique place on the North Fork: Old World charm and New World accomplishment.

I contacted Marco months in advance of an appointment to interview him and he was warm and full of good cheer when I spoke to him. When I next spoke to him in June 2014 his demeanor over the phone was very different: somber and distracted. I arrived for the appointment on June 18 only to learn that he had left abruptly on a “family matter.” Two days later Ann Marie, who had been fighting cancer for months, died at a hospital in New Mexico where she was being treated. She was only 56. A week later Marco was killed in an automobile accident in Long Island. He was 71.   The entire wine community in Long Island was devastated by the double tragedy, not to speak of the family, and the question of the continuation or even the survival of Castello Borghese hung over the region for a while.

Borghese Offspring Web fotoBut there are the children: Fernando, Marco’s son by a previous marriage, and Giovanni and Allegra. Each of them had careers or planned on careers that had nothing to do with the winery.  Each of them had careers or planned on careers that had nothing to do with the winery.   All three decided that Castello Borghese had to survive and prosper, at the very least to honor their parents, but also because they felt a responsibility to the community and the people who had loyally worked at the winery for years. This was especially true for Allegra and Giovanni, who chose to set their careers aside in order to honor their parents by keeping the winery in business.

When I first went to Castello Borghese to interview the two offspring of Marco and Ann Marie, both Giovanni and Allegra greeted me very courteously.  It was November 2014 and barely five months had passed since the death of both their parents. Neither had expected nor planned to be running their parents’ winery and vineyard and they were proceeding very cautiously to take over the running of the enterprise. They had the support of their older brother, Fernando, but he was already committed to his own career and could not attend to the day-to-day operations of the winery.

At least Giovanni and Allegra had had the good fortune to grow up in Cutchogue, as they were 14 and 12 respectively when their family moved there from Philadelphia after purchasing the winery. Both had gone to high school there as well. The two now lived in the house that had been their parents’. Fortunately they had the support of the community, which is pretty tightly knit. They also have the commitment and dedication to carry on from the employees, especially Bernard Ramis, the vineyard manager, Erik Bilka, the winemaker who is on contract though he also has a full-time position at Premium Wine Group, and the tasting-room manager, Evie Kahn.

As Giovanni explained, “I feel like we owe it to our parents to really give it a shot. Could we sell? Sure, maybe, like if the time and the number is right, like we’re not destined to be vineyard owners and aren’t really attached to running this kind of business and lifestyle. But I think that in the year here that there is so much still, [of] their energy, it feels like part of the process to really just be here and see this little baby of theirs survive and do okay. Just because it’s not necessarily what our plan was doesn’t mean we’re going to jump ship and say, peace. I didn’t have plans for that.”

Then there was this exchange:

Giovanni: “There are employees here who . . .”

Allegra: “Are like our family.”

Giovanni: “Depend on this job . . .”

Allegra: “And love it here. So I think we owe them leadership.”

Clearly, they speak with one voice.

Allegra went on to explain: “It was in our background. It’s kind of like when you’re a kid and you don’t know how to talk yet and you’re hearing language and then you’re going to need to learn to use it to talk. It’s like that. All the nuts and bolts were there but actually putting it into the practical application of it is new. And you make mistakes or it’s not perfect right at the initial stage. But I feel like we are slowly learning to speak this language and do this role in a more sustainable and professional and natural way.”

In fact, employees have volunteered that they’ve found Marco and Anne Marie’s offspring to be just as thoughtful, kind, and considerate as were the parents. They have a strong commitment to Castello Borghese and the loyalty is clearly strong in both directions.

On a second visit to Castello Borghese some months later both Allegra and Giovanni had clearly gotten past the wariness and somewhat tentative attitude about keeping and running the winery. For one thing, they had taken it off the market and it is no longer for sale. They are definitely in it for the long haul.

In fact, though they want to follow in their parents’ way and they listen to the advice of the long-time winery team, they are also open to innovation. Consequently, they are offering local beer by Greenport Harbor in the tasting room because they recognize that some visitors come along with their wine-loving friends but don’t necessarily like wine themselves. Indeed, were there no local beer they probably wouldn’t offer it, because they really are most interested in supporting local businesses.

Borghese Vineyard, 05On the other hand, Allegra, who recently earned her graduate degree in counseling and art therapy from Southwestern College in Santa Fe, is continuing a project that was very dear to Ann Marie: art exhibitions at the winery, but with an important difference. In March 2015 there was a display of paintings by persons with Down’s Syndrome. The competence and beauty of the works was impressive indeed. Here is a happy marriage of Allegra’s special interest in art therapy with her involvement in the winery.

For example, the works illustrated at right were all painted by Lupita Cano: (top) “Me Being Happy” 2007; (middle) “Los Magos” 2010; (bottom) “Upbeat Series #1” 2007. Various works by other artists were included in the exhibition as well.

Allegra herself seems to be on her way to becoming a label designer for Borghese’s wines. The love of art runs deep in the family.

In speaking to Bernard Ramis, the vineyard manager, it was immediately apparent that this was a man with deep roots in the French countryside who spoke with real passion of working the land and growing vines. Actually, his parents were from Spain though he was born in southern France in 1962 after they settled there. He likes to point out that he was born in the kitchen so he likes to cook. He began working in vineyards after he quit school when he was 14. By the time he was in his late 20s he had become a vineyard manager, unusual in France where one usually reaches that position at a much later age.  Then he met an American woman who’d come to study winemaking and eventually they married. He came to this country in 1995 to join his wife, who’d returned to get a job in New York. He worked at a couple of prominent vineyards in Long Island before he joined Borghese Vineyards in 2004, and now has nearly 40 years of experience.

When Bernard arrived there had been no full-time vineyard manager and Mark Terry, then the winemaker, was doing double-duty in running the vineyard as well. Terry quit after about a year and an interim winemaker was hired who didn’t work out. So Marco and Bernard discussed his becoming the winemaker as well. Bernard had already worked in wine cellars and knew something about making wine, but he suggested that Borghese take on a consultant winemaker to work with them part-time, and as of 2010 that person has been Erik Bilka, a full-time production winemaker at Premium Wine Group. Bernard likes working with Erik because he finds him open-minded and ready to try new ideas. It is also, thanks to Erik’s gifts as a winemaker, that with Marco and Bernard they have the quality Borghese wines of today. Indeed, their 2013 Estate Chardonnay won a blue ribbon at the 2015 Eastern International Wine Competition.

With respect to the winemaking, Marco and Ann Marie both knew that they wanted their wine to be of a very high order of quality. Marco was very involved in the process but left the technique and skill to his oenologists, beginning with Mark Terry and then with Erik. Working with him, Marco sought to have quality over quantity, meaning low yields in the vineyards and prices fitting to the quality of the wines. As Allegra said of her father, “He had a lot of integrity.”

Indeed, Marco had deep discussions with both Erik and Bernard Ramis, his vineyard manager, to be sure that they had a clear idea of what he expected. Today, it’s Allegra and Giovanni who are having those conversations, and they deeply rely on the knowledge and experience of both men, particularly given that they well understood the standards that had been inculcated by Marco over the years. Though they’re trying to retain that approach they both know, in Allegra’s words, “that everything is an evolution when things change hands.”

For Bernard it is important that Erik trusts him to make decisions in the vineyard such as when the fruit is ready to be picked. They work well together which is important as the relationship between the vineyard manager and the winemaker is vital to the quality of the wines and the success of the winery. Bernard regards the two of them as accomplices together. For Erik the relationship is interesting in part because it involves a role reversal for him. As a production winemaker at Premium, his clients explain what they want their wines to be, usually with very precise directions about how they want them made. As a consulting winemaker, it is he who provides the instructions for how the wines at Borghese are to be made, and it is Bernard who then carries them out. All this is done with the active involvement of Giovanni and Allegra.

Borghese Vineyard, 06In the vineyard, Bernard is working with the very oldest grapevines on the Island, three acres of Sauvignon Blanc planted in 1973 and still thriving. Indeed, wine made from these vines is labelled “Founder’s Field.” 42-year-old vines tend to be shy bearers but the fruit is richer in flavor as a result. They have lived this long thanks to the quality of the soil, which despite a tendency to acidity is very amenable to the plant, and the care taken of the vineyard. As long as old vines bear enough they should, generally speaking, be kept and not pulled.

On the other hand, there is no Cabernet Sauvignon, for although the Hargraves planted it along with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Cabernet vines died, though at the time of our interview Bernard was not sure of the cause. He had heard a story that a soil virus had attacked the vines and killed them. Bernard didn’t give much credence to that theory.

Louisa Hargrave provided this explanation in an e-mail:

“We did plant Cabernet Sauvignon the first year we came to the North Fork, in 1973:”

“The plant material we had access to was originally from Paul Masson vineyard in California but grafted at Bully Hill Vineyard in the Finger Lakes using the French-American hybrid Baco Noir as a rootstock. These plants thrived but were so vigorous that it was difficult to ripen the crop with such a massive forest of leaves. At some point, I think in the early 90s, we decided to pull out our original plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir because they were so vigorous and also because by then we were leasing Manor Hill Vineyard and so had another source of these varieties. We did not pull out the Sauvignon Blanc because it was planted on its own roots and therefore not vigorous.

“There was no soil virus. I think that idea may have come from the fact that the certified virus-free plants we bought from California in 1974 did have viruses, and were also pulled out eventually. I wrote about that particular debacle in my book [The Vineyard].”

Such were the travails of the pioneers of the Long Island wine industry.

Nevertheless, apart from the original plantings of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and new plantings of Riesling, all the rest of the vines were pulled by Marco in 2000. Pinot Noir was then replanted that year as well as Cabernet Franc. Bernard would like to try Chenin Blanc in the vineyard as he thinks it would do well. For now, however, it is a proposal and not yet a plan.

When Bernard arrived there had been no full-time vineyard manager and Mark Terry, then the winemaker, was doing double-duty in running the vineyard as well. Terry quit after about a year and an interim winemaker was hired but he didn’t work out. So Marco and Bernard discussed his becoming the winemaker as well. Bernard had already worked in wine cellars and knew something about making wine, but he suggested that Borghese take on a consultant winemaker to work with them part-time, and as of 2010 that person has been Erik Bilka, a full-time production winemaker at Premium Wine Group. Bernard likes working with Erik because he finds him open-minded and ready to try new ideas. It is also, thanks to Erik’s gifts as a winemaker, that with Marco and Bernard they have the quality Borghese wines of today. Indeed, their 2013 Estate Chardonnay won a blue ribbon at the 2015 Eastern International Wine Competition.

With respect to the winemaking, Marco and Ann Marie both knew that they wanted their wine to be of a very high order of quality. Marco was very involved in the process but left the technique and skill to his oenologists, beginning with Mark Terry and then with Erik. Working with him, Marco sought to have quality over quantity, meaning low yields in the vineyards and prices fitting to the quality of the wines. As Allegra said of her father, “He had a lot of integrity.”

Indeed, Marco had deep discussions with both Erik and Bernard to be sure that they had a clear idea of what he expected. Today, it’s Allegra and Giovanni who are having those conversations, and they deeply rely on the knowledge and experience of both men, particularly given that they well understood the standards that had been inculcated by Marco over the years. Though they’re trying to retain that approach they both know, in Allegra’s words, “that everything is an evolution when things change hands.”

For Bernard it is important that Erik trusts him to make decisions in the vineyard such as when the fruit is ready to be picked. They work well together which is important as the relationship between the vineyard manager and the winemaker is vital to the quality of the wines and the success of the winery. Bernard regards the two of them as accomplices together. For Erik the relationship is interesting in part because it involves a role reversal for him. As a production winemaker at Premium, his clients explain what they want their wines to be, usually with very precise directions about how they want them made. As a consulting winemaker, it is he who provides the instructions for how the wines at Borghese are to be made, and it is Bernard who then carries them out. All this is done with the active involvement of Giovanni and Allegra.

From Giovanni’s point of view, while he and Allegra participate in the tasting of the batches of wine and the blends made from them, he feels that he still has much to learn but he trusts both men’s judgment and defers to them on many decisions. Largely, though, he feels that what they do decide to do is based on sound judgment and is happy to go along. After all, the most important thing is that the wines turn out well.

The basic line is the Estate wines, which include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Reserve wines are Founder’s Field Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Reserve wines are made only from grapes of the highest quality, but that doesn’t happen every year. Borghese also has a Select category for wines that don’t quite make it to the Reserve level. The line of inexpensive wines is of exceptionally good value, including a red Petite Château and a white Chardonette, at $14 and $12 respectively. They also offer two Rosés:  an off-dry one called Fleurette and a dry version, Rosé of Merlot.

Castello di Borghese’s signature wines are the Barrel Fermented Pinot Noir and the Founder’s Field Sauvignon Blanc, and they have a string of award winners including Cabernet Franc, Meritage, Riesling, the Chardonnay mentioned above, and Bianco di Pinot Noir.

That Chardonnay earned its blue ribbon for its excellent balance of acidity, alcohol, and flavor. Cold-fermented in stainless-steel tanks, it underwent no malolactic fermentation so it has a purity of fruit that makes it stand out in the crowd. A delicious, refreshing wine with medium body and an agreeable mouthfeel that cries out for partnership with seafood. All this for only $18. The Founder’s Field Sauvignon is another wine that cries out for seafood; say, Peconic Bay scallops. It is grassy but lacks that intense aroma of some New Zealand versions that has been compared to “cat’s pee.” On the palate grapefruit flavors are prominent, and a bracing acidity and good balance make it a very good wine for summer drinking, even as an aperitif on its own. The tasting room staff compared it to a Sancerre, which is an apt comparison.

High-quality Italian olive oil from the family estate in Calabria can also be purchased in the tasting room.

Giovanni and Allegra have developed a natural division of labor at the winery, each doing what is most comfortable for one or the other. So Allegra has committed herself, for example, to working in the back office, designing the labels for the new wines, and so on, while Giovanni likes working up front helping to sell the wine, interacting with customers, dealing with the farm markets and things of that nature. Aware that each may have individual conversations with other persons, they make a point of bringing one another up to date so that neither is left unaware of what has been going on with the other. Together they share in all the major decisions about the direction the winery is taking.

New Moon wine labelChanges are already apparent on the Website, which has improved and offers more coverage of the winery’s events and offerings. The wines on offer are, happily, in the same style and of the same quality as before, given, of course, vintage variations. Some labels are new and some remain the same. The newest wine in the portfolio is an interesting white blend, New Moon, which is dominated by white Pinot Noir, in addition to 30% Riesling, and 20% Chardonnay. It is a distinctive blend with an unusual finish, for a white wine, of tart cherry. That, of course, comes from the Pinot Noir, which typically has a cherry nose and flavor when it is made as a red wine. The cherry, in other words, comes from the fruit and not the skins which impart red color to the red version and are not used in the making of the white: a distinctive wine with a distinctive label designed by Allegra.

So, the latest accolade for the Borghese Winery:  2015 Platinum Winner for Best Winery on Long Island from Dan’s Papers Best of the Best awards, which are based on readers’ votes.

As the saying goes, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Borghese Family for Website

 Castello di Borghese Vineyard
17150 County Route 48 (Sound Avenue & Alvah’s Lane)
(Mailing: P.O. Box 957)
Cutchogue, New York 11935
Phone: (631) 734-5111
Toll Free: (800) 734-5158
Fax: (631) 734-5485

Castello di Borghese Website

Owners: Allegra, Fernando, & Giovanni Borghese

Consulting Winemaker: Erik Bilka
Production Winemaker: Bernard Ramis
Vineyard Manager: Bernard Ramis

Tasting Room Hours
Daily from 11am – 5:30pm

Wine Books I Recommend

Following is a highly selective list of books that I’ve read or consulted that I consider particularly worthwhile.  If I haven’t read or consulted a book, I do not recommend it.  Alas, there are more that I’ve not read than have—I’ve only 120 books on wine in my library, and some are still waiting to be read, though nearly all have served as references.

Grapes, Wine, Wineries, and Vineyards

There are seven general wine books that one should own in order to be truly well- and completely informed:

1.  Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th ed. (2015) is just indispensable, with a comprehensive coverage of just about every topic bearing on wine that one can think of, a true Abbocatto to Zymase encyclopedia.  All articles are signed, all cited references noted.  Robinson was both the editor and a contributor.  The 4th edition adds 300 additional, new terms, though many will only be of interest to wine professionals.  For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.

2.  Equally indispensable is Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson’s The World Atlas of Wine, 7th ed. (2013).  How else could one find the way around the vinicultural regions of the world, including NY State?  The maps are in full color, ranging in scale from street-level for the Champagne towns and the lodges in Oporto, to 1:45,000 and larger for wine regions.  The text for the many regions is the very model of pithy, clear writing.  For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.

3.  In 2013, two new, serious reference books on wine—sure to become indispensable and classic are:  Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy’s American Wine:  The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States (a very useful feature is its summary of each AVA, including the best grapes grown, and listing the top wineries by category); the other must-have is Jancis’s encyclopedic Wine Grapes:  A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours, written in collaboration with Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz.  See my post, The Three Indispensable Wine Books, for a complete review of Wine Grapes.

4.  Emile Peynaud’s vital and perennial The Taste of Wine: The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation (trans. Michael Schuster, 1987).  Originally written in French as La Goût du Vin in 1983), it is considered definitive by many in the field.

But then, there is always Jancis Robinson’s How to Taste (2000), which is both a how-to for tasting and a guide to the aromatic and gustatory sensations of the different varieties and how they can differ from place to place (i.e., from terroir to terroir).  Robinson’s is certainly the more approachable for most readers.

5.  WSET students and graduates, anyone interested in wine certification, and indeed, even winemakers can benefit from David Bird’s Understanding Wine Technology:  The Science of Wine Explained, 3rd ed., which has been required reading for all WSET students, is a very clear and lucid explanation—in laymen’s terms—of what goes on right down to the molecular level of yeasts, viruses, and chemistry generally.  It’s also a very good read.

6.  I very much enjoyed and admired Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop’s Authentic Wine:  toward natural and sustainable winemaking (2011), which has many really interesting insights into what really goes on in a vineyard, a winery, and what it takes to be a sustainable winegrower and producer.  Much food for thought, though some may cavil about a few of the authors’ conclusions.

7.  If one wanted to carry as much information about wine in a portable package, there’s one that I cannot live without:  Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2016.  It is pithy, witty, thicker than ever, and claims to be the Number One Bestselling Wine Guide, which it deserves to be.  I’ve bought every edition since the very first one, published in 1977 (it was rather slim then).  Also available as a KIndle Book from Amazon.

New York and East Coast Wine

Long Island Wine Country:  Award-Winning Vineyards of the North Fork and the Hamptons, is an indispensable guide to visiting Long Island vineyards and wineries.  Written by Jane Taylor Starwood, editor-in-chief of Long Island Wine Press, she gives us an insider’s track on the owners, the winemakers, and the wineries themselves.  In a conversational tone (and amply illustrated), the book leads the reader from East to West on the North Fork, and then down to the Hamptons, as though it would be followed geographically. It’s a bit frustrating an approach if one wants to do research and would prefer an alphabetical organization, but it’s a quibble given the overall quality and usefulness of the book, which is still reasonably up-to-date as of 2013, given that it was published in 2009. One should bear in mind though, that already important personnel changes have taken place: Richard Olsen Harbich left Raphael in 2010 and went to Bedell Cellars, Anthony Nappa is now Raphael’s vintner, Kelly Urbanik Koch is winemaker at Macari, and Zander Hargrave, who was assistant winemaker at Peconic Bay Vineyards, is now unemployed, as Peconic Bay has closed its doors.  A new, major winery, Kontokosta Vineyards, opened in June 2013 in Greenport.
Louisa Thomas Hargrave wrote a gracious memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery. One cannot begin to understand what was involved in creating the Long Island wine industry without reading this charming and touching account of the establishment of Long Island’s first winery, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973, when there were only small farms and potato fields. It is charming in its modesty, touching in its honesty, and a remarkable tale of what it takes to start a vineyard from scratch when you don’t even know what you’re doing! And look at what it started–a whole industry that is one of the dominant features of the East End of Long Island, begun with passion, commitment, and hard work, but ultimately at the cost of heartbreak and renewal.  Now out of print, it may be available, used, on Amazon or AbeBooks.

In Marguerite Thomas’s Touring East Coast Wine Country:  A Guide to the Finest Wineries (1996) we have the first important guide to the wines and wineries of the East Coast, from Maine to Virginia, replete with useful insights and a good background on the history of the viniculture of each state. It also provides biography capsules of some of the most important or interesting winemakers. Given that the book was first published in 1996, a good deal of its information is now more of historical interest, and it needs, and deserves, a new edition.
More up-to-date than Marguerite Thomas’s East Coast guide is Carlo DeVito’s East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia, published in 2004. Still, even this needs to be brought up-to-date, but its value lies in its own take on East Coast wineries, with listings of the wines offered by each estate with brief descriptions, recommendations and excerpted tasting reviews of the wines. Let’s hope that, like Thomas’s guide, DeVito’s will also receive a new, updated edition soon. For the serious wine tourist, one guide complements the other, so why not buy both?
Vital–thanks to its clear, lucid writing and very useful history of LI viticulture and winemaking–is the excellent if outdated Wines of Long Island, 2nd edition (2000) by Edward Beltrami & Philip E. Palmedo.  It includes profiles of many of the most important personalities in the LI wine world, descriptions and reviews of wineries and their wines–both past and present–and a generally judicious insight into the trends and achievements of the region as of the end of the 20th Century.  Definitely worthwhile owning, if you love LI wines, but it has long been out of print, though Amazon or AbeBooks may still offer it, “pre-read”, online.  It is currently being brought up to date by me, with elements of the series on Long Island wines in this blog being incorporated into it.  We hope to bring out the 3rd edition by Spring 2017.

An interesting and somewhat chatty book is The Story of North Fork Wine: Historical Profiles and Wine Country Recipes (2009), John Ross’s up-close-and-personal look at the people who work in and run the wineries.  A chef who owned Ross’s North Fork Restaurant, he became close to many in the wine trade, especially given that he was interested in devising recipes and menus that would best accompany the wines of the region.

Organic and Biodynamic Viniculture

Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course: The Birth of the Biodynamic Method, is the foundation text of the biodynamic movement. A compilation of eight lectures delivered in Germany in 1924 provides, in Steiner’s own words, the basis for what he called a new science based on the natural rhythms of the world and the cosmos, as recovered from the traditional practices of the peasant farmers of yore. It is meant as a healthy antidote to the rise of farming methods based on industrial chemicals and fertilizers. Many leading vineyards are farmed by this method, from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy to Shinn Estate in Long Island. You owe it to yourself to read the lectures if you wish to really understand what Biodynamics is about.
Nicolas Joly is a leading proponent of Biodynamic viticulture, and he practices his preaching at one of the greatest vineyards of the Loire, the Coulée de Serrant. Joly’s Wine from Sky to Earth: Growing and Appreciating Biodynamic Wine, is a true believer’s panegyric to Biodynamics.  His ideas and those of the founder of Biodynamics®, Rudolf Steiner, are put into practice at two vineyards that I know of:  Macari Vineyards and Shinn Estate.
Lon Rombough’s The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture, is an excellent introduction to how to grow grapes organically. It’s also very practical, as the guide is really intended for the novice who wants to start a backyard vineyard or even a commercial one. It takes the reader step-by-step on establishing an organic vineyard, imparting along the way a good deal of knowledge and savvy advice.
Other Wine Books of More than Passing Interest (or Not)

Tyler Colman, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink (UCal Press, 2008).  I highly recommend this book for its clarity and scholarship.  The subject of politics in the wine world proves to be fascinating, and the author chose to approach it by comparing, for example, the AOC laws of France (and by extension, much of the EU) with the AVA regulations promulgated by the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau).  There are surprising insights  into how and why wine is grown and made in different countries, why labels look the way they do on each side of the Atlantic, and the effects of custom, religion, crime, regionalism, nationalism, and so forth on the wine trade.  Eminently worthwhile for the serious wine-lover.

  • John Hailman, Thomas Jefferson on Wine (UMiss Press, 2006).  Another book that is based on sound scholarship and research, also well-written, but one may wish to skip all the tables and lists, which are difficult to grasp at times simply because the wines of Jefferson’s period (1743-1826) varied so much in name, currency, weights and volumes, that clear comparisons with our own period are so difficult to make.  Still, if one has the patience, there is reward in seeing how all-encompassing were the interests and tastes of the first great oenophile of the United States of America.

 

  • Thomas Pellechia, Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade (Thunder’s Mouth Press, NY, 2006)  A work with great potential written by someone who has long been in the wine trade but whose sense of history is lacking in scholarship and critical acuity.  Some of what he writes is couched in such vague or confused historical terms as to be virtually useless, especially when dealing with antiquity and the Middle Ages.  The writing style is breezy and casual, but it lacks polish and lucidity.  Such a shame.
  • A far better foray into wine history would be the classic Gods, Men, and Wine, (1966) by William Younger, or the more recent Story of Wine (1989)—or the New Illustrated Edition (2004)—by Hugh Johnson, both of which are better-written and historically more reliable.  Neither of the latter books is available in Kindle versions, but they do enjoy the virtue of been on real, durable paper bound in hardcover.

 

  • A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage (2005), is more than just about wine.  It tells its story by means of six beverages: beer (Mesopotamia & Egypt), wine (Ancient Greece & Rome), spirits (Colonial America), Coffee (Europe in the Age of Enlightenment), Tea (the British Empire), and Coca-Cola (Modern America and the Age of Globalization).  It’s both amusing and informative, but I’d put the emphasis on the amusement.  Unless you’ve utterly uninformed about wine or the other beverages, this is really History 001, rather lightweight.

 

  • Questions of Taste:  The Philosophy of Wine, edited by Barry C. Smith (2007), with essays by experts such as Paul Draper, Jamie Goode, Andrew Jefford, and others, with an enthusiastic Foreword by Jancis Robinson.  The contributors also include a couple of philosophers and a linguist.  The language of wine as presented in this book is clearly academic. A worthwhile but challenging book, well worth the time to read.

 

  • Wine Wars, by Mike Veseth (2011), which, with chapter headings like “The Curse of the Blue Nun,” “The Miracle of Two-Buck Chuck,” and “The Revenge of the Terroirists,”  is an interesting and amusing way of treating the effects of globalization on the modern world of wine.  It is also rather informative, and occasionally provides some surprising nuggets of information (such as the fact that Trader Joe’s is actually a German company).

 

 

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Mudd Vineyards

Based on interviews with Steve Mudd as well as online sources

Steve Mudd is a man whose light-hearted demeanor masks a serious character and a professional viticulturalist of deep knowledge and long experience.  Steve has been involved with wine agriculture since he and his father, David, then an airline pilot, started their vineyard in 1974, in Southold, on the North Fork, planting a single acre to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc just a year after Hargrave Vineyards was established as the first winery in Long Island.  (In fact, Dave Mudd, who then raised hay, had already been thinking of planting a vinifera plot even before the Hargraves had arrived.)

Steve and his father had planted some ungrafted Cabernet in their new vineyard.  When Nelson Shaulis, the eminent professor of viticulture at Cornell (who developed the Geneva Double-Curtain trellis system used worldwide today), visited to see what was going in the vineyards of Eastern Long Island and when he saw the vines, he argued that own-rooted Cabernet Sauvignon could not survive more than a few years.  (Dr. Shaulis, long an advocate of French-American hybrids and hybridizer of Cornell varieties, had long ago turned a blind eye to vinifera, due in part perhaps to his deep antipathy to Konstantin Frank–who had aggressively advocated for vinifera–and to rip out hybrids.)  After 3 years he came back and saw that the same vines were still doing well.  He announced that within a few years they’d be gone.  Several years later he paid another visit and was astonished to see that the vines were still productive and healthy.  He was so impressed that he decided to take a root cutting back to Cornell to see what there was about it that made it so resistant to Phylloxera—it took him three hours to surgically remove a complete vine.  39 years later the same own-rooted vines are alive and well; sadly, however, Dr. Shaulis is no longer with us to bear witness to it.

The vineyard also has the oldest Merlot vines on the Island, planted over 40 years ago.

David Mudd, by NorthFork Patch

Today, Mudd Vineyards, the business started by David Mudd 42 years ago and now run by his son, Steven, is the leading vineyard management and services company on Long Island and one of the most in demand on the East Coast.  Mudd has since been involved in planting more than 1,500 acres of vineyards (nearly half) in the East End—including Palmer Vineyards and what is now Pellegrini Vineyards—which amounts to almost half of all the vines in Long Island.  Today the business continues to manage numerous farms and sells grapes from its own vineyard to wineries that either have no vineyard of their own, or that use designated parcels of the Mudd vineyards, such as is the case with Channing Daughters, which produces several wines that are identified as coming from Mudd or Mudd West vineyards.  (The Channing Daughters website states that “The soil in the Mudd Vineyard is mostly Haven Loam with some portions being Riverhead Sandy Loam,” with “some of the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines on Long Island which were planted in 1975,”  while “The Mudd West Vineyard is in Hallockville (Aquebogue) and is a warm, dry site. The soil is predominately Riverhead Sandy Loam. The Mudd West Vineyard was planted in 2005 making the vines 7 years old.”)  The wines, such as the 2007 Mudd illustrated here, are in homage to David Mudd, who was Larry Perrine’s (Channing Daughters’ CEO) first employer in Long Island and who helped expand and plant the Channing Daughters vineyard.

Over the years the Mudds acquired more land and now have a 50-acre vineyard, the grapes of which are sold to other wineries.   They make no wine of their own.  David Mudd once said in an interview that “Wine-making is laboratory work and that’s not for me.”  The same is true of Steve, but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand winemaking, and he certainly understands the importance of delivering quality fruit to a winery.

Together father and son developed the largest vineyard management company in the East that also has its own vinifera vineyard.  Not only did they consult for but even helped establish a number of Long Island vineyards, beginning with Lenz in 1984, as well as Palmer, Paumanok, Peconic Bay, Pellegrini, and Pindar in the North Fork, and Channing Daughters in the Hamptons AVA.  Mudd was deeply involved with the creation of Raphael Winery, including the layout and design of the winery itself, the purchase of equipment, and also helped obtain the expertise of Paul Pontallier, general manager at Châteaux Margaux, one of the great First-Growth wineries of Bordeaux, with the objective of making wines inspired by the style of Bordeaux wines such as those of Margaux.  Today, Steve Mudd continues as the vineyard manager for Raphael and also has a close relationship with other LI wineries, such as Channing Daughters, but he now runs the company alone, as his father died one year ago.  He’s so busy that “the only way I know it’s Sunday is when the church is full.”

Mudd Vineyard Management Company is now a nationally-recognized VMC firm that has consulted in other regions beyond Long Island or even New York State, but along much of the East Coast as well.  Such was the case with the Upper Shore Regional Council in Maryland, where over sixty landowners met with Steve to discuss establishing vineyards in that region of the state.  For them he produced a “Prospective Vineyard Owner’s Handbook:  A Three-Year Estimate For Establishing Your Own Vineyard Utilizing A Vineyard Management Company.”  Included in the document, which can be downloaded from the Web, was a table of projected investment costs and returns for a new vineyard.  In addition, there were recommendations by Steve bearing on such matters as:

  • Maryland tax laws that affect vineyard operations and profitability (they need to be changed to be more favorable to on-site sales of wine to consumers and directly to restaurants)
  • Vineyard worker psychology as affected by the nature of the work expected or demanded, such as reduced performance due to boredom from repeating the same work over and over again.
  • Vineyard row length should be no more than 600’ to 800’—longer rows result in lost time when workers are called in for breaks or reassignment to other locations.
  • Row widths should be adequate to allow for drying of grapes from morning dew—he recommended 10’ width with vines at 6’ (10’ x 6’ = 726 vines per acre).  Greater densities increase costs per acre.
  • To encourage Agricultural Land Preservation a special sales transfer tax could be used to fund the purchase of land to be preserved.
  • Use clean pruning to keep dead cordon spurs from becoming harbors for vine infections and disease.
  • Growers should not push the vines too hard, so balanced pruning is essential to the plants’ health—by neither under- or over-pruning.
  • Vine trunks should be as straight as possible to reduce damage to them by tractors and equipment.
  • Water-retention capabilities of the soil can be enhanced by the addition of organic matter and irrigation when needed is encouraged.
  • To reduce wire tension problems in the rows, Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP), as used in Long Island, is recommended.  This results in a band of fruit that leads to better sun exposure, spray coverage, and easier harvesting.
  • Leaf-pulling by hand should be done around the fruit zone to improve exposure to the sun.

From his years of experience, Steve can impart all kinds of wisdom for the viticultural neophyte.  For example:

  • “It’s necessary to rotate old vine trunks as they are given to splitting, developing crown gall, and the like.”
  • “The main reason to plant grafted vines is to get higher yields.”
  • “Longer hang time will lead to some dehydration of grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon can be dehydrated by as much as 10-15% before being harvested late in the season.”
  • “Organic inputs require more eradicants than protectants—which can be nasty to human consumption.”

Furthermore, Steve goes on (you can’t stop a good man once he gets going):

  • “There are more recovery sprayers in LI than in the rest of the US.”
  • “Long Island vineyards started with the Umbrella Kniffin trellis system, but converted to VSP after about ten years to create a band of fruit rather than scattered fruit.”
  • “In the 1970s the vines on the East End were sprayed about five times a year, but now it’s necessary to spray as often as fifteen times due to the introduction of inoculum that was the result of the planting of over 3000 acres of vines.”
  • “2010 was a unique vintage in LI, given that there was early bud break and, given the nearly-perfect weather, an early harvest.  It was perhaps the best ever for LI wine.”
  • “2011 had downy mildew all over the vineyards—it was an unbelievable outbreak.”
  • “2012, so far [in mid-June], has had too much rain and too little sun and the plants look like crap.  The disease pressure is phenomenal . . . .  But, at this point [in mid-September] the vintage has the potential to be a really good vintage.”
  • The sun’s arc flattens after August 15.
  • Steve likes to refer to the process of green harvesting as “Fussy Viticulture”—that was the topic of Steve’s talk in Maryland and is now the general practice in Long Island (among many other wine-growing regions).
  • “Ripe rot is a problem especially  in wine-growing regions like Virginia, where the weather is frequently wet and warm”

Plus a touch of viticultural history:  In 1982 it was discovered that vines identified as Pinot Chardonnay were actually Pinot Blanc, but it took a few years for the newly-planted vines to produce fully-developed leaves, which allowed Lucy Morton—a viticulturalist who translated Pierre Galet’s book, A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification, from French to English—to correctly identify the vines as Pinot Blanc by the shape of the vine leaves.  (Incidentally, what was called Pinot Chardonnay—on the assumption that Chardonnay is a member of the Pinot family—is now called just Chardonnay.

Today Mudd Vineyards produces about 100 tons of grapes from its 50 acres of vines–a mere 2 tons an acre, proof of rigorous “fussy viticulture.”  The quality of the fruit is therefore very high, and Mudd supplies its fruit not only to wineries on the East End such as Channing Daughters and Raphael, but also as far away as New Paltz, NY, in the Hudson Valley (Robibero Winery) and even Arrowhead Spring in the Niagara Escarpment AVA.

Long Island with its three AVAs may be one of the newest important wine regions in the United States, but over a period of nearly forty years its vine growers have learned much about growing vinifera grapes in challenging terroir, and people like Steve Mudd  and others from there clearly have a great deal of knowledge and expertise to share and impart to others.  Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is how such a young region has gained so much respect in so brief a time.  It is people like Steve and his late father Dave, and the other vineyard managers, the winemakers, and the wines themselves that speak of a major, if small, region that produces premium wines.  Quality fruit is where it all begins.

—13 June & 17 Sept 2012 (update April 2016)

Mudd’s Vineyard Ltd

39005 County Rd 48, Southold, NY

(631) 765-1248

It does not encourage visitors as it only sells fruit to the wine industry.

A Conversation with Louisa Thomas Hargrave

Louisa Thomas Hargrave is the doyenne of the Long Island wine business, having established the very first wine vineyard, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973 with her (then) husband, Alex Hargrave.  They were true pioneers, determined to plant vinifera grapes where they had never successfully grown before, even in the face of well-meant advice against taking on such a risky venture.  Neither of them had ever farmed until they planted the vineyard.

At the time she was a recent college graduate, having gone to Harvard, earning her BA in Government at Smith, and thence to Simmons College to earn a MAT (Masters of Arts in Teaching).  But she and Alex had caught the wine bug, and became seriously interested in starting a vineyard and winery of their own, with the idea of producing quality wine from V. vinifera grapes in the styles of Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Consequently, Louisa next went to the University of Rochester to study Calculus and Chemistry, and further studied the latter at Stony Brook University with the idea that she could apply what she had learned to the making of wine.

Louisa & Alex Hargrave, 1975

Louisa & Alex Hargrave, 1975

After planting vines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc in the original 17-acre field of the old potato farm that had become Hargrave Vineyard, Louisa went to the Cornell Cooperative Extension program to earn a Certificate in Land Use Planning in 1974, an ongoing interest of hers as Suffolk County and New York State developed new laws and regulations that had an impact on her ability to farm.  By 1998 Louisa had been awarded a Doctor of Science, honoris causa, from Dowling College, in recognition of her contributions to viticulture in Long Island.

Between the very solid academic credentials that Louisa has earned over the years and the deep and long experience of establishing and maintaining a vineyard for twenty-six years, as well as making wine and running a successful winery, Louisa has perhaps the most sound credentials of anyone in the Long Island wine world.  Furthermore, after selling Hargrave Vineyard in 1999, when she and her husband agreed to separate, she went on to establish Winewise LLC, a consulting firm for the wine industry. She was director of the Stony Brook University Center for Wine, Food, and Culture from 2004 to 2009, and is continuing to work as a writer on the subject of wine, viticulture, and winemaking for various publications, including her own blog, www.vinglorious.com.

Louisa has also written a well-received memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery (Viking/Penguin, 2003), about the joys and challenges of running a family winery and vineyard.  Earlier, in 1986, she had contributed an essay, “The History of Wine Grapes on Long Island,” to the Long Island Historical Journal.  Most recently she wrote about the terroir of Long Island in an article for Edible East End, “The Dirt Below our Feet.”

Louisa with wineGiven those credentials and that experience, I cannot think of a better-qualified person to speak to about some of the issues bearing on the viniculture of Long Island.  To meet Louisa is to encounter someone who is direct, forthcoming, very well-informed, and definitely opinionated.  She is petite, bespectacled, and wears her silver hair long.  She has no pretensions or airs, but she does not suffer fools.  Given her high profile in Long Island, she frequently has requests from schoolchildren or their parents for an interview so that they can write a paper for school.  Her response is simple:  “When you’ve read my book, The Vineyard, get back to me and we can talk.”  So far there have been no takers.

Fortunately for me, I had read The Vineyard, so that made getting my interview with Louisa that much easier.

Louisa initiated the conversation by making the point that there are two types of wineries in Long Island:  those that cater to the tourist trade and those that focus on making quality wines.  (Several do both, but most emphasize one or the other). Of the top quality wineries, she cited Bedell Cellars, Channing Daughters, Lenz Winery, Paumanok Vineyards, and Peconic Bay Vineyards.  Given that all of the Long Island wineries depend on retail sales for a major part of their income and nearly all have tasting rooms for the wine tourists who are a significant part of their business, I inferred from what she said that some of these wineries seek to attract tourists and tourist groups with large tasting rooms, provide access for buses, and offer space for parties, weddings, and so on.  While some of these are serious about their wines, such as McCall, The Old Field Vineyards, and Pellegrini, a handful is really focused on the tourist trade, perhaps to the detriment of the wines they make—good enough for the tourists, but certainly not world-class.

One way to judge a winery is by looking at their containers—the smaller the container, such as an oak cask (typically of 225 liters, the size of Bordeaux casks) the more serious is the winemaking, as it costs more time and work to manage.  Large containers tend to be used for large-scale production and do not allow for the blending of batches for refining the way the wine tastes and smells the way that small ones do.

She also made clear that there is a fundamental difference between vineyards that seek to grow the highest quality fruit possible by practicing ‘green harvesting,’ which means removing bunches of fruit in the middle of the growing season—sometimes as much as third to a half of the developing crop, in order to improve the quality of the fruit that remains.  The result, of course, is a smaller crop, but wines made from such fruit will be richer, more flavorful, more interesting.  This will not be true of vineyards that primarily grow and sell their wine grapes to wineries.  These vineyards seek to maximize their grape production, as they sell grapes by the ton and they would receive nearly the same price regardless of whether or not they practiced ‘green’ harvesting.  In this case, quantity trumps quality.

I had a few prepared questions for Louisa, to wit:

  • When you started your vineyard there was no concept of ‘sustainable’ viticulture, although ‘organic’ and Biodynamic agriculture was already being practiced in some places.  Was there a point at which you and Alex decided to move towards sustainable viniculture, and if so, how did you go about it?

“Ecology was very much a part of the vocabulary when we planted our vineyard, and we had stayed at an organic farm some years before.  Still, it was fungicides that made it possible for us to plant V. vinifera vines in our vineyard. Historically, those who had attempted to grow these European wine grapes had failed because they had no tools to combat the fungi and other pests indigenous to North America. We recognized that techniques like grafting and amendments like copper sulfate and other fungicides developed after 1870 now made it possible to successfully grow these plants that previously had not survived here. We also perceived that cold-sensitive vinifera might survive on the North Fork of Long Island, due to the moderating effects of the Gulf Stream and Peconic Bay, when they had failed to survive in the more continental climates of other parts of the east coast.

“We even planted some Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc on their own roots, because the sandy soils of Long Island made it difficult for root pests (like Phylloxera) to establish themselves.  Nevertheless, we really didn’t want to use sprays except to the extent necessary.  Although we did use herbicides at times, when weeds became excessive, we always tried to control them mechanically (which usually meant hand-hoeing and weed pulling in areas that the side-hoe on the tractor could not reach). Late sprays before harvest can affect fermentation, so we did not use fungicides after mid-August.  The fact of the matter is that wrestling wine to the ground is very, very complex.

“We embraced the estate approach from the very beginning—in other words, our wines would be made only from the grapes that came from our vineyard, as is the case with Bordeaux chateau. In later years, we did purchase some fruit for our second label, Chardonette, in order to be able to offer a less-expensive, entry-level wine.

“Our wines were made with no residual sugars; malolactic fermentation was complete in all our wines, and we applied minimum sulfites—none at crush time—because we did not want to destroy the indigenous microflora.  The natural acid in wine, at a pH lower than 4.0, makes it impossible for bacteria harmful to people to survive, but some sulfites were needed during aging to protect the wines from yeast or bacteria that harm wine by creating vinegar or off-odors, especially after the malolactic fermentation, when the pH would rise to a less protective level, as high as 3.7 in Pinot Noir especially.

“I am interested in biodynamic techniques but have never practiced them. There are pros and cons to every agricultural practice. Recently, I visited a biodynamically-farmed vineyard in Champagne that was using horses to work the fields.  The idea was to avoid the hardpan that can develop after running a tractor over the vineyards many times and compacting the soil, as the hardpan that results is virtually impenetrable and can harm the nourishment of the vines.  However, the vintner who showed me the horses commented that, while using horses was good for the soil, it was not good for the horses—the soils were so dry that the horse could go lame. That, then, is not really a good option for sustainability.

“With respect to Biodynamic sprays I should point out that these need DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] approval, as does anything that is applied to crops.  All must have a seal of approval and licensing from the DEC. DEC guidelines are not always clear and are subject to change without notice.  Because the DEC is funded by fines levied against farmers in violation of their guidelines, it behooves its inspectors to find violations and levy what can be very heavy fines.  It’s a real problem, and it has to be fixed by providing financing for it by New York State. In my memoir, I describe an untoward incident we had with the DEC that illustrates how this agency has, in the course of implementing laws intended to protect the environment, veered off course in a way that persecutes unwitting and well-intentioned farmers like ourselves.”

  • Looking back on how you went about establishing Hargrave Vineyards in 1973, how would you start up differently as a pioneer, given what you know now?  For example, would you plant Pinot Noir again, or something else?  What about preparation of the soil?

First, Louisa said, “I’d start with a south-facing slope, and then I’d use compost with biodynamic elements to maintain the vineyard.”  “You said ‘biodynamic’ but did you mean ‘organic?’”  “No, I said ‘biodynamic,’ meaning that the soil amendments would reflect the concept of the farm as a unified system of life forces, cycling between times of birth, growth, fruition, decay, and rebirth.”

We had discussed Biodynamics at some length, and Louisa said that she agreed with other viniculturalists, like Sam McCullough and Kareem Massoud, who think that some aspects of Biodynamics may actually work, though it may not need all the mystical components to be effective.  While she does believe that there can be something that could be called “energy” in wine, perhaps due to the level of acidity—it has to do with what makes the wine appealing, or exciting, or perhaps there’s something else to which people respond when they drink it.  Whether or not there is some kind of cosmic energy that comes from the planets and the stars, or that has to do with affinities between horns and earth or anything like that.  It may very well be that the biota that is in the compost teas is really healthy for the vines.  [As an aside, I would like to note that that this has not been borne out in any scientific tests that I know of, but it’s clear that even viticulturalists who would not seek to enter the Demeter program for Biodynamic Certification are open to the possibility that the compost teas have some efficacious attributes.]

Louisa further remarked that, “although growing and making wine from Pinot Noir proved to be most challenging, I would do it again.  I learned more from my efforts to ripen this “heartbreak grape” and to tame its hard tannins than from any other variety. Success with it is not assured, but when it comes, it makes extraordinarily wonderful wine on Long Island.

  • Do you think that the Cornell VineBalance program has made a real difference in the vinicultural practices in LI?  It doesn’t have many actual members—about six, I believe.

“The VineBalance program only has a few members because participation requires detailed record-keeping and a lot of paperwork, which are time-consuming and costly.  This doesn’t mean that VineBalance isn’t important to the rest of the vineyards.  It provides all kinds of guidance. Vineyard managers can and do take courses on sustainable viniculture, including pesticide use, which requires certification.  Cornell provides many seminars and brings experts from other regions here to discuss many aspects of viticulture, including organic interventions and sustainable practices.  So VineBalance, under the direction of Alice Wise at the Cornell Agricultural Extension station in Riverhead, does play a significant role in the viniculture of Long Island.”

Louisa concluded our conversation by saying, “Agriculture in Long Island must be kept alive, even if eventually grapes may have to give way to cabbages.  That’s fine, as long as the farms remain.”

With that remark, Louisa speaks in a way that is characteristic of her and her deep commitment not only to growing wine, but sustaining agriculture.  The East End is a beautiful area, and the North Fork still retains a quality of the bucolic and rural thanks to its working farms and vineyards.  The Hargraves sold development rights to their vineyard to the Suffolk County Land Trust years ago.  That is also part of her commitment.  Long Island owes her many thanks for all that she’s done and continues to do.

Viniculture in LI–Part III: The Old Field Vineyards

Based on an interview with Perry Weiss, and Rosamond and Christian Baiz, 12 May 2011

Upon arriving at the vineyard, which is just off the main road going through Southold, the old barns and house give little clue as to where to go, and there may be no one there to greet you.  Still, you approach the likeliest suspect, a low, long barn which, it turns out, has a sign reading “Tasting Room” near a kind of logo confected out of a ring of old wine corks encircling a painted tin rooster that hangs on the barn siding.  Still no one there and the tasting room was closed, because everyone is out in the fields pruning, removing vine suckers, or spraying the vines.  This is a very small family operation, and the day I arrive, by appointment for the interview, there is too much to be done to have someone greet me upon arrival.  It is, after all, mid-May, early for visitors but timely for the vineyard.

I phone Perry Weiss, the winemaker, on her cell and she arrives shortly from the vineyard.  She is direct, engaging, and very polite, the while giving me all the time I need to conduct my interview with her.  When done, she takes me into the fields to meet her mother, Rosamond Phelps Baiz, the vineyard manager, who is removing any suckers growing from the base of the vines with a gloved hand, nearly caressing each vine as she rubs the base in a careful but swift motion.  Then we go to the house, where I meet her father, Christian Baiz, the vineyard factotum, who is briefly on a break from spraying the vines to refill the machine.  In fact, Perry has taken over the duties of winemaker from Ros, who replaced Perry in the vineyard.  The truth of the matter in an operation so small is that everyone has to pitch in everywhere, so all three of them are jacks-of-all-trades.

This is wine-growing and wine-making writ small—a true family operation that is not sustained by deep pockets but rather by passion, enthusiasm, and caring about what they do.  It came into existence as a vineyard because the property has been in family hands since 1919.  The first vineyard was established in 1974 by Chris using cuttings of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir that they bought from Alex and Louisa Hargrave, who had themselves just started up their own vineyard the year before—the very first one on Long Island.  More Pinot Noir vines were added in 1985, and then Merlot and Cabernet Franc in 1997, just after Chris and Ros purchased the property from his family.  They had to pull up the Chardonnay when it became clear that it wasn’t doing well at the site.  In all they’ve now planted a total of twelve-and-a-half acres to vines, which produce about a thousand cases of wine every year.  At the time they acquired The Old Field, they were living in Bronxville, just north of New York City, and decided to make a go of running a vineyard and so moved permanently to Southold and the farm.

Like the Hargraves when they started, the Baiz family had little notion of how to run a vineyard and make wine, but they were determined not only to succeed in the vineyard but to make quality wine as well.  Also like their predecessors, they didn’t start with a large amount of capital.  Unlike them, however, they had the experience and knowledge of the Hargraves themselves to draw upon, as well as of other wineries and vineyards that had gone into business before they did, such as Bedell Cellars, Lenz Winery, Peconic Bay, and others.   Still, Ros had never driven a tractor, for example, and much had to be learned from scratch.

Now, they work as a team, though the one hired hand they’d once relied on was no longer available, as he was denied a visa to return to the US to work in the vineyard, though son Ryan does join in the work when he visits.  Working over twelve acres means nearly 12,000 vines that need to be tended, which is a great deal of work to be done manually.  There are six contiguous plots, including Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir.  Recently they also planted 250 vines of Sauvignon Blanc by the Bay to see how that will do.  For now, lacking significant wine-making capabilities, they make wine from their own grapes at the winery at Lenz Vineyards, where Perry works with master winemaker Eric Fry to create varietals with their own distinctive signature of the Old Field.

Unlike most other vineyards on the Island, The Old Field has had no need to adjust the acidity of the soil, for the site was—before English settlers purchased the land over 370 years ago—occupied for perhaps 500 years by a large Corchaug Indian village of about 170 huts.  The inhabitants evidently fished and harvested tons of shellfish every year (the field is right on Southold Bay).  The shells were cast in the field and over the years became part of the soil, making it rich in calcium and keeping the pH high at 6.8-7.1.  The vineyard also enjoys a high water table, so there is little need to irrigate, except for very new plantings.  This alone makes for a unique terroir.

In this bucolic setting there is a pond which is a source for frogs and insects, including dragonflies that are natural insect predators.  The space between the rows has cover crops of grasses and legumes, including clover and fescue, which also encourage a diversity of insects.  They have a wild-flower patch as well, which also promotes the presence of ‘good’ insects in the vineyard.  And then there are the red-tailed hawks, the great horned owls, and always the chickens.  Here, IPM seems to take care of itself.

Indeed, the commitment to sustainable viticulture also includes “hand-harvesting, hand leaf-pulling, hand pruning” and so on, “which keeps the tractor out of the field, lessening soil compaction and diesel usage.”  They also flail-chop vine prunings, thus adding mulch back to the soil.  They use a tractor only to handle needs that cannot (or ought not) to be done manually.  For instance, they employ organically-approved sprays where possible, delivered by a trailer-sprayer designed to focus  on specific parts of the vine, as they cannot afford the far more expensive and effective tunnel-recycling sprayers used by more affluent vineyards.  (Therefore, as drift is inevitably a factor under windy conditions, they also try to confine spraying to windless days.)

Old Field Vineyard is an enthusiastic participant in the Cornell University VineBalance Program, and do not mind that they are regularly checked on to ensure that they are in compliance, which is what is required of those vineyards that participate in the program.  They do not, however, at least at this time, think of converting the property to organic farming, though they will use organic viticulture where it is practicable for them.

One of the reasons that the Baiz family purchased the property in 1996 was to keep it from being developed.  The one thing that they will not do is sell the development rights to the fields as some other vineyards have done.  There is a problem with that, after all, insofar as land values have risen exponentially to the point that an acre of land can cost over $100,000 while the rights can fetch a few tens of thousands at best—in other words, they cannot afford to, though in principle they are in favor of a Land Trust.

Thus, this fifth-generation family on the Old Field is working to sustain the what is the second Long Island vineyard and its land for more generations to come, practicing sustainability, hand-harvesting their fruit, and producing wines red and white wines, including an unusual white that is made from Pinot Noir, two Chardonnays, a Cabernet Franc, and two Merlots, not to speak of a Blanc de Noir sparkler that had earned 90 points from the Wine Spectator.  It begins in the vineyard, along with a great deal of sweat.

For those who wish to see just what’s involved in farming sustainably, The Old Field Vineyards offers a Sustainable Agriculture Tour on Saturdays at 11:30am, as well as a Sustainable Agriculture Tour with Tasting and lunch on selected Saturdays.

The Old Field Vineyards

59600 Main Road
PO Box 726
Southold, NY 11971

Phone: (631) 765-0004
Email: livinifera@aol.com

Christian F. Baiz and Rosamond Phelps Baiz, Proprietors
Eric Fry, Master Winemaker
Christian F. Baiz, Tractor/Lawnmower operator
Rosamond Phelps Baiz, Assistant Vineyard Manager, Winemaker, Assistant Tasting Room Manager
Perry Weiss, Vineyard Manager/Tasting Room Manager/ Assistant Winemaker
Ryan Weiss, Grounds and Structures

The Old Field Vineyard website