THE GRAND TOUR –DAY 12: WINERIES OF CUTCHGOUE

Noah Syndergaard pitched a gem at Citi Field, striking out 14 and allowing just one run in seven innings, but the Mets were bested by the Miami Dolphins who held them to one run and six hits.  For the visiting Marlins, Ichiro Suzuki inched closer to 3,000 hits with a pinch hit, which edged him past Barry Bonds on the all-time hits list.  And I edged closer to my goal, with visits to three more wineries.

SONY DSCFirst stop on my tour was McCall Wines on the main road in Cutchogue.   McCall Vineyards is located in an area that was once occupied by the Algonquins, who farmed the land along the estuary there.   Though Russ McCall grew up in Brooklyn, he summered in Cutchogue, staying at the home of his grandfather who built a summer home on the property in 1902.    After graduating from Emory University, Russ opened a wine store in Atlanta, where he remained for 40 years.  In 1996, he joined forces with the Peconic Land Trust in helping block a condo project near his ancestral home and save Down’s Woods and the adjacent Native American land from development.   One of the first things that Russ did with the land when he relocated back to the New York Area was replace the corn and potato fields with a vineyard.   This he planted with Pinot Noir and Merlot.  Although he had been growing grapes since the mid 1990’s, it wasn’t until 2007 that he began bottling wine under his own label.

3-mccalls5-2Though McCall is famous for their Pinot Noir (which is a must for first time visitors), for a change, I decided to go with their Merlots.  First was the 2009 Merlot, a wine full of  soft tannins and jammy fruit. The ten acre Merlot vineyard is uniquely situated atop clay, making it ideal soil for this variety.   Next was the 2010 Merlot Reserve, a limited production wine rich in aromas of dark chocolate, currant and blackberries.  This was followed by the 2012, a dark ruby red reserve wine with aromas of dark chocolate, raspberries and blackberries.  Lastly was the 2009 Ben’s Blend, a Bordeaux Blend named after their late vineyard manager Ben Sisson. The wine is  produced from their best estate Merlot grapes, blended with three other varietals: Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.

SONY DSCJust across the street is Pellegrini Vineyards.   In the 1980’s, Bob and Joyce Pellegrini established a vineyard in Cutchogue, which is claimed by some to be the sunniest town in New York State.    Pellegrini Vineyards was founded in 1991 with Australian native Russell Hearn as their winemaker.   Russell worked at Pellegrini for 20 years before establishing the Premium Wine group, a custom crush facility.   While at Pellegrini, Russell brought his technical and organizational skills to the winery and was on the forefront of progressive growing methods and production techniques.  He was succeeded by Tom Drozd (who has since relocated to Florida) and their current winemaker Zander Hargrave, who continues his parent’s winemaking legacy.  Alex and Louisa Hargrave planted grapes on Long Island in 1973 and started the first professional winery, Hargrave Vineyards.   While at Hargrave, Zander learned his craft by working every facet of the operation; from running tours and tastings to driving a tractor, from picking grapes and pruning the vines to working the bottling line.  In 1999, the family  sold the winery to the late Ann Marie and Marco Borghese, who founded Castello di Borgehse Vineyards.    After Hargrave, Zander worked as an assistant to Greg Gove, the winemaker at the now closed Peconic Bay Winery, where his uncle worked as vineyard manager. Zander’s life has now come full circle as the Pellegrini vineyard is just around the corner from the old Hargrave homestead.

2-pellegrini-1I started out with a trio of Chardonnays: 2014 Chardonnay, 2014 steel-fermented Chardonnay and the 2013 Vintner’s Pride.   The last one, a Burgundian-style Chardonnay, barrel-fermented and aged for 18 months sur-lie in French oak puncheons, was my favorite.   Next I did my own little time machine tasting of red wines: 2014 BBQ Red, 2012 Cabernet Franc, 2011 Petit Verdot and the 2010 Merlot.   I was contemplating which one was my favorite when the pourer suggested I continue my excursion back in time and try the 2007 Reserve, their top-of-the-line Bordeaux Blend.   This is a wine club member’s only wine and is usually not available for tasting, but there just happened to be an open bottle from a wine club event the night before.   The Reserve is a wine that is only made during the best harvests and was last made in 2005.   With aromas of plum, prune and black cherry, the wine was clearly the standout of my visit.

Next on the agenda was lunch.   For this I continued my journey back in time and stopped at the Cutchogue Diner, which has been serving “home-cooked” meals since 1941.   I went the full comfort food route and ordered the meatloaf dinner (which came with not only mashed potatoes and string beans, but a dish of Jello for dessert).   This was accompanied by a root beer float.

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Three miles east on the main road is Bedell Cellars.    When I was growing up in the 1960’s, it was said that rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for US Steel.  It was their corporate-like mentality that made them the most loved and the most hated team of that era.  It fact their relentless desire to win actually drove my brother, a native New Yorker, into the arms of their American League rivals the Detroit Tigers.  While Bedell may not be the largest winery, they do have one of the most impressive winery staffs.  Of course, Bedell Cellars doesn’t produce the dichotomy of feelings that the Yankees did.    But like the Yankees of that era, Bedell has been consistently producing outstanding wines season after season.   So, a comparison with the star-studded Yankees of the late 50’s and early 60’s is not all that far-fetched.

SONY DSCAnd just like the Yankees, Bedell Cellars has had a storied past.   Kip Bedell began making wine at his home in Garden City. He and his wife Susan purchased a 50 acre potato farm in 1980 and established the winery shortly afterwards.  His wines quickly garnered critical acclaim and in a 1993 Wine Spectator article featuring Kip he was nicknamed “Mr. Merlot.”    In 2000 Bedell Cellars was sold to Michael Lynne, the film executive and art collector.   Richard Olsen-Harbich, one of the pioneers in the Long Island wine industry and who has been making wine for over 30 years, is the current winemaker. Rich not only wrote the appellation write-up for the North Fork, but also the one for the Hamptons AVA    He also  helped found Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, the first third party certification program for vineyard sustainability on the East Coast.    While Bedell’s lineup of Lynne, Deegan, Thompson, Troxell and Olsen-Harbich may not have the same name recognition (at least to baseball fans) as Richardson, Kubek, Maris, Mantle and Berra, I can assure you that they are equally effective.  But unlike the old Yankee teams who won pennants with the streamlined precision of a finely oiled machine, Bedell relies on heart and soul as well as mechanics.   Or as they say, “The Art of Wine”.

1-bedell2-3For my leadoff wine, I went with the 2014 Viognier, a fragrant, fruit forward wine with hints of tangerine and peach.   Next was the 2014 steel-fermented Gewürztraminer, made from some of the oldest vines on Long Island, which had a fragrance of exotic fruits.  I then moved to the heart of the lineup with some power hitters.   The 2013 Syrah and the 2012 Musee.   Definitely back-to-back home runs.

With just a few more wineries to go and having aready logged over 1,500 miles, I’m beginning to round 3rd and home base is just around the corner.

Today’s Line Score: 3 wineries, 16 wines and 132 miles.
Season Statistics: 37 wineries, 146 wines and 1,552 miles

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