THE GRAND TOUR – DAY 13: WESTERN SUFFOLK

The Mets ended April with an eight-game winning streak with a 6-5 win over the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field.  Matt Cain continued to struggle for the Giants, giving up all six runs, while  Michael Conforto had a three-hit day.   I also had a three-hit day, visiting the three wineries of western Suffolk.

SONY DSCHidden away, just beyond the historic Meadow Croft Estate in Sayville, is one of Long Island’s best kept winery secrets: Loughlin Vineyards. Started by Barney Loughlin 30 years ago, the winery produces over a 1,000 cases of wine a year from the seven acre vineyard.  Meadow Croft, built in the Dutch Colonial Revival style, was constructed in 1891 for John E. Roosevelt, a cousin of Teddy Roosevelt.  Barney’s parents, who came from Ireland, worked on the estate.  His mother was a governess to the children of John E. Roosevelt and his father was a caretaker of the land.   When the Roosevelt family left the house in 1982, Barney, who inherited his father’s job as caretaker, acquired 10 acres of the estate.  The land remained a pasture for cows and donkeys until 1984 when it became a vineyard.

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Now in his 90’s, Barney leaves pouring wine to the younger generation.  But he is still a fixture in the tasting room, reminiscing about his experiences in World War II (he was a member of the 36th Infantry Division, landing in North Africa and participating in the Italian campaign), the home country and the latest gossip of Sayville, where he served as Fire Chief from 1966-1970. Loughlin, a family run business, is only open on weekends.  The winemaker is Greg Gove, the former winemaker of Peconic Bay and the wine is made and stored on site.   They just produce four wines: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a blush, which is a blend of their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  I tried them all, to the accompaniment of Irish music and a lively conversation.  And while it may be Long Island’s best kept winery secret, it is well known to locals and the small tasting room can get quite crowded with friends and admirers who come to chat with the popular owner.  But there is plenty of room outside to spread out during the warm months.  Weather permitting: the tasting room is open during winter, where there is a cozy wood-burning stove to warm visitors.

SONY DSCApproximately 20 miles due north is Harmony Vineyards in Head of the Harbor, a North Shore village near historic Stony Brook.  On first appearance, Harmony, which opened in 2011, appears to be your typical boutique winery of Long Island.   And it is, except for two things: The location on the North Shore of Long Island rather than the East End and that the owner, David Acker, gives all of the profits to charity.   When David, a retired inventor of devices for cardiac and neuro surgery, became the fifth owner of the 32-acre Old East Farm in Head of the Harbor in 1998 it was still an operating farm.  He found the peppers and tomatoes planted not very satisfying, but he wanted to continue the farming tradition so he decided to replace the vegetables with grape vines.  And as a man of vision, he also saw an opportunity to have the land as a source of philanthropy, with all the net profits donated to a select basket of charities which focus on eradicating hunger and providing education.

When establishing the winery, David enlisted the help of two of the East End’s top experts:  Viticulturist Steve Mudd to advise him on what grapes to plant and pioneer winemaker Eric Fry from Lenz Winery to make the wine.   In 2002, over 6,000 vines on the 4-acre vineyard were planted:  Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chardonnay.   As with Loughlin Vineyards, many in the industry questioned the logic of planting vines so far west.   But Steve and Eric both knew they would succeed and that the grape varieties planted would grow well there. They also knew that the waterfront location would mean rain water would quickly run off and there would be less of a need for a drying agent to battle mildew due to the breezes from the Sound.   And because of the moderating effect of the water, the average temperature would be a couple of degrees warmer than further inland, which meant an earlier bud break and a slightly longer growing season.

1-tweet-harmony2But before he could plant, David had to relocate the main house, which was built in the late 17th century by the grandson of Richard “Bull” Smith, the founder of Smithtown.   In 1999, David had the entire house moved a quarter-mile down the property to its present location, where it is now the tasting room.  The website says that Harmony is “A pleasing combination of elements as a whole.” Which is quite true, as there are many pleasing elements to Harmony Vineyards.   In addition to the tasting room, which also functions as an art gallery, there are terraces which overlook the Chardonnay vineyard and the Sound.   There is also a grass area near the water for picnicking.   And during the summer months, films are projected onto the outside wall on the tasting room.   And because you can’t have harmony without music, there is generally live music on weekends (another of David’s passions).   As for the wines, I did a vertical tasting of their Chablis-style Chardonnays: every year from 2007 to 2011.  This was a fascinating exercise in yearly vintage variations.   While all the wines were excellent, I preferred the 2010.

SONY DSCAbout 4 miles away in St. James, just north of Smithtown, is Whisper Vineyards, Owned by Steve & Laura Gallagher and Barbara Perrotta of Borella’s Farms.  Their family has farming roots dating back to 1945 and have been owners of Borellas Farmstand since 1950.  In 1967, Joseph and his wife Theresa (founder of Scarcellas Florist in Cold Spring Harbor) diversified from potatoes and cabbage to a larger selection of vegetables.  Their son-in-law, Stephen Gallagher, joined the family business in 1986.  Looking to keep their agriculture roots intact while keeping the family farm viable, Steve began research into establishing a vineyard. After studying the geology of the soil and the local climate, they decided to plant their first vines in 2004, making them the 3rd 3-whisper-fb-6dvineyard in Western Suffolk.   Whisper Vineyards wines are carefully crafted from grapes that are sustainably farmed and hand harvested, just like the vegetables which have been sold at Borellas Farm for over half a century.     And like their neighbor Harmony, their winemaker is also Eric Fry of Lenz.   While there were numerous tasting options available, I decided to continue my exploration of Chardonnay and went with the Simply Chardonnay Tasting.   This included three Chardonnays:  the 2008 unoaked (a blend of 3 Dijon clones), the 2009 Burgundian style and the 2010 Reserve.   My tasteds graviatated toward the unoaked Chardonnay.   For red wine drinkers, they also have a Merlot flight and Red Cape, their Bordeaux Blend.   And by the bottle only, is a delicious Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine.

According to my calculations, not counting duplicate tasting rooms (eg, Duck Walk North and Macari South), Harbes is the only remaining winery on the East End left to visit.   But since they don’t open for the season until May, I will need to wait a few weeks before I can resume my quest.

Today’s Line Score: 3 wineries, 12 wines and 78 miles.
Season Statistics: 40 wineries, 157 wines and 1,630 miles

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