Continuing the Borghese, Wölffer legacies

DMW_3841Carrying on after the untimely death of a parent is tough in under circumstances, but the difficulty can be compounded for a son or daughter who is unexpectedly handed the keys to the family business. 

The children of Long Island winery owners Ann Marie and Marco Borghese and Christian Wölffer, once pursuing different life paths, have not only coped with a sudden loss but are continuing the legacies of their pioneering parents.

Here are their stories.

CASTELLO di BORGHESE

The loss is still fresh for the children of Ann Marie and Marco Borghese: Allegra, 27; Giovanni, 29; and Fernando, 35. Ann Marie died of cancer in June at age 56 and their father, 70, was killed in a car accident 10 days later.

The Borgheses purchased Castello di Borghese in 1999 from Long Island wine pioneers Alex and Louisa Hargrave, who planted the region’s first grapes in 1973. The 84-acre vineyard produces seven grape varieties and bottles 17 distinct products. The 2014 harvest will yield the first wines produced by the couple’s heirs.

Allegra and Giovanni both grew up among the vines — they were 12 and 14 when their parents purchased the winery — but  were never treated as if they’d been to the manor born.

“We were raised here,” Allegra Borghese said, gesturing to the family home, which sits at the vineyard’s southeastern end. “But it was never a case of ‘one day this will all be yours.’ We worked and we learned. We were treated like everybody else.”

Until this past year, the Borghese children were all pursuing other careers.

When her mother died, Allegra had just earned a master’s degree in psychology and art therapy from Southwestern College in New Mexico and Giovanni was sailing around the Caribbean. Fernando, co-founder of a Philadelphia-based digital media firm, continues to work in that field today in addition to his winery duties.

The three co-owners have pulled together to manage and oversee the winery. Allegra handles  onsite business and marketing and Giovanni concentrates on distribution outside of the vineyard. Both focus on day-to-day operations in Cutchogue. Older brother Fernando, they said, is involved with the broader issues of managing the business, such as financing.

“Everyone pitches in and does what needs to be done,” Giovanni Borghese said during a recent vineyard visit. “We’re plumbers one day, electricians the next.”

“That’s what small business is all about,” his sister added.

Marco and Ann Marie Borghese. (Credit: Jane Starwood file photo)

Marco and Ann Marie Borghese. (Credit: Jane Starwood file photo)

The Borgheses, whose Cutchogue vineyard boasts the oldest vines on the East End, were much loved in the wine community ­— by vineyard owners and wine lovers alike. The down-to-earth couple built their business on good wine and good relationships, a model that their children said they will continue to follow to the letter.

“Our parents were big believers in allowing us an understanding of the basics of the business but they also wanted us to enjoy our own interests,” Giovanni Borghese said.

“They encouraged us to follow our passions and not to accept anything as being handed down,” his sister agreed.

The second-generation vintners credit the winery’s dedicated staff and loyal customers for its continued success. Virtually all employees, including winemaker Erik Bilka and wine manager Bernard Ramis, have stayed on board.

“There’s a good team here,” Giovanni Borghese said. “From the folks on the vineyard to the community that has really supported us, they’ve really helped us to learn as we go.”

The business philosophy of producing small batches of quality product will remain — the Borghese children have no plans to expand the brand into a behemoth bottler.

But the infusion of new blood shows in some of the changes in the tasting room.

The siblings and staffer Christa Hildebrand have taken over the winery’s popular weekly winemakers walks, previously led by Marco. The vineyard now also serves beer from Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and, next year, a new wine will be introduced.

“We are stepping into their shoes, but it’s their template that we will continue to follow,” said Allegra Borghese. “Which is very classic, classy, and has a lot of integrity in the product. They are very big shoes and we’re focused on the near term so we don’t miss a beat wile we evaluate the future options for the business.”

And in the tradition of family pride, Giovanni Borghese reported, a new wine will debut to pay homage to his parents. Right now, however, he’s tight-lipped about the details.

“I’m not quite ready to divulge that information,” he said with a smile. “But there will be a wine coming to honor their legacy.”