Dan Farrell considers himself a born teacher. So it makes sense that the retired school psychologist, who has worked part-time as a pourer at Roanoke Vineyards in Riverhead since 2012, decided to broaden his wine knowledge two years ago by becoming a certified sommelier.
“Life is an ongoing educational process,” Farrell, 59, said in a recent interview at the members-only vineyard’s public location, a tasting room and wine bar on Love Lane in Mattituck. “I just enjoy talking to people about wine.”
A Mineola native, Farrell lives in Port Jefferson with his wife, Cindy, and son, Ryan. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from SUNY/Oswego in 1979, he earned his master’s degree in psychology at CUNY/Queens College. He worked for five years as a school psychologist at Comsewogue School District in Port Jefferson Station and was then hired by Stony Brook’s Three Village Central School District, retiring in 2012 after 25 years.
His foray into the wine industry, he said, was a “complete accident.”
One day, shortly after retiring, Farrell and his wife drove to Roanoke Vineyards’ Sound Avenue location to pick up their quarterly wine club selections. After chatting with a tasting room employee, Farrell realized a part-time job pouring wine might be the ideal position for him.
Still, he needed some prodding.
“My wife knows I love wine, so she said, ‘Well, why don’t you ask them?’ ” Farrell recalled. “Next thing I knew I was working by the end of August pouring wine at the vineyard.”
In the short time since, Farrell, who works two to three days a week, has blossomed in his role at Roanoke. Although his early days on the job were sometimes overwhelming in unexpected ways — “Honestly, the most difficult thing for me was learning the damn cash register,” he lamented with a smile — Farrell has proven himself as a wine connoisseur.
And he hasn’t stopped learning.
“There are people who know far more than I do, but I feel comfortable having a conversation about most areas of wine,” he said. “And I have much better global knowledge of wine than the immediate Long Island area.”
Q: Do you have a favorite varietal?
A: If I had to pick one, I’ve come to really appreciate cabernet franc. I knew very little about it before coming out here, other than that it was a varietal used in a blend. But come to find out in this area of the world, it does particularly well. Here, in our kind of moderate climate, it stands up on its own as a really nice varietal because it has the red fruit flavors but also a spicy pepperiness to it that isn’t overwhelming.
Q: Why did you decide to become a certified sommelier?
A: I think it’s just kind of the educator in me. If I’m going to do something, I want to be good at it. And if I’m going to talk to people, I want to have the knowledge and perspective to talk with them intelligently. I looked at different programs and some folks in the industry recommended the International Wine Center in Manhattan.
Q: How much did you have to study to pass the exam?
A: It was honestly more challenging than I anticipated. I would go to class and then read during the week at home. It was actually a tremendous amount of knowledge.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working at Roanoke?
A: The interaction with people. I have always worked with people. In the past, it was more helping and supporting. Here, people are coming out to have a good time.
Q: What is the most challenging part?
A: I think it can be the flip side of the positives in dealing with people. I sometimes have a hard time when people become kind of condescending. Either they don’t know who you are or what you’re about or — sometimes, because you work in the service industry, people feel like you are their servant. I bite my tongue and politely deal with it.
Q: Tell me about your most memorable on-the-job moment.
A: A couple came in who had just been married the day before. They were interested in wine and I spent time with them and talked about different wines and varietals and had a number of bottles open. We happened to have some of [winemaker Roman Roth’s] sparkling wine open from the day before, so I poured them a little. At the end of the tasting they chose to purchase a bottle. They were going to save it for the following year and open it on their anniversary. I just thought that was kind of nice.
Q: Do you have a favorite wine region?
A: Probably the Bordeaux area. Our wines are modeled off the Bordeaux area, by and large.
Q: When you aren’t working, what do you like to do around the North Fork?
A: My wife and I just went to North Fork Table and Inn for our most recent anniversary. We were very impressed. I also play golf and we have a boat in Port Jeff.
Q: What advice would you give people who are visiting the area for a day of wine tasting?
A: Plan to have a good time, ask questions and just let the server know what it is you’re looking to do that day. If it’s just be with friends and have a good time, then absolutely. If you have questions, sometimes people are hesitant or embarrassed. Just prepare to have a good time, experience some of the beautiful wines we’re now making and just let your server or pourer know what you need.
This story was originally published in the fall 2016 edition of northforker’s Long Island Wine Press