A hearty thumbs-up for Harvest East End: Uncork the Forks

A scene from the 2017 Harvest East End. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

I should preface my thoughts on this past weekend’s Harvest East End event, held at Martha Clara Vineyards, by mentioning that I don’t particularly enjoy these sorts of events. Six hundred-plus people, wine glasses in hand, moving from table to table tasting wine is a lot of fun, yes, but I greatly prefer tasting and drinking wine in a more intimate setting, one where consideration and conversation are more appropriate — and possible.

That said, it’s impossible for me to do anything but commend the organizers of this year’s event. Harvest East End has changed a lot over the years, and not always for the better. At the end of the day, Harvest East End should be about local wine and a return to that focus is what made this year’s event so successful.

It was smaller this year — only 650 people or so — but from what I observed, no one was there just to be seen or for some other superficial reason. This year’s attendees were there to celebrate and enjoy local wine. That matters. While the event space did get crowded as I was leaving, having the bulk of the producers inside — with air conditioning — made it more comfortable. If you’re going to hold an event like this on a humid Long Island summer afternoon, that matters, too.

I couldn’t stay for the entire five-hour event, so I didn’t taste at every producer’s table, but I got to taste some wines that I knew would be good and I was also pleasantly surprised about some of what I tasted.

The wines from Sparkling Pointe have never tasted better. Tasting some older vintages of the winery’s flagship Brut Seduction — 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 — was a treat, of course, but the currently released 2014 Brut and 2013 Blanc de Noirs were the real standouts. Those wines are both dialed in right now. The 2014 Brut was the wine I went back for a splash of before I left the event.

Winemaker Zander Hargrave’s Pellegrini Vineyards 2014 Merlot is a classic Long Island merlot. Fruit-forward and soft, but with all of the dried herb and earthy qualities that make Long Island merlot distinctive, it’s the kind of wine I want with simply roasted duck.

The Long Island Merlot Alliance’s first-ever rosé, made from clone 3 merlot grown in each member vineyard, harvested the same day and vinified at Raphael, is straightforward, fresh and delicious. It’s one of the best merlot-based rosés I’ve had in some time.

Two wines that I’d tasted before — Anthony Nappa Wines’ 2016 Bordo Antico and his Shared Farm Table 2016 Sauvignon Blanc — were standouts again. Nappa’s wines are always table-ready. These display that style artfully.

Rich Olsen-Harbich has been making some of the region’s best cabernet franc for many years. Bedell Cellars’ 2015 Cabernet Franc continues that tradition.
There isn’t much left for purchase at the winery, but McCall Wines’ 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir is about as good as it gets when it comes to Long Island pinot. In fact, even if you remove the local lens, this is simply an incredible wine.

This was my first chance to taste winemaker Alie Shaper’s “As If” wines and I really liked the 2014 Serendipity, a white blend of chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc that was fermented in neutral oak. Fresh but also textural, it was one of the best white wines I tasted at the event. A visit to Peconic Cellar Door, where Shaper’s wines are available as well as Robin Epperson-McCarthy’s Saltbird Cellars wines, is in order.

For a few years, Harvest East End became just another East End gala — without much focus on the East End. I’m glad it’s back where it belongs. I’m actually already looking forward to next year’s event.