In the tasting room with David Acker of Harmony Vineyards

David Acker at Harmony Vineyards last month. (Credit: Elizabeth Wagner)

It’s not often that a vintner can also brag of inventing medical technology, but David Acker, owner of Harmony Vineyards in Head of the Harbor, has that singular kind of resume.

His inventions focus on making neurosurgery and cardiac surgery less invasive. He currently is CEO of TECLens, which is focused on developing a new refractive vision correction system, according to its website.

“I’m now working to replace LASIK with a totally non-invasive single treatment,” Acker said.

Born in Philadelphia, he grew up in Rockland County and attended Stony Brook University, arriving at the college on his 16th birthday. He settled in Stony Brook and eventually founded a number of companies; one, known as Biosense, has since purchased by manufacturing giant Johnson & Johnson and is now called Biosense Webster.

Along the way, however, he also found inspiration to become a vintner, a move he made after purchasing the Archibald M. Brown Estate (also known as “East Farm”) in 1998.

At the time the farm, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was growing tomatoes and peppers. But, as Acker explains, he “thought that crop was boring and knew how well grapes do on Long Island … so I thought I would keep the farm in the farming tradition and just change the crop.”

Although he’d never before owned a retail business, Harmony has been a happy undertaking for Acker and his family. “They thought [starting Harmony] was very cool and why not? They totally enjoy the experience along with me.”

The exterior of Harmony Vineyards in Head of the Harbor. (Credit: Elizabeth Wagner)

Q. Can you share the reason for the name “Harmony” Vineyards?

A. Our mission is to produce outstanding wines and experiences in harmony with nature and humanity. Not only do we grow our grapes using sustainable farming techniques, but we also donate our net profits to a select basket of charities that support education and local hunger relief. So “Harmony” seemed most natural as a name for our vineyard’s pursuit.

Q. Unlike most Long Island vineyards, Harmony is not on the East End but situated north of Stony Brook on the Sound. Are there any challenges to being far from the main vine-wine scene? Is there a difference in the soil where your are located and, if so, does that result in anything unique about your products?

A. Well, being off the “wine trails” does make us feel like an unwanted stepchild sometimes as all the marketing dollars the various wine councils only focus on the East End wineries. Having said that, our growth has been quite steady and satisfying. We are a bit less commercial and more laid-back compared to many other tasting room establishments and our outdoor venue, being on the Stony Brook Harbor waterfront, is a great and unique attraction.
Regarding wine/grape production being so far west — we did notice a few years into production a pattern that our buds break about two weeks earlier compared to eastern vineyards. Our moderated waterfront temperatures not only give us about two weeks more growing season but also provides a windier environment after storms that enables the grapes to dry faster. This last advantage diminishes the possibilities of molds forming on our fruit.

Q. Harmony is built on East Farm, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The tasting room was first constructed in 1690. With all that history, has there ever been a historic discovery on the grounds, or in the building itself?

A. Oh yes, back in 1850 when Shep Jones owned this place, first cousin of the famous genre painter, William Sidney Mount, loads of fun was pursued here. Mount’s famous “Dance of the Haymakers” was painted here, depicting the music making, drinking and dancing going on in one of our barns, which still stands today. In fact, we know it’s true that loads of merriment were had here as several years ago we found a check on the dirt floor of that barn, dated January 30, 1869, drawn on the account of William F. Darling for $1,000. Shep had to have been drunk to drop a check worth that much money back then!

Q. Art is a big part of the Harmony experience, with the tasting room gallery. Is there a specific theme to what’s displayed? What do you look for when adding to the collection?

A. The short answer is that we look for art that we enjoy personally that integrates the pleasures of creative work with the experience of enjoying wine.
The Gallery at Harmony Vineyards is a platform for artists to showcase their work without standard gallery conventions, featuring both traditional and conceptual art.

Q. Eric Fry is your winemaker. Your Bordeaux-style wine is well-praised. With the three types of grapes you use (cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc) not uncommon on Long Island, would you attribute Mr. Fry’s expertise to your Bordeaux style’s strength?

A. Eric is a great talent and a true pleasure to work with. He’s very modest and will tell you that the wine makes itself. “It’s all about the grapes,” he says. While there’s a great deal of truth to that, he really does know how to make great wine.

Q. Harmony also produces chardonnay, which again faces plentiful area competition. If one were to taste-test your chard against other local offerings, what would you say is its standout flavor feature?

A. We grow a Dijon Chardonnay grape and we age in the Chablis style; no oak for our whites. These two factors lead to a very crisp feel on the palate, with citrus and pineapple notes and a wonderful mouthfeel with a long finish. We’ve converted many who say they don’t enjoy a chardonnay.

Q. Let’s talk brunch. You’ll be offering a bottomless Sunday brunch right through the winter. What’s on the menu?

A. We serve bottomless brunch and mimosas every Sunday year-round! We certainly consider ourselves very lucky to be working with Farm to Table by Filomena to provide organic ingredients and recipes where every Sunday is a bit different and always very delicious. It’s buffet style and the menu changes seasonally as organic ingredients rotate. You can check out our menu on our brunch page.

Q. The summer at Harmony holds outdoor film screenings and live music, but what sort of events take place once the temperatures really drop?

A. Off-season is fun too! And cozy, with three fireplaces always going. We have a regular Friday night themed trivia game starting at 8 p.m. Throughout the off-season, watch our online event calendar as it’s updated weekly. We usually have some pretty cool parties. I’m still taking heat from the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” party we had and we just wrapped our sixth annual Halloween costume contest and party. We stay up later than any other vineyard we know. On Saturday nights [when they are open until midnight, we transform into the Harmony Club, where fellow wine lovers can meet and make new friends.