It’s been 40 years since Alex and Louisa Hargrave planted the first vinifera vines on the North Fork, founding Hargrave Vineyard in Cutchogue.
Fast-forward to today: Long Island Wine Country boasts more than 60 wineries and has been named one of Wine Enthusiast’s 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations of 2013 — placing the region in the company of destinations like Rioja, Spain, which has over 600 wineries.
“The Hargraves were the ones who started all of this,” said Ron Goerler Jr., owner of Jamesport Vineyards and president of the Long Island Wine Council.
“We are still a very young industry, and what I like to see is that there’s still growth. Even in a downturned economy people are still investing in this area and that’s exciting.”
To help celebrate 40 years of growth, the fourth annual Harvest East End: Wine and Food Classic will be held on the North Fork for the first time this summer.
The charity fundraiser will take place Saturday, Aug. 24, from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at McCall Vineyard in Cutchogue. The event is organized by the Long Island Wine Council and sponsored by Wine Enthusiast, with support from Merliance, the Long Island Merlot Alliance.
Harvest East End features tastings of current wine releases, and samples of not-yet-released varieties, from about 40 East End wineries. Top local chefs prepare dishes incorporating flavors and ingredients from the region’s farmers, fishermen, cheesemakers and other food artisans.
“I don’t think there’s any other event out here where you can go to taste 40-plus vineyards at one time,” said event planner Lisa Furst of Agency 21 Consulting.
“We’re right now in the process of securing the restaurants,” Furst said. “The goal is a diverse group of the Island’s best foods. We would like to have between 20 and 30 restaurants, a mix between North Fork and South Fork.”
A Taste of the North Fork, which offers locally produced specialty foods, will serve fresh veggie sliders with cHarissa, a locally created Moroccan-influenced seasoning, and other local delights, said owner Jeri Woodhouse.
Last year’s event raised more than $45,000 for its beneficiaries, East End Hospice, Group for the East End, and Peconic Land Trust — charities that support the East End’s land, people and environment. This year’s proceeds will also benefit the Long Island Farm Bureau.
“It’s great that they have decided to include us,” said LIFB executive director Joe Gergela. “We’re going to target this funding for the purpose of helping the next generation coming along in the industry.”
The other beneficiaries are happy to share.
“It’s a worthy organization to split the pot with,” said Aaron Virgin, vice president of Group for the East End. “The local food purveyors, chefs and winemakers are allies in East End agriculture and it makes sense to help the next generation of farmers.”
Since the event started in 2013, over $137,000 has been raised for the charities, according to the Long Island Wine Council.
Tickets for the event can be purchased for $125 per person until Sunday, Aug. 11. After that, they will cost $150 apiece. General admission tasting runs from 7 to 9:30 p.m.
A VIP tasting option, known as the “Vin-IP experience,” will also be available, presented by Lincoln Motor Company. It offers wine aficionados, collectors and connoisseurs a richer experience, including early entrance at 6 p.m. Guests will be greeted with sparking wine and offered exclusive access to a Library Lounge, where older vintages and special selections will be served. Early entrance also offers a more private experience with winemakers and the region’s best chefs, Furst said.
Among the participating wineries is Pellegrini Vineyards in Cutchogue, which will likely showcase its 2010 Encore, a Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot that winemaker and general manager Tom Drozd said offers ripe fruit with great balance and structure.
Roanoke Vineyards in Riverhead will pour its 2010 Cabernet Franc and a 2010 blend it calls Prime Number.
“We’ve always used the Harvest event to show off new wines, or wines from our wine library, and this year is no different,” said Scott Sandell of Roanoke.
Waters Crest Winery will pour its new 2012 whites, starting with Sauvignon Blanc, a bone dry Rosé and a dry Riesling. It will also feature three new reds: a 2009 Merlot, a Cabernet Franc and a blend.
Host McCall Vineyard will pour its Cabernet Franc.
“It’s really special. I think it’s a stunning wine. I’m sure we will be pouring a lot of it,” said Russell McCall, owner of the vineyard and ranch, adding that his unique 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé will also be featured. “It is the only one on Long Island, so it’s a one-of-a-kind that we have,” he said.
Harvest East End itself, McCall noted, is also one-of-a-kind.
“I think it will be the biggest wine and food event on Long Island this summer,” he said. “We’re hoping to raise $100,000 for these charities.”