On June 22, I spent a glorious afternoon at Mattebella Vineyards in Southold and, seeing the joy that its owners, Mark and Christine Ferrari Tobin, took in their country estate, I felt — as I had for the many years I spent working outdoors in my own vineyard — exhilaration with the wondrously changing seasons. I reflected on how being a vintner — tending vines, monitoring the transformation of fruit into wine, then sharing that wine — gives those who have experienced it unanticipated rewards.
I had come to Mattebella (named for the Tobins’ children, Matthew and Isabella) to learn more about the family’s participation in the Long Island Sustainability project. The Tobins’ carefully tended vines, raised without exposure to chemical herbicides, are enhanced by native grasses between the rows. Their wines, made, as New York Times columnist Howard Goldberg reported, in “European style, with an Italian inflection,” show freshness and depth of flavor.
To welcome visitors to their property, north of Route 25 and hidden from view, the Tobins have created a simple tasting gazebo in a garden of lovely flowers and fig trees. Christine makes her own fig jam to pair with her “La Famiglia” wines. When Mark describes their wines, he doesn’t talk about what they taste like, he describes what food they go best with.
On the day I visited Mattebella, Mark and Christine were in the midst of hosting a fundraiser for Sloan Kettering cancer research and generously provided appetizers they had made
themselves. This is a family that cares about quality. They are involved in every detail. And yet they live far away from their vineyard paradise, in Miami Beach, where Mark is a litigation lawyer. How do they do it, I wondered?
The Tobins fly, almost every weekend, from Miami to Long Island. Really.
When I came home from Mattebella, I thought, why in the world would anyone with a demanding job a thousand miles away want to have a vineyard on Long Island? The up-front costs in developing a vineyard and making wine, not just on Long Island but anywhere in the world, are substantial.
With all the uncertainty of an agricultural enterprise, growing grapes cannot guarantee a profi t. Still, for some, living their workaday life in a business world dominated by cat-eat-dog-style “disruptive innovation,” having a vineyard retreat — or simply working on a farm — does more than calm the churning stomach. It provides balance. And balance is something money can’t buy.
I kept thinking about balance in nature. A few days later, David Page, co-owner of Shinn Estate Vineyard, echoed my musings in his weekly newsletter. Explaining why they leaf thin their vines by hand, he wrote, “Leaf pulling with a machine probably makes economic sense but we’ve always believed that human touch works best. It also insures that our vineyard team has a job that provides a living wage. Of course, there is some work we do with machines in our vineyard … but balance is everything in life.”
Still, sometimes we fi nd, as much as we seek balance, it eludes us. Hours after reading the Shinn report, I heard of the untimely death of Ann Marie Borghese who, with her husband, Marco, had bought my own vineyard in 1999.
Shock followed dismay on June 30, when I learned that Marco, too, was gone, killed in a car crash. Equilibrium vanished in an instant.
All of us who knew the Borgheses personally are turned upside-down by their sudden deaths.
There can be no good way for me to think about this loss, except through memories of happier days when I first met them. Like the Tobins and Shinn/Pages, like myself and others who turn to farming, the Borgheses had come to the North Fork seeking a balanced life. Marco was tired of the pressures of his international import business and wanted his family to enjoy the sort of rural pleasures he had experienced growing up in Italy. It is overwhelming to think that, for Marco and Ann Marie, their enchanted lives, full of devotion to their vineyard and love for their children, are over.
In the end, we all need to find our own balance. Those of us who find it in a vineyard come to understand how little we really control and gain appreciation for every happy outcome along the way.
Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.