McCall Wines’ vineyard and ranch occupy the same North Fork land where the Corchaug Indians hunted, grew corn and built a nearby fortification to guard their precious wampum. This was the native Americans’ “principal place” and today it retains that physical and spiritual beauty so honored by them. Russell McCall, who grew up exploring its woods, saved it from development in 1996 and partnered with Southold Town and the Peconic Land Trust to protect it forever. It now hosts a herd of Charolais beef cattle alongside 21 acres of McCall’s pinot noir and merlot vines.
On Aug. 23, this was the idyllic setting for the Long Island Wine Council’s most important annual event, Harvest East End. Sponsored this year by Dan’s Papers, with the Peconic Land Trust and Long Island Farm Bureau’s Promotion & Education Foundation as beneficiaries, the event attracted over 1,000 snappy locavores, hungry to sample the culinary creations of over 30 chefs and purveyors while tippling on over 200 wines from 37 Long Island winemakers. Add the numbers and that’s quite a challenge for anyone who wanted to taste it all.
I saw some people making the rounds with an organized mission: Sample anything fishy first, with white wines, then go around again for meat and reds. But this plan was invariably a lost cause when faced with the temptation of fresh oysters right next to seared beef. So much for having a plan.
My favorite wine impresario, Josh Wesson, returned this year as emcee for the party. Educated at Hampshire College and the University of Rochester’s Graduate School of Community and Preventive Medicine — with a long history as an award-winning sommelier, author and entrepreneur — Wesson’s take on food, wine and the world is original, quirky and funny. Laughter is absolutely the best medicine wherever he goes, though he takes his wine seriously and has helped enlighten many a wine ingénue via the simplified system of wine and food pairings he developed for Best Cellars, his pioneering chain of wine shops. Today, among his other global consulting enterprises, he manages A&P’s entire wine, beer and spirits department.
Harvest East End’s honorees this year were New York Times food columnist Florence Fabricant (known to fans as “FloFab”) and chef/restaurateur Tom Schaudel. Both of them are movers and shakers of the first order in the wine and food world and both have been advocates for Long Island wine from the beginning. In 1982, Schaudel put Long Island wines on the list at his first restaurant, the wildly popular Panama Hattie’s in Huntington, and he has featured them at every one of his subsequent restaurants, from Cool Fish in Syosset to his latest, the Petulant Wino in Aquebogue. Schaudel has worked in 30 restaurants and fed over 2 million people, so he knows his food and wine (and plays a mean electric guitar, too).
Florence Fabricant’s association with Long Island wine goes back even farther. For a Smith College Club tour of (my own) Hargrave Vineyard in 1977, just weeks after our first wines were released, she wrote a wine and food pairing guide for Long Island pinot noir, cabernet and sauvignon blanc. I still love her recipe for chicken “a l’Indienne,” made with apples, fresh ginger, curry and lemon, paired with sauvignon.
I was happy to see that Long Island Farm Bureau’s longtime executive director, Joe Gergela, was also honored. Joe, more than anyone, has worked tirelessly on behalf of active farmers here. He understands what it takes to keep a farm economy going, with a depth of sensitivity to our fragile environment and a willingness to effect compromise that, in today’s political scene, is dearly needed. Joe’s looming retirement in December will leave a void difficult, if not impossible, to fill.
The sipping and sniffing partygoers paused briefly to welcome Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who swooped in to pay homage to New York’s growers and vintners. Like Gergela, Cuomo has provided uncommon leadership toward the sustainability of our farming community. To cheers from the crowd, he announced his ongoing support and backed it up with funding for a new initiative to bring tourists to New York’s growing wine regions. Cuomo is excited about the synergy of our farmers with a newly receptive number of visitors who appreciate the quality “grown in New York” and also enjoy visiting our farms.
To all who attended, Harvest East End was a rousing success. At the end of the evening, as the sun set over McCall’s vines and guests lingered for one last taste, McCall’s white cattle slumbered peacefully in a green pasture by the silently ripening vines.
Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.