Dr. Charles Smithen, a well-known New York City cardiologist and the cofounder of Sherwood House Vineyards in Mattiuck, died on Jan. 14 while bodysurfing in Palm Beach, Florida, according to an obituary published by The New York Times.
He was 72.
Smithen was one of the founding partners of The New York Cardiology Associates in 1995 and is credited with developing the first Echocardiography department at New York Hospital, his obituary states.
The Canadian-born Dr. Smithen and his wife Barbara claimed a stake in the Long Island Wine Industry in the mid-1990s, though they did not move here full-time until several years later. They made their mark through their commitment to the greater wine community and to making exceptional wines, those who knew Dr. Smithen said.
“He was a very passionate member of our industry who certainly contributed a lot to the region,” said Long Island Wine Council executive director Steve Bate. “He and Barabara, they were very creative in marketing and their two tasting locations were two of the most popular spots in the region.”
After selling their Manhattan apartment in 1996, Dr. Smithen and his wife Barbara purchased their Mattituck home, an 1860 farmhouse surrounded by 38 acres of former corn and potato fields — land also well-suited, it turned out, for growing grapes.
The couple called the vineyard “Sherwood House,” using Dr. Smithen’s middle name.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to buy any more cement. I don’t want to be in the stock market. I want to buy land,’” Ms. Smithen told us in 2011.
The couple, with the help of vineyard consultant Steve Mudd, first planted five acres of chardonnay vines from Burgundian clones, on the Mattituck homestead vineyard. Over the years they expanded the operation to about 28 acres of chardonnay, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot.
“I went into New York City and I met him in the office. We just hit it off from the start,” said Mudd, who ran vineyard operations for Sherwood House for more than a decade. “He was extremely focused on trying to make the best wine he possibly could. He was a real professional, business-driven individual.”
The Smithens opened their Oregon Road tasting room, one of the smallest on the North Fork, in 2005. They opened a second tasting room in Jamesport in 2010.
The Smithens partnered with winemaker Gilles Martin who has made their French-style wines at Premium Wine Group in Mattituck since its inception.
“When we first met after he planted his vineyard, he said, ‘I know you’re a French man. I want to make a wine that is French in style,’” Martin recalled. “I said, ‘although we are not in Burgundy, I would love to make this wine for you. That’s how we started. The wines are very French-like. They’re not Burgundy, of course, but they have that quality of excellence.”
Martin added that Dr. Smithen’s presence will be missed in the North Fork wine community.
“It is a deeply regretted loss,” Martin said.
Sherwood House wines have received numerous accolades over the years.
Most recently the winery’s XO Brandy won “best spirit” at the New York State Fair and its 2010 chardonnay won “best local wine” from Cork N Jug Wine and Liquors in Hampton Bays in their 2013 “Corky Awards” competition. The wines have also won several medals at the 2013 NY Wine & Food Classic. Sherwood House was also named North Fork Winery of the Year in 2012 at the New York International Wine Competition.
Long Island Wine Country pioneer Louisa Hargrave, who planted the region’s first grapes in 1973, spoke highly of the Smithens.
“They put their heart and soul into their wine and their wines were always and still are terrific wines,” she said. “Their standards are high in every way.”
She also noted that as a cardiologist, Dr. Smithen would speak of the health benefits of red wine. In a YouTube video posted by user North Fork Wine Club, he touts the heart healthy qualities of pinot noir and merlot.
“Red wine has more of a substance known as resveratrol,” he said. “Resveratrol is a dramatic antioxidant. What an antioxidant does is destroy those free radicals.”
In addition to his beloved wife, Barbara, Charles leaves behind his two children from his first marriage, Kevin (Montclair, NJ) and Lindsay (Washington, DC), their spouses, Corinne and Jeremy (Kirsch), and five granddaughters, Chloe, Felicia and Scarlett (Smithen) and Talia and Taylor (Kirsch).
A private ceremony will be held Friday in Palm Beach. Shiva will take place Sunday (12 to 8 p.m.) and Monday (2 to 8 p.m.) at 310 Upper Mountain Ave., Montclair, NJ 07043.