When Louisa and Alex Hargrave purchased 66 acres of land in Cutchogue to launch Hargrave Vineyards in 1973, they did not know that they were the pioneers of what would become a robust and thriving wine industry on the North Fork. Now, nearly 50 years later, there are dozens of wineries in the area and winemaking has become a linchpin of the local economy.
The continued growth of the local winemaking industry can be attributed to many factors, but several of the most successful wineries in the area share one crucial factor in common: family.
Generational winemaking is the cornerstone that many of these thriving businesses are built upon, and the tradition of passing down the love of winemaking and passion for building and sustaining their businesses and brands is what drives the owners and operators of several of these wineries. Not all of their stories are the same, and not all of them immediately followed in the footsteps of their parents. Some second-generation winemakers, like Zander Hargrave, have brought the skills, passion and work ethic passed down to them from their parents to other vineyards in the area, while others, like Maria Rivero Gonzalez of RGNY, have expanded a family business that began thousands of miles away, bringing it to the North Fork. What the second-generation members of winemaking families profiled in a series launching this month on northforker.com share in common is the desire to keep their families’ stories alive, maintain legacies that were built from the ground up — quite literally — on a pure passion for wine and winemaking, and to combine all the technical skills and other intangibles they learned from their parents to keep producing great wine for many years to come.
Over the next two months, we’ll be sharing some of the stories of second generation wine producers from across the North Fork.
Zander Hargrave and Giovanni Borghese
It’s impossible to talk about influential winemaking families on the North Fork without mentioning both the Hargrave and Borghese clans. The families are tied together by the Cutchogue vineyard that started the flourishing wine culture on the North Fork. In 1998, Hargrave’s parents sold the region’s first vineyard to Marco and Ann Marie Borghese, who created Castello di Borghese, run today by their son, Giovanni.
The Hargraves have been out of the wine industry since the sale, but their son is carrying on the tradition as the winemaker at Pellegrini Vineyards, a post he’s held since 2014.
We live in a magical place, and I think our wines pair beautifully with the local bounty.Gio Borghese
Hargrave and Borghese have more in common than the vineyard they’re intimately familiar with. Both of them took meandering paths to a career in the wine business. Hargrave grew up immersed in the winemaking culture, from birth, quite literally — he was born on the side of the road, less than a mile from the vineyard, when his mother was on the way to the hospital but didn’t make it in time. For much of his young life, he did not stray from there.
“I grew up in the family business, doing every job I could do,” he said. “I was on the bottling line at probably six years old. It’s in my blood; it’s what we did.”
Hargrave was a 22-year-old college student when his parents sold the vineyard and wasn’t sure he was going to remain in the industry, bouncing around in different careers for several years. He worked at several nearby farms, including Satur Farms, and even started his own business selling crepes before getting a graduate degree and working as a substitute teacher. Before long, the occupation pulled him back in. His uncle Charlie Hargrave asked him to come work at Peconic Bay Vineyard in 2008, getting him back into the business. After five years there, an opportunity to work as a winemaker at Pellegrini developed, and he’s been there ever since.
“It’s been one of the great honors of my life to work here,” he said.
Hargrave said his parents never overtly groomed him to become a winemaker. Rather, they led by example, and he absorbed the skills required to not only be a great winemaker, but someone with a strong work ethic.
“The two of them were working all the time,” he said. “They had conviction. They believed they could make great wine and they did. They were always trying to get better and learn.”
Louisa still lives in the area, while the elder Mr. Hargrave now resides in Connecticut, but Mr. Hargrave said they are proud of what he has accomplished at Pellegrini.
“They have a lot of respect for this winery in particular, and the continuation of what their dream was and what they started,” he said. “They weren’t alone; there were so many people who have contributed. We live in a magical place, and I think our wines pair beautifully with the local bounty. I’ve traveled the world and when I come home, it’s always special. I love to be part of something that celebrates this place, and my parents gave me that gift. They showed me that with hard work and enthusiasm, you can make something happen if you care about what you’re doing.”
The Borghese family brought a similar level of care and passion for winemaking when they purchased the vineyard from the Hargraves, and Gio, as he is known, has carried on a tradition started by his parents. The 34-year-old was thrust into the spotlight earlier than he expected after the deaths of his parents, just 10 days apart, in the summer of 2014.
It was not a given that Giovanni or his siblings — older brother, Fernando, and younger sister, Allegra — would take over the family business. In fact, Borghese said his parents encouraged him and his siblings to branch out and see the world, and explore other possible career paths, which he did, with gusto, traveling extensively and even sailing across the Atlantic. He had a career in the financial industry in Manhattan, before ultimately making his way back home to work at the vineyard.
When his parents died, Borghese still wasn’t totally sure that taking over the vineyard was the right path for him, but he put his nose to the grindstone and got to work, promising himself he’d make the most of it and give it a go instead of immediately cashing out and selling the vineyard. It wasn’t easy — plenty of people advised him to do the opposite, he said, and trying to run a vineyard while dealing with the grief of losing his parents was a lot to handle. But five years later, Mr. Borghese said he’s glad he stuck it out, as his love and passion for the vineyard, the industry and the loyal base of employees that helped see him through that difficult time has only grown.
“There’s a saying you hear a lot in this industry; ‘Is the juice worth the squeeze,’ ” he said. “I didn’t know if it would be right away, but I also had the foresight to know you don’t just move on from something that your parents put so much into.”
Borghese has grown into his role over the years, as both his brother and sister have embraced different careers. As he’s grown into the role, he says he’s gained a greater appreciation for what his parents taught him, and about why being part of a second generation of a winemaking family is special and important to the continued growth of the industry on the North Fork.
“It’s important because the North Fork wine region is still relatively young,” he said. “As some of these houses are in the second generation and approaching the third or even fourth generation, that’s what’s going to help spread the story of the North Fork wine region. Another saying is that you want wine to appeal to all the senses. You can taste it, see it, smell it, hold it, but you can’t hear it, so you have to talk about it. It requires storytelling. There’s a lot to talk about in the field and in the cellar, and the experience of enjoying the wine, but filling in the void of the family story behind the label is most exciting once you get to the second and third generation and beyond.
“The North Fork is super young compared to other regions around the world, but we’re on the verge of something special,” he added. “So it’s about the continuation of that legacy.”
‘The Next Generation’ will continue with a new profile each Tuesday in July and August at northforker.com.