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Jessy Fusco of Terra Vite Winery & Vineyard (Credit: Lee Meyer)

Despite growing up among the vineyards in Riverhead, Jessy Fusco didn’t have a lifelong plan to become a wine professional.

Instead she studied social work, earning a Masters degree from New York University. But like many North Fork residents, she began working in the tasting room at a local winery while in school, and fell in love with the profession.

“It was kind of a weird route,” she acknowledged. “I had even gotten into a PhD program in California, so it was very different.” 

After graduating from NYU, Fusco made the decision to study wine full-time at American Sommelier in SoHo, where she was hired by American Sommelier founder Andrew Bell to work on the operations team.

“I helped with classes,” she said. “I never taught the classes, but I was there for every class, I set them up, I organized the wines and learned so much through that.” 

Fusco worked as a sommelier and beverage director at the Waldorf Astoria, InterContinental New York Barclay and landed back on the North Fork during the pandemic when her sister and brother-in-law, Jacqui and Greg Goodale, bought the former Diliberto Winery and founded Terra Vite.

Today, Fusco, a certified sommelier, uses her extensive education to teach interested patrons at Terra Vite, offering several different classes.

“It’s not just for the wine geek. It’s geared for people to come in and leave understanding why you like certain wines and don’t like certain wines,” she said. Fusco also teaches regional-specific classes, currently focusing on Italy.

Sommelier training was completely different from anything Fusco had done before.

“I was totally intimidated!” she said. “My head flipped inside out. I couldn’t even imagine.”

But it proved to be a passion.

In this series, we’re sitting down with sommeliers working across the North Fork to pick their brains and hope our readers will absorb some of what they know.

(Credit: Lee Meyer)

What’s the best wine to pair with someone with a sweet tooth?

A wine with residual sugar. An off-dry riesling, a gewürztraminer.

What would you pair with goat cheese from Catapano Dairy Farm?

Okay, so two different things. I would do a Grüner, with nice, high acid, or I would also do a local Sauvignon Blanc.

How about a warm lobster roll?

A chardonnay with New French Oak treatment. It still has a nice crispness to it, but it has a little bit of roundness to go with the butter.

What’s a common misconception about being a sommelier?

That they always have a really developed palate.

How has learning to isolate and identify tastes changed how you taste other things?

It’s taught me to slow down and actually think about it. Instead of just taking a bite and eating it hedonistically and enjoying it. It’s actually stopping and thinking about what I’m tasting.

So say you were eating steak….

Well, I don’t eat steak, actually! But that’s also a good misconception: that all sommeliers eat steak to learn to taste Bordeaux. You just need anything with fat for something with big tannic profiles like a Bordeaux or a California cabernet. There are tons of vegan and pescatarian sommeliers.

What was the most challenging part of your sommelier training?

It was actually my blind tasting at the final conclusion. I would second-guess myself. Instead of going for my first thought I’d freeze and overthink it. Now I’ve learned to trust my intuition. There’s something about the flavor, spice, minerality and presence of oak that will lead me toward a particular region or oak.