Long Island’s wine industry had its biggest ever blast.
Harvest East End, the industry’s annual celebration of itself, a charity tasting festival for consumers, took place Aug. 24 under a billowy, soft-purple-lit tent 4 at McCall Vineyard and Ranch in Cutchogue.
Throngs of tasters – 1,300 tickets were sold – reveled in the enormous tent as they had at the past three events, sipping from among the hundreds of wines available from 42 local producers and nibbling on the edibles provided by 32 mostly local food purveyors. High-energy music pounded from the loudspeakers.
This year’s Harvest East End was markedly different than those in past years.
It marked the 40th anniversary of the planting of Long Island’s first modern day commercial vineyard with the organizers honoring Louisa Hargrave, who with former husband, Alec Hargrave, established Hargrave Vineyards in Cutchogue (known today at Castello di Borghese Vineyard). Photos from the industry’s early days decorated a fence surrounding a seating area in the center of the tent/
Also honored was restaurateur John Ross, who in 1973 established Ross’ North Fork restaurant in Southold, which soon became an early booster of local wines and locally grown food – long before today’s farm-to-table movement was a popular notion.
Significantly, for the first time, Harvest East End was held on the North Fork, where most of the region’s wineries are located. In past year, the fest was held in the Hamptons.
The festival also brought Gov. Andrew Cuomo, an advocate of New York’s wine producers since taking office. Cuomo presented the New York State Wine and Grape Foundation’s “Winery of the Year” award to Russell McCall, owner of McCall Wines. The award was announced earlier this month.
McCall Wines, the governor told the crowd, was an example of the “many world-class wineries that have become a mainstay of Long Island’s fast-growing wine industry.”
Cuomo called the North Fork wine region “one of New York’s hidden treasures” and he credited East End legislators, Sen. Ken LaValle and Assemb. Fred Thiele, with helping to “develop industries we believe we can nurture. The wine industries are those industries in New York.”
“We have invested in it and promoted it,” the governor said. “The industry is taking off like a rocket.”
A 30-second TV commercial promoting New York’s wine industry premiered at the event. The spot is expected to run this fall throughout the region.
“Put tourism together with the wine industry, and they can grow an entire region,” Cuomo said. “And that’s what you’re seeing here on the North Fork of Long Island.”
“Our wines have gained stature and quality and are now highly rated in top publications,” said Ron Goerler Jr., president of the Long Island Wine Council. “Similarly, with the bounty of our local farms and waters, the East End of Long Island has attracted world class culinary [experts].”
Indeed, with so many wines available in one place to taste it was impossible to sample them all, let alone take notes. Vibrant whites from the 2012 vintage and just-released and unreleased 2010 reds dominated the offerings.
Among the whites, I was taken by the refreshing, grapefruit juicy Sauvignon Blanc from the region’s newest winery, Kontokosta Winery, in Greenport and an elegant 2012 Chardonnay from Coffee Pot Cellars.
A 2010 Malbec from Peconic Bay Winery stood out among the reds for its elegant French-like soft style.
Nevertheless, for me some of the best wines at the event were to be found in the VIP library wines tasting table, which demonstrated once again for me the age worthiness of the region’s reds.
Tops among them was Jamesport Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2002, a Chinon-like rendition, which at 11 years of age was remarkably fresh with a crisp, red cherry and earthy character and lively acidity.
To be sure other wines also shined. Pellegrini Vineyards Reserve 2005 was a lush, dense red blend from a terrific vintage, still with lively fruit notes at 8 years of age (the 2007 currently is available at the winery for $70). Old Field Vineyard’s Commodore Perry Merlot 2007 (just released at $40) was chewy and redolent of mushroom and earthy notes. Shinn Estate Vineyard’s intense Nine Barrel Reserve Merlot ($43) offered soft tannins and notes of black pepper.
Edibles included the usual array of chowders, gazpachos and ceviche found at past events (understandable when you’re feeding 1,300 people).
But some chefs went a step further. There were the generously stuffed meatloaf sliders from Jeannie Morris of Bonnie Jean’s Casual American Eatery, smoked meat and fruit salsa tapas from Kevin Judge of Maple Tree BBQ; piquant meatball shooters from David Plath of Grana Trattoria Antica bites of spicy marinated McCall Ranch beef and bites of spicy marinated McCall Ranch beef from Gerard Hayden of The North Fork Table and Inn. Meanwhile, Erich Lomondo of Kitchen A Bistro turned to pig for his offering—a crisp fried Tete d’Cochon.
The most inventive dish of the event had to be the rich, sweet, custardy duck egg crème brûlée from Paolo Fontana of Mirabelle served in the shell.