McCall Wines: Refined pinots, merlots in a rustic North Fork setting

McCall’s vineyard on the south side of Main Road, Cutchogue. (Photo by Shelley Wax)

There’s a simple, peaceful rusticity at McCall Wines in Cutchogue on Long Island’s North Fork.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the gentle whirring of a wind turbine was the only sound to be heard as Russ McCall stood over a stone barbecue pit grilling burgers for those who’ve come out to help him pick merlot grapes. The ground chuck burgers – sold raw in McCall’s tasting room at $7 each – are made from the organic grass-fed Charolais cattle that he raises on his 108-acre farm, called the Corchaug Estate. (He sells most of his beef, butchered in Jamaica, Queens, to the North Fork Table & Inn.)

Inside McCall’s tasting room, a former potato barn and stable.

Russ McCall flips burgers outside his tasting room (Photo by Shelley Wax)

No tour busses crowd the parking area, which is entered through a dirt drive, and there’s no rush of tourists fighting for space at the tasting bar, housed in an old potato barn that once was used as a horse stable. This is the North Fork at its rural best. It’s a delightful tasting room experience, the kind I‘m sure McCall had his mind set up given his belief that wineries shouldn’t be bars or restaurants.

Sad to say, I’d never before stopped at McCall since it opened in June 2010. I’m glad that I did so recently.

Rural simplicity aside, the wines poured for visitors – and, of course, for sale, are refined, French inspired sipping pleasures.

For $16 you can get pours of four of McCall’s reds: two pinot noirs, a merlot and a merlot-based Bordeaux-style blend. There’s also a pinot noir-based rose and a sauvignon blanc to sample. Alas, I did not.

McCall, who formerly owned a wine distributorship in Atlanta, has been growing pinot noir and merlot grapes in Cutchogue in 1996, when veteran viticulturist Steve Mudd lent a hand. McCall put his name on a bottle for the first time with the 2007 vintage.

At the southern end of McCall’s 108-acre farm, he’s planted 11 acres of pinot – four French clones brought in from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Pinot noir, a difficult grape to grow anywhere, has had only modest success on the East End.  Among Long Island producers making pinot noir are Castello di Borghese, Duckwalk Vineyards, Jamesport Vineyards and Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards (whose 2009 was named best at the 2012 New York Wine and Food Classic). Anthony Nappa Wines produces Anomoly, a pinot noir rose with grapes from the North Fork and the Finger Lakes.

McCall’s wine line up. (Photo by Shelley Wax)

Picnicking in the vineyard at McCall. (Photo by Shelley Wax)

Inside the tasting room l I started off with the silky 2010 Pinot Noir ($30), which exuded cherry and berry notes. Who knew pinot noir this good could be made on Long Island? But then I tasted the richly perfumed, dark-hued 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir ($60), McCall’s first bottled vintage. It’s an elegant wine with incredibly soft tannins and notes of berries and bramble and hints of earth and oak.

Bob Cabral, winemaker at California’s well-known pinot noir producer Williams Selyem, made both McCall pinot noirs at the Millbrook Winery in the Hudson Valley.  John and Kathe Dyson own both Millbrook and Williams Selyem.

McCall’s merlot grapes are planted on the northern 10 acres of his  farm and are vinified at the nearby Premium Wine Group by French-born and trained Gilles Martin, who’s been making wine on Long Island since 1996 and who also is the winemaker for Sparkling Pointe, Sherwood House Vineyards and Bouké. Martin will be pouring McCall’s wines in New York City on  Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. as part of a Merliance tasting at Artisanal, the cheese bistro.

The very likeable 2008 Merlot ($18) is ruby red, medium-bodied with berries on the nose followed by plums and oak dust on the palate. But the intense 2007 Ben’s Blend outshines the merlot. Named for McCall’s late vineyard manager Ben Sisson (who died three years ago at 49), it’s a wine from a beautiful vintage. Predominantly merlot, its assemblage includes petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc.  The tannins are gentle and notes of smoke, cherry, plum and berries are evident. It’s a fine quaff now, but it should also age nicely.

The McCall Wines tasting room, 22600 Main Road (Route 25), Cutchogue, (631) 734-5764, is open from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, until late November. If you’re heading out to the North Fork it’s a must stop.

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