By Alex Petroski
The frigid temperatures and daunting weather last weekend aside, spring is right around the corner. It’s never too early to start thinking about fun weekend activities for the warm weather. I could think of none better to act as a guide to the vineyards of the North Fork than the woman who is widely considered the “Mother of the Long Island wine industry.”
Louisa Hargrave and her then-husband Alex Hargrave were pioneers of the Long Island wine scene back in the early 1970s. The couple drove cross-country to Napa Valley to learn more about the art of growing grapes in 1972, Louisa Hargrave said in a phone interview this week. Though they knew nothing about wine, the couple was eager to learn and to find an ideal place to grow grapes that would produce delicious, French-style wines.
“If you’re pioneers, you’ll be the ones with arrows in your backs,” Hargrave said was a piece of advice she was given before she began her wine growing endeavor on Long Island. “We’re 24 and 25 years old. If this doesn’t work we’ll try something else. We were very excited to find this special place,” she said.
Long Island’s climate was especially conducive to growing nicely ripened fruit, the Hargraves would soon find out once they got to work.
“[The wines] had a particularly vivacious quality. The reds came out a little bit lighter then we had hoped, but they had such complexity,” Hargrave said. Things have only gotten better with improvements to technology and technique. Teamwork has also played an important role in the development of the region as a whole, Hargrave said.
“One of the things I see that’s so terrific now is there were separate capsules of people then; now it’s a real industry,” Hargrave said. “The people that work at the wineries now work together. I think it’s something that does evolve as a region goes along. I have seen it in California. There are some people that are so dogmatically noninterventionists that look at the grapes and hope they turn into wine.”
Those noninterventionists with that frame of mind are luckily few and far between on Long Island, according to Hargrave.
When asked what her favorite wineries to visit from her current residence in Jamesport are, Hargrave answered quickly and definitively — Pellegrini Vineyards in Cutchogue. Her answer comes with a bit of bias however, being that her son Zander Hargrave is currently their winemaker.
“I visit my son’s winery quite often,” she said with a laugh.
McCall Wines in Cutchogue was another of her favorites that she mentioned. McCall is the true essence of the North Fork (winemakers Russ and Brewster McCall),” Hargrave said. “To go there, it’s just so low key. It’s really just the essence of the North Fork.”
For her favorite wine picks, other than Zander’s Pellegrini Sauvignon Blanc, Hargrave mentioned Lenz Cuvée, a sparkling white from the Lenz Winery in Peconic made by winemaker Eric Fry, which she said was on par with French Champagnes. As far as reds go, Paumanok’s Petit Verdot from winemaker Kareem Massoud stood out to her.
For the last leg of winter, bundle up, grab some Long Island wines and fantasize about warmer days ahead on the North Fork. Also, keep an eye out for the “Get to know a Long Island winery” series once a month in Arts & Lifestyles.