On a pristine afternoon, passing the farm stands that line Rt. 25, bursting with colorful bushel baskets of the season’s harvest, it is hard not to appreciate the nourishing gifts of the North Fork. The only thing better is to savor the goodness of the day with a glass of local wine and good company at the very first winery on Long Island, Castello Di Borghese, located in Cutchogue.
Yes—that Borghese. Owner Marco Borghese is an Italian prince who was born in Florence and raised in Rome. His aunt founded the Borghese makeup line and relatives own the Borghese Gallery. But it was only after he and his wife, Ann Marie, who was born in Philadelphia, came to Long Island in 1998 for a tasting at the winery owned by Louisa and Alex Hargrave, that the couple’s attention turned to wine-making. Marco was in the import-export business, but he and his wife enjoyed the experience so much that when the vineyard was put up for sale the following year, they bought it. He is now a full-time hands-on owner and he and Ann Marie and their children have made the North Fork their home.
The vineyard is steeped in history—as much as a 40-year old industry can be. It began with the Hargraves in 1973 when the idea of growing grapes on Long Island for wine was foreign to potato farmers in the region. But Alex Hargrave wanted to give it a try, so he consulted a local farmer named Wickham who told him he thought grapes would do nicely in this maritime climate, which was on the same latitude as Bordeaux. He bought himself some quality stock, and set the roots for a thriving culture that visitors from all over the country enjoy.
Fellow tourists Rochelle and Robert Goodman, of Clinton, NJ, had business in Westhampton but decided to extend their trip and include some tastings. “We had never thought about Long Island wines before. They are surprisingly good.” Rochelle, an educated wine consumer, says she had heard that Borghese was “known for the pinot noirs….I went to the New York Times, and this particular vineyard was cited….We decided if we were going to go to a vineyard—we should go to a good one.”
The tasting room is rich in ambience, with a thick wood bar and big wooden barrels serving as display cases for local chips and cheeses. A baby grand piano sits off to one side. Mary Twomey has served as tasting room staff since 2000. A former teacher, she took the job as a part time gig because it seemed interesting. She has since taken wine classes to expand her knowledge. “It’s a fun place to work, meeting people, working with the wines.”
Twomey says the winery is particularly proud of their 2010 Reisling, which won a double Gold Medal at the New York State Food and Wine Classic. Rochelle Goodman tastes it with her eyes closed, then smiles brightly. “This would be perfect with sushi!” she announces to the others gathered at the bar.
“2010 was one of the best years ever out here,” Twomey says. And although 2011 was hurt by a hurricane at the end of the season, this year looks promising. “The buds usually break the first weekend in May, but this year they broke early—in the middle of April. Now the grapes are really full…if the weather holds, we are anticipating a good season.”
Linda and Michael Tedesco are here from Huntington for the day. “We have been coming here a long time. We are Estate Reserve Club members,” he says of the Borghese Wine Club. “This is the oldest—it’s a refined vineyard. I used to make wine with my grandfather when I was younger. He was from Calabria and it reminds me of him. Marco has given us a personal tour. He is open and friendly, and informative.”
Twomey says that the owners are very involved and “have the final say in how the wine is finished up” and Tedesco explains: “They are making wine not just to make wine—it’s a life, it’s an art!”
Castello di Borghese Vineyard & Winery, 17150 County Route 48, Cutchogue Call 631-734-5111 or visit castellodiborghese.com.