The folksy but original story of bringing into existence Long Island’s first fine winery.
In the heady days of the early 1970s, Hargrave and her husband Alex—after some serious research, though still with a sense of the utopian in the air—bought a potato farm in Cutchogue, on the North Fork, and planted pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and sauvignon blanc. What follows is the pleasingly unvarnished tale of the operation, from its fixer-upper days to its wines’ successes at international fairs. While there’s no shortage of strange happenings—an employee turns out to be victim of a slave racket; others are nearly hit by a train that intermittently runs through the farm—what gives this tale its passion is precisely its quotidian character, along with Hargrave’s attentiveness to the unfolding of the vineyard, explaining how she became very much a part of the place: “I would stand in the vineyard after work, closely examining the vines’ leaves . . . stroking the vines’ tendrils. They would curl around my finger, responding to my touch.” For every absurd encounter with the BATF, the DEC, or kindred bureaucratic institutions, there’s a night under the harvest moon when she and her husband climb naked into a tank of must to stomp the grapes; for every piece of lousy professional advice—a Cornell professor tries to subvert the entire operation to fulfill his prophecy that it would be a failure—there’s a neighbor willing to offer a hand. The tone is subdued throughout, prideful yet without glee, for as the vineyard gelled, Hargrave and her husband drifted apart. The sting of that, after all the work, is clear.
The story catches the pioneer feel of the venture: plain, fraught, moments when Hargrave thinks she’s the luckiest person in the world, and then the opposing winds—personal, meteorological, economic—that buffet all settlers to new country.