Harvest Celebrations

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An extraordinarily dry September and October brought the East End’s wine grape harvest to an early close, with all but cabernet sauvignon and a few lagging varieties harvested by mid-October, almost three weeks sooner than usual.

There was a flurry of picking, with calls from vineyard to vineyard for extra harvest crew. Many a late night was spent monitoring presses that had to run without the usual hiatus between varieties, but no one complains when the fruit is so finely and fully ripe.

There’s always dark November to catch up on sleep. Besides, when fruit comes off the vine before the leaves are killed by frost, the plants will accumulate more sugar (nature’s anti-freeze) in their hardening canes.

Amid the intensity of harvest, vintners take time out to celebrate the successful culmination of an entire year’s travail. This year, I was delighted to be included in some memorable end-of-season parties that set a joyful tone for Vintage 2013.

At Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, the Massoud family led the way on September 28 with a celebration of their 30th anniversary of growing and making premium wines. In the Massoud’s typically generous fashion, this party was not just about themselves; they also toasted the efforts of other vintners and gave the proceeds of the fest to the Peconic Bay Medical Center. Under a large white tent, we gorged ourselves on oysters, duck, sweet corn, and regional treats, all provided by chefs who have included Paumanok wines in their restaurants from day one. The party was a lively and loving reunion of many who share a dedication to the East End.

I was especially touched by chef Gerry Hayden, whose contribution to our region’s cuisine goes back to the ’80s and continues at the North Fork Table & Inn in Southold. Still involved in the kitchen there (though, afflicted with ALS, no longer cooking on the line alongside his wife, Claudia Fleming, and their talented team), Gerry waxed poetic over his appreciation for his friends—the growers, chefs and vintners who together over the years have created a significant regional cuisine here. One of those friends, chef Tom Schaudel, brought his band, the Hurricanes, to entertain us, and we lifted our glasses with the 2009 Blanc de Blanc, Paumanok Vineyards’ first sparkling wine.

In an equally joyous and generous spirit, owners Molly and Walter Channing of Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton hosted a friends-and-family harvest feast on October 19. With dramatic shafts of sunlight piercing scudding cumulus clouds, multi-generational revelers sprinted, danced, strolled and sashayed around the Channings’ open-air sculpture garden. And on top of that, they held the barbecue to beat all barbecues: brick-lined grills covered with steak, ribs and blood sausage, wafting aromatic smoke around the guests who enjoyed a chance to be gluttons, sparring playfully with swords of corn dripping with butter while gobbling chunks of red meat and herb-coated roasted potatoes. Was it a coincidence that many of us wore clothes with leopard spots or zebra stripes?

The Channing wines themselves are audacious and lusty, some even deliberately primitive.

As winemaker Christopher Tracy says, “We seek deliciousness.”

In doing so, he and his team resort to a range of techniques, both modern and ancient. Because they believe that “there are different foods, occasions, people, seasons and moods that demand different flavors, smells, textures and styles of wine,” each year they make more than 20 different styles—ranging from a demure, fresh tasting Pinot Bianco to a bizarre “orange” skin-fermented “Ramato,” (also made from pinot bianco but using ancient techniques from Friuli), and from a classic Petit Verdot to a wild and crazy multi-year, multi-fermentation merlot-based blend called “Over and Over.”

I especially enjoyed the Channing Daughters’ “2008 Mudd” wine, possibly the only extended barrel-aged red wine made on the East End. In typically time and labor-intensive Channing fashion, this wildly enticing blend of 51-percent merlot, 21-percent syrah, 9-percent petit verdot, 8.5-percent Dornfelder, 4-percent cabernet sauvignon and 6.5-percent blaufränkisch was in barrel for 42 months before being bottled in May, 2012. It’s supple, spicy and compelling.

Channing’s newest wine project incorporates locally-grown, aromatic botanicals in a seasonal series of vermouths. The first to be released, called “VerVine 1,” is a fortified sauvignon blanc wine infused with calendula, fennel, sage, nasturtium, lemon balm, rose, basil, spiked za’tar, and 22 other herbs, plus a touch of honey. It could have inspired me to meditate if I hadn’t been racing around the sculpture garden, celebrating harvest in my zebra-patterned sneakers.

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