If you feed them, they will come. And dig. And plant. And weed. And harvest. And passing around some sangria made from the vines right over your shoulder doesn’t hurt, either.
Christine Tobin, owner, with her husband Mark, of Mattebella Vineyards in Southold, understands hospitality and building a loyal client base. But her shared organic garden isn’t a gimmick to increase business. “Chris Tobin is vital and to spend time around her is nourishing. That’s why I came,” says Kevin Cahill, a wine club member, ardent farmer, and artist who runs a boat for the Peconic Bay Scallop Project. “The human side of her is as open as you can get. I don’t drink [but] when I go there, the sort of people I meet are the most diverse, likeable and interesting people…”
Because she draws them to her with her welcoming spirit and generosity, Tobin’s friends and club members are willing to do the dirty work. Down on their knees on a beautiful weekend day, they toiled preparing beds and planting arugula, tomatoes, beets and over 100 brussels sprouts seedlings she started at her home in Westhampton.
Sharon Goetchius, a retired Special Education teacher for Western Suffolk BOCES was in the garden most of the morning, hand-patting the soil into long, smooth hills awaiting lettuce seeds. “I had pizza at Grana [in Jamesport] and this wonderful wine from Mattebella. I asked the waitress where the winery was, and she said ‘you need to go.’ So we went right from there,” says Goetchius. “I love the wine and fell in love with [Christine]…I loved the whole atmosphere.”
The garden started three years ago as three plots designed to bring in beneficial insects for the grape vines. “I did it myself with some kids and friends from Florida,” where the Tobins used to live full-time. “Unbeknownst to me,” says Tobin, “my friend had dropped a whole box of seeds throughout the garden and all summer my garden was covered in pumpkins. I was handing them out at the vineyard.”
When local people would come in for a bottle of wine, Tobin sent them home with some of the produce from the garden. “I asked what they were having for dinner,” she says, “then gave them a little basil, some arugula for the salad.” During last year’s harvest event, club members picked grapes with the staff and then enjoyed a collective lunch. “Everyone loved it, so I did a series of impromptu harvests. People came. I was really surprised.”
But Kahill knows how the Tobins do it. “They are enthusiastic and interested and listen intently. It’s a funny thing. I am reminded of Huckleberry Finn, when Tom Sawyer starts painting the fence. ‘This is so great, everyone wants to join in.’ And she feeds you!” he says.
And her food is delicious. Don’t miss her homemade fig jam, which she pairs with local cheeses for tastings of their wine, as well as her brownies. She also makes a mean corn bread.
This year, Tobin sent out an email about the spring planting and had an overwhelming response. “People loved the idea,” she says. “[They] want to dive in and be involved. And they all come away with an appreciation of how hard farming is, and develop a connection to the place.”
“I live and breath gardening,” says Goetchius. “And I thought that doing a community project like this would be so much fun… Everybody gets that good feeling and the wine is good!” Goetchius and her husband are particularly fond of Mattebella’s Famiglia, 2008 Chadonnay. “Most evenings, at 5 p.m., I like to sit by my pool with my husband. We are having cheese and probably sliced peaches and that wine. That to me, is the epitome of the summer!”
Mattebella offers 30 minute walking tours and an opportunity to see the new garden on Saturdays at 11 a.m. Visitors will learn about the different grapes, tasting how the flavors vary between the different clones of their six varieties of chardonnay. The vineyard tour with a flight is $17 and includes six full tastings. Enjoy. See you at the harvest.