The Long Island Wine Council celebrated its 40th anniversary Thursday night at Raphael Vineyards in Peconic. Here’s to a burgeoning industry and to “the little guys” who make Long Island’s wine region a draw for all of us!
Mattebella, one of over 50 local wineries, has quickly become a go-to destination. When the land calls you, there is no choice but to answer. Particularly when it’s your own grapes whispering your name.
“It was 2010. A big harvest with lots of fruit,” says Chris Tobin, owner with her husband Mark, of Mattebella Vineyards, (named for their children Matt and Isabella) in Southold. “As we were getting ready to go back (to our home in Miami) I had a change of heart. I didn’t know how I was going to do this long distance…I realized I needed to be here.” And so she stayed that winter, becoming an on-site, more than full-time, hands-on, grape-picking, jam-making owner, with two kids at home in Westhampton and a husband commuting to his law practice in Florida.
Mark, originally from Miami, and Chris, who grew up in Westhampton, shared a desire for their kids to be raised in a laid-back locale. They bought their Westhampton home 15 years ago and began their New York/Florida life, spending six months in each.
Mark was always interested in food and wine and was excited to learn that his new home in the Hamptons came complete with a burgeoning wine region. They spent weekends visiting different tasting rooms, trying to learn about the industry.
“Everyone was so gracious,” says Chris. “We started to make wine in the basement, then we would bring it over to Lenz for a consultation.” Once they caught the bug, the two started looking for a vineyard of their own. With the help of friend Ron Goerler, Jr., who eventually became their onsite manager, they found the perfect place. Goerler is now the manager of Jamesport Vineyards, his own family’s business, and president of the Long Island Wine Council.
“It’s planted in the French style, with rows six feet apart and vines three feet apart. We have 2,200 vines per acre, where normally its 1,100–1,600,” Chris says. “It’s a great place to make our classic Bordeaux blend.” They have planted 15 of their 22 acres.
In 2005 Goerler suggested to Mark and Chris that they make a wine from their harvest. “That was our first commercial wine. We stared selling it in 2009.” Goerler’s encouragement again in 2007 helped get them to where they are today.
Chris’ passion for the wine is deeply tied to her love of the land. Mattebella is a member of the newly formed Long Island Sustainable Winegrowers (lisustainablewine.org), which now has 13 wineries committed to sustainable farming.
“Its about how we treat our farm,” says Chris. “We try to make use of everything: composting, biodiesel fuel, recycling our bottles, using no herbicides on our property, only organic fertilizer…”
In 2011, they planted a test block of organic sauvignon blanc only to have it decimated by an invasion of Japanese beetles. “But we are not giving up,” she says. They continue to develop Mattebella, adding a patio, deck and fig trees, while also expanding the organic garden. “We don’t want to be a big commercial place. The quaintness of our cottage and the size of our operation allow us to have a real connection with the people who come here.”
Chris personally prepares cheese, jam and brownies for wine pairings. “I never tire of it. When I connect with someone who enjoys our wines, we become fast friends. Our wine club membership built to 240 in one year. We are the vineyard, and our love of our vineyard reflects back to the people who visit.”
But if you’re thinking this little winery is still baby-stepping its way to acclaim, consider that the wines can be found in New York’s Jean Georges restaurant!