It is the first really cold night of the season. The air tingles the nostrils and frost will gild what’s left in local gardens. But all is fragrant and toasty at the Riverhead Project where I am attending the Clovis Point Wine Club Dinner.
At the gracious invitation of co-owners Hal Ginsberg and Mary Bayno, I have the opportunity to experience world-class pairings of wine and food. The long glass fireplace illuminates the bar lounge as members gather before being ushered downstairs to a private vault room recreated with old bank artifacts that harken back to the building’s previous incarnation as a bank branch.
The long table accommodating close to 40 people sparkles with a multitude of goblets awaiting the six wines we will sample. In collaboration with Riverhead Project owner Dennis McDermott and chef Lia Fallon, Ginsberg is presenting a culinary adventure for some of his 700 club members who receive access to new limited-production wines, special tastings, discounts and lectures.
Tonight’s five-course menu features the best of fresh local offerings including Peconic Bay scallops atop a swirl of parsnip purée, paired with Clovis Point’s 2010 Chardonnay, Riverhead Project’s signature Figalicious (one of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth) and the 2007 Red Label Merlot. Their 2011 Cabernet Franc complements a delicate squash gnocci with wild mushrooms.
“We pride ourselves on taking our time releasing wines,” Ginsberg says. “No one had heard about [the Cab Franc] in 2003. We used it as a blending grape. In 2005 we decided to take a chance using it on its own.”
Our next selection is the winery’s 2007 Archeology, a perfect accompaniment to Fallon’s braised short ribs entrée with root vegetable gratin and red wine glace. People drink, eat, exchange business cards. We applaud the very limited special edition Cabernet Sauvignon that is poured along side an apple crisp, tart cherries and hibiscus sweet cream dessert.
“We produced only 20 cases of this wine,” Ginsberg says. “Cabernet Sauvignon is hard to grow on Long Island. It’s the slowest ripening grape and most years we don’t have the right weather for our standards. In 2012 we only made one barrel.” It is a reminder that wine producers are first and foremost farmers.
“This year the fruit was so fantastic,” Ginsberg says, “We are making a port. We never made a dessert wine at Clovis before.”
The crowd is gracious and loquacious as the wine flows and the stories roll. Ginsberg toasts his guests and thanks them for their support. They toast him back with accolades. It’s a wonderful celebration of good wine and good food.
“For me, one of the most nerve-racking things is when you are about to open a bottle you have worked on for years,” he says. “That moment is big and we never know until we taste it.”
But no worries: Donna and Joe Frank of Mt. Sinai, have been coming out to the North Fork for 40 years and say his wine is great.
“We thought the wine was good then,” Donna says, “but it has evolved so much. We belong to eight wine clubs, but Clovis makes you feel very welcome. They make you feel at home.”
“Hal is hands-on,” Joe adds. “He’s cleaning the tables, serving wine…We come every other week. This is where we come to hang.”
Charles and Theresa Witek are here from West Babylon and have been to every winery on the East End but “getting to know Hal and the staff has been wonderful. They greet you by name and talk about the wine.”
They were club members from the beginning and bought their first case on their first visit. “A cabernet,” says Charles fondly. “Clovis Point is very well made wine… Hal has actually told us that they would rather sell the grapes rather than make bad wine. The quality is very consistent.”
Ginsberg would like to expand the wine club. “I love to having people come into the tasting room who really appreciate the wine. I want it to be the kind of place where I want to spend time.”
The tasting room is open every afternoon. Check the website for specific times and special events.