It’s August. Take a moment to banish those images of pop-up stores, traffic jams and Kardashian sightings from your brain, and turn your attention to that glory of glories—the Long Island vineyard. North Fork or South, we’re blessed with many, including Cutchogue’s McCall Vineyard and Ranch, voted 2013 Vineyard of the Year at last August’s New York Food and Wine Classic, the Oscars of the wine world. Later this month, McCall will host the annual Dan’s Harvest End End, an edible and drinkable celebration of Long Island Wine Country, organized by the Long Island Wine Council and Dan’s Papers. The event benefits the Peconic Land Trust and the Long Island Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Foundation.
McCall Vineyard and Ranch may be relatively new, but for owner Russ McCall, its roots reach back not only into local history, but family history as well. The Brooklyn-born McCall remembers spending summers at his great-grandfather’s home, adjacent to Fort Corchaug. The house had been in McCall’s family since the turn of the century. When a developer started eyeing the property along with nearby Fort Corchaug, McCall, who already had a successful wine distributing company in Georgia, decided to take his knowledge and know-how of the wine business to the next level.
In 1996, partnering with the Peconic Land Trust, McCall was able to save over 200 acres from development as condominiums. McCall planted his vineyard with the full awareness that the first vintage wouldn’t be ready to hit the market for at least 10 years. It was 2007 when McCall first produced a merlot from his own vineyard. That was the beginning of the road that brought him to being awarded the title of New York Winery of the Year, producing double-gold winning wines, which means that every one of 22 judges chose a McCall wine in a blind tasting.
McCall is particularly proud of his pinot noir and a Bordeaux-style called Ben’s Blend, named for Ben Sisson, who was McCall’s vineyard manager until his death in 2009. Sisson died in January, while the vines he loved were sleeping under the snow. He was only 49. “He had a heart ailment,” McCall remembers. “The wine was in the barrels, and we had to name it, so we decided on Ben’s Blend.”
Land preservation is not about empty buzz words for McCall. In 2010, wind turbines were installed at McCall, and they produce enough clean energy for the farm. The grapes are treated with new techniques that allow McCall to use fewer pesticides in a manner that doesn’t impact neighboring areas.
McCall also has a herd of Charolais cattle, hence the “Ranch” portion of McCall Vineyard and Ranch. The breed, a French import, is prized for the quality of the meat. McCall’s beef cattle are grass-fed, raised as organically as possible, antibiotic, hormone and steroid free. The meat is sold locally to such restaurants as the North Fork Table and Inn.
What does McCall love about growing grapes on Long Island? “It’s behind my house,” he laughs. Other than the attractive commute to work, McCall cites a huge advantage in the local climate. “Long Island is a cool climate growing area for grapes,” McCall explains. “Burgundy in France has the same climate. You need this for growing pinot.” The downside of the locale? “Humidity and rain,” McCall answers. “It can turn into a real Petri dish in the vineyard.” Grape growers hope for the five to six weeks of dry weather that can produce an extraordinary vintage.
McCall, with its commitment to sustainable agriculture and preservation of Long Island history, is a perfect venue for Dan’s Harvest East End. Since its inception in 2010, Harvest has raised $153,000 for charity. With wine tastings from 40 East End winemakers, and offerings from over 30 local chefs, philanthropy has never been so delectable.
McCall Vineyard & Ranch is located in Cutchogue. For more info, visit mccallwines.com. Tickets to Dan’s Harvest East End, Aug. 23, 7:30 to 10 p.m. (6:30 to 10 p.m. for Vin-IP), can be purchased at HarvestEastEnd.com.