Dan’s Harvest East End Spotlight: John Leo, Onabay Vineyards

Onabay wines will be at Dan's Harvest East End 2015
Onabay wines will be at Dan's Harvest East End, Photo: Usere6035d91_515/iStock/Thinkstock

“In five years I expect that East End wines will be spoken of as one of the small regions that has to be tasted,” says John Leo, the winemaker at Onabay Vineyards on the North Fork, on where he thinks East End Wine Country will be in five years. The optimism is warranted, and guests will be able to find out why as they taste their way through 40-plus vineyards at Dan’s Harvest East End, held on August 22. Here, Leo dishes on the local food and wine culture.

What are some wine-tasting tips?
When tasting any wine, focus on what’s in front of you, as if you were listening not only to a song, but to the lyrics of that song…

What are you most looking forward to about participating in Harvest East End this year?
I very much enjoy the camaraderie and interaction with my colleagues in the setting of a festive tasting.

What is the best pairing of food and East End wine?
There are so many great combinations. My favorite is Long Island duck confit with a rich red (merlot-based) blend.

Describe the relationship between East End Wine and the agriculture, aquaculture and overall East End culinary culture.
East End wines joined the agricultural community only recently, so we are honored to be received as a vital part of the local culinary culture.

One East End Wine everyone should try at least once:
Leo Family Red

What was the moment that made you a wine lover?
I became a true wine lover when I studied in Spain in the late 1970s and discovered how naturally wine was part of a meal.

What is the best thing you’ve ever heard anyone say about your wines?
The best thing I’ve heard about my wine is “it’s delicious.” I like simple declarations.

Where do you see East End wines in five years?
In five years I expect that East End wines will be spoken of as one of the small regions that has to be tasted to understand that it’s not only old world or marketed regions that can make satisfying wines.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the East End wine industry?
We are a small region that can’t grow much bigger due to land restriction. So we have to constantly improve quality, show people that we are not only a pretty good region, but a really, seriously good area for growing grapes. Most small regions will not garner attention from the national and international press. We have to show the world that we are small, but dedicated and will not stop at “good.”

What are a few insider tips for touring East End Wine Country?
Think about what you’re tasting, not just what you’re told. Ask questions. And taste lots of wine from all parts of the world…then taste the local wines again and decide for yourself what you like and what your prefer.

Make a toast to East End Wine:
May we humbly strive for excellence and honesty in our wines, and trust our community to recognize that we all live in one of the most tasteful places on earth.

The trio of Dan’s Taste of Summer Events wraps up with Dan’s Harvest East End, the food-and-wine classic, on August 22. Hosted by celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian, the event will showcase more than 40 East End winemakers, the dishes of 30-plus top regional chefs and purveyors. Tickets start at $125 for general admission and $275 for VIP admission. The event will be held at McCall Vineyard and Ranch in Cutchogue. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit DansTasteofSummer.com.

Onabay wines are available throughout the Tri-State area. Call 917-715-0605 or visit onabayvineyards.com.

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