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

Photo: Courtesy Onabay Vineyards

Dan’s Harvest East End, the can’t-miss food and wine classic, will be held on Saturday, August 20, at McCall Vineyard and Ranch in Cutchogue.

Southold’s Onabay Vineyards winemaker John Leo will be there and he wants attendees to know that “Money does not guarantee great wine, nor great vineyard management. We have enough money to do what it takes to make the highest quality wines. I’d like your readers to know how much time, commitment, energy, intelligence, and honesty goes into every bottle of Onabay Vineyards wine. We should make it seem easy, taste delicious and have you looking forward to more. We work hard to reach that goal.”

What fuels your creativity as a winemaker?
I’ve been inspired by tasting great wines from around the world and knowing that the North Fork of Long Island had the potential to produce wines of great character and a distinct style.

What’s unique about the specific terroir of your vineyards?
Onabay Vineyards is on a gentle southern slope, separated from Peconic Bay by woods and a meadow, which protects against salty breezes. The open surroundings directly adjacent to the vineyards allows for excellent airflow. The soil profile is consistent, well drained sandy loam. And very important, we have some of the world’s most sought after clones of cabernet franc, merlot, chardonnay, cab sauvignon, malbec, and syrah.

Which of your wines would you most like to serve to another winemaker?
Any vintage of the Onabay Night Heron Cabernet Franc I would be very happy to serve to any winemaker. I believe the Night Heron Cab Franc is a beautifully pure example of this important North Fork grape.

What’s your local beverage, or cocktail, of choice this season?
I enjoy wine every day with a meal. Variety is important, but as the weather warms, sparkling wine and chardonnay become the preferred wines for the fresh fish and salads we eat. Otherwise, I’m happy to drink seltzer.

How do you feel about using wines in cocktails?
The trend to unusual cocktails is great… and wine-based cocktails seem like a tasty idea.

What’s your favorite pairing of local wine and food?
Cab franc and pan-fried bluefish; Merlot and marinated duck breast; Blanc de blanc sparkling and oysters; Chardonnay and very rare tuna.

What are some of your favorite East End restaurants?
North Fork Table & Inn, Caci North Fork, Vine Street Café, the Bell & Anchor, Baron’s Cove, The American Hotel

Which Long Island wines are most undervalued?
In general, all the Onabay wines are undervalued. The quality to price ratio is very high—especially the Night Heron Cabernet Franc.

What’s the next frontier in Long Island winemaking?
The next frontier for all of us making wine on the East End is always to improve on what we’ve already done, and to do it as sustainably as possible.

What are you most looking forward to at Dan’s Harvest East End?
I always enjoy the camaraderie among winemakers and the enthusiasm of the guests at the Dan’s event. Getting to taste my neighbors’ wines is always a pleasure.

Please complete this sentence: I could survive on a desert island if I just had: Water, bread, wine and octopus (and olive oil)!

Dan’s Harvest East End, the can’t-miss food and wine classic, hosted by Geoffrey Zakarian, is Saturday, August 20, at McCall Vineyard and Ranch in Cutchogue. VIP tickets for Harvest East End are $285 and offer early access beginning at 6:30 p.m. General Admission, from 7:30 p.m.–10 p.m., is $135. Visit DansTaste.com for tickets and info.

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