The Long Island Wine Council began in 1973 with just a few agricultural pioneers — Dave Mudd — with a vision that the North Fork's vegetable farms could someday be transformed into one of the top destinations for wine production and tourism in the world.
And 40 years later, with reviews from the likes of Trip Advisor and Wine Enthusiast rating the North Fork right up there with Sonoma County and Napa Valley — and Bedell Cellars merlot being chosen as a wine on the presidential inaugural luncheon menu — that vision is a reality and that council is still around, continuing to plan ways to make Long Island Wine Country an even better place.
To celebrate four decades of existence and its now over 40 wineries on the roster, the Long Island Wine Council hosted a low-key tasting party Thursday night at Raphael Vineyards in Peconic, where a Who's Who of North Fork vintners and others in the food and tourism industry showed up to mingle. David Page and Barbara Shinn of Shinn Estate Vineyards, Russ McCall of McCall Farms, Jim Waters of Mark Anderson of Lieb Cellars, and Long Island Wine Council Executive Director Steve Bate were among the faces in the crowd.
Melissa Martin, a former manager at Raphael who now does publicity for the council, said that this is one of many events planned to celebrate 40 years.
"This is basically the thank-you reception," she said. "There's a lot more to happen with Jazz on the Vine coming up."
Ron Goerler Jr., the owner of Jamesport Vineyards and president of the Long Island Wine Council, thanked the crowd.
"When I came out here with my father and mother in 1980, I never thought I would be in this position as president of the Long Island Wine Council," he said. "But it's a great honor to serve the communities of Southold and Riverhead Townships. My board members have really made me a better person from all the encouragement and dedication they have given. Many people have thanked me for all the things we've done over the years, but I want to thank you guys — you guys are the ones who made this happen."
Kelly Bruer, a manager at Clovis Point Vineyard in Jamesport and a native of the North Fork, said he worked as a kid planting some of the first grapevines in the area in the early '80s and said that the world-wide recognition Long Island Wine Country is receiving today is "stunning."
"There were no migrant workers back then, I worked with a couple other local kids and some old ladies," he said. "And I remember people questioning if wine would work out here. And to witness this place become the bona fide industry it is now is stunning. It took vision, a lot of vision."