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Winemaker Russell McCall Opens Up about the Harvest East End and All Things Vino

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On August 24, 2013, the McCall Vineyard and Ranch in Cutchogue will host the Harvest East End, an event which celebrates 42 wineries and 34 restaurants from the North and South Fork. Tickets are currently on sale for $150 for the Festival Tasting and $250 for the Vin-IP Experience. In anticipation of the event, we sat down winemaker Russell McCall to talk all things vino?

Congratulations on being selected to host this season's Harvest East End. How did you select the wines that you will be pouring at the event?
Well, we have a variety of wine, and we're not pouring the oldest or the youngest. This is for a large crowd, so we don't have time to stop and think about the beautiful glass and the bouquet of the wine. We're pouring wines that are kind of in the middle. We think they are approachable and easily drinkable.

With pinot noir, you've been a pioneer on the Long Island wine scene. What made you so brave?
[Laughs] Other people have pinot noir, but they just have an acre or two. And you're right, it was a leap of faith when we planted 11 acres out here, and no one had ever done it. I've been in the wine business for 45 years, and I always loved burgundy. And later in my career, I loved going to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, where the reds are all 100% pinot noir. Here on Long Island, we have a cool climate, which is very similar to the Oregon Coast.

So you felt inspired?
Yes, I thought to myself, why hasn't anybody else done this? So I sent a vineyard manager out to Oregon to visit the top ten wineries out there. And we decided that it was possible to have pinot noir on the East Coast, and we went after it in a big way. That was the first thing we planted in 1997. I waited ten years for the vines to mature and for the roots to get deep in the ground. And during the eleventh year, 2007, we made our first wine.

Oh wow. That's a long time to wait.
Luckily, that was a pretty year, and the weather was great. The pinot noir was delicious, and within a couple of years, we sold out. I thought, we're on to something!

We've read that wine directors often describe your wine as "honest;" what do you think they mean by that?
That's so good to hear! They mean the wine is not manipulated, and I'm glad people recognize that.

What makes your product so pure?
When you make wine, you take fruit and you put it in a winery. Then you can manipulate the wine, or you can make a pure product. When people say "honest," it's because it's what the fruit gave you right out of the ground. We don't use additives. Some people buy tannins, sulfur, or acidify the wine. But we don't manipulate our wines. I would rather sell off a batch that I don't like rather than bottle it and sell under my vineyard's name. In fact, in 2011, we made 3,000 gallons of merlot, and I sold it off rather than bottle it. For us, this is really about purity.

Long Island wineries are finally getting respect, especially with the upcoming Harvest East End event. Why do you think it's taken so long for Long Island wines to receive praise?
When something gets started, the great chefs, the great wineries, the great restaurateurs, they all have to start somewhere. And the Long Island wine industry is still very young. It started slowly in the 1970s, so a lot of people don't have a ton of experience. I think now we're seeing the maturation of that process. We help each other out all of the time. We swap ideas, and it's really a team effort.
· Harvest East End [Official site]
Jamie Sharpe