Harbes Hallock Lane Merlots

A big historic family is on its way toward making big historic wines.

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A vineyard is like a child. If it’s born into a good family and raised right, it will thrive. And when it’s grown up, all that love and hard work will show in its wines. The five‐acre vineyard at Harbes Family Farm in Mattituck lies on a south‐facing slope by the Long Island Sound, where the vines catch the sun, the soil has good drainage, and a steady breeze dries the morning dew.

Today, we are tasting a vertical flight of the estate‐grown Hallock Lane Merlots, from the first vintage, 2005, to the 2013. The 2013 was just awarded “Best in Class” at this year’s prestigious New York Wine & Food Classic, marking it as exceptional for the nation’s third‐largest state in wine production by volume. The sun is shining, horses graze in their paddock, and the vineyard lies draped on the hill beyond; there’s a ridiculous amount of bucolic beauty here. The wine tasting room is a 100‐year‐old potato barn with wide plank floors and high rafters, newly renovated with a low‐key, tasteful vibe. It’s the work of Ed Harbes IV and his wife, Shannon, part of the third Harbes generation in Mattituck, and the 13th to farm on Long Island.

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Ed was still in school when his father, Ed Harbes III, planted the vineyard, half in merlot and half in chardonnay, with select clones from France. “They are more challenging to grow, but they make excellent wine,” he says, which is a polite way of saying that the vines are finicky brats but get away with it because they can. He recalls being intrigued by the vines while working on the farm. “Growing potatoes is one thing, but growing grapes to make fine wine is something else,” he says. “I remember thinking I would like to be involved with this in the future. And now, here we are.”

The young couple has taken on much of the family’s commercial wine program, and they seem really enthusiastic and definitely up to the challenge—good qualities for farmers. The vineyard was the first to be certified sustainable in the area and is a member of Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, which oversees such certification. Ed talks about sustainable wine growing, including an early composting venture that got a little out of hand but significantly improved the soil. They haven’t used chemical fertilizers for three years; these sustainable practices are now used on other crops, too. “That’s a large part of my role, here,” he says, “researching and implementing practices for the long run.”

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The first wines were the 2005 and 2007 Old Barn Merlots. The Hallock Lane line debuted in 2010. The age differences show, but they’re consistently medium bodied and well balanced. Long Island is known for merlot, and the 2010 definitely hits a high mark.

“Twenty‐ten was a special vintage for us,” Ed says, remembering a growing season that seemed to go on forever. The wine was released in magnums, and the larger‐format bottle makes for slow aging. Right now, there’s dark cherry and stone fruit, with medium tannins, and a surprising weight, too, enough to let you know it expects to be taken seriously. The 2012 Hallock Lane Merlot demonstrates what the now‐mature vines can do, showing good concentration and a nice bit of herbal earthiness. As a young wine from an amazing year for Long Island grapes, the 2013 Hallock Lane already shows why it’s a winner; it’s big, with ripe fruit and firm tannins, and it will only continue to improve in the bottle.

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Consumers usually drink their purchases immediately, so a new line of merlots and whites debuted in 2012, made un‐oaked or with a restrained oak that doesn’t fight young fruit. “It’s a challenge to find the sweet spot” between quality and approachability, Ed says. This is something all producers contend with these days. All the wines are made at Premium Wine Group, a custom‐crush facility in Mattituck, with stylistic input from the Harbes.

The Harbes are a big family—eight siblings in the current crop—and most are involved in the family biz, the largest agritainment/agricultural enterprise on the East End, with three locations of apple and pumpkin picking, hay rides, corn mazes, music and scores of fruit, flower and vegetable products. Their super‐sweet corn, by the way, is legendary. Businesswise, there’s finances, event and activity operations, marketing, staff management and of course lots of actual farming. Ed and Shannon met at Cornell University and soon gave up their fledgling city careers to help run the farm. Shannon laughs when I ask if she knew she was going to be a farmer’s wife; she now runs the retail side of the wine barn. “There are so many aspects that you can always find your niche,” she says. The wine barn is discovered daily by visitors to the farm. “A lot of people come in and say, ‘Oh, wow, I didn’t even know this was here!’” she adds.

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We check out the huge old potato elevator and find notes on the crop yield from a hundred years ago written on the walls—Grandma was good for a few bushels, apparently—and explore the dark dirt cellar. Could be a great little event space? “That can be a project for the kids,” Ed says with a smile. Looking out at that view, and enjoying a last honey‐apricot sip of estate chardonnay ice wine, I am thinking that Ed and the vineyard are fortunate to have grown up on this big farm, surrounded by history, a hardworking and talented family and the bountiful land. It’s an opportunity to create amazing wines and live a meaningful—and very busy—life.

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Gwendolen Groocock is the editor of the Greenport Guide, and writes about food, wine, travel and mommyhood from her home on the North Fork.