Winery owners both die tragically, 15 years after making a life here

06/30/2014 10:40 PM |
Marco and Ann Marie Borghese purchased their Cutchogue vineyard in 1999. (Credit: Jane Starwood, file)

Marco and Ann Marie Borghese purchased their Cutchogue vineyard in 1999. (Credit: Jane Starwood, file)

The story of how Marco and Ann Marie Borghese discovered the North Fork and quickly purchased Long Island’s first vineyard from its original owners is told often, and it’s worth repeating.

The Borgheses, who were living in Philadelphia at the time, had long been visitors to the East End. But it wasn’t until Thanksgiving 1998, after more than a decade of visiting the region, that they ventured to the North Fork.

They did so not to purchase a winery but rather to taste some wine.

As the legend goes, Marco, an Italian prince who preferred not to be labeled as such, told Ann Marie during the tasting, ‘Let’s buy it.’ She thought he meant a bottle.

He meant the vineyard.

Less than a year later, in October 1999, the Borgheses purchased Hargrave Vineyards in Cutchogue, eventually renaming it Castello di Borghese, a nod to Marco’s noble roots.

In the 15 years since, the Borgheses built strong relationships with their newfound friends in the local wine and agricultural community, while carrying on the tradition of making highly respected wines from grapes produced at the region’s first vineyard.

This week those same friends mourned the loss of both winery owners as Mr. Borghese, 70, was killed in a crash on Route 25A in Wading River Monday, just days after Ms. Borghese, 56, lost her battle with cancer.

The Borgheses are survived by their three children, Allegra, Giovanni and Fernando. Funeral arrangements for Mr. Borghese are being handled by DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Mattituck.

Jamesport Vineyards owner Ron Goerler Jr., who like Mr. Borghese is a past president of the Long Island Wine Council, called Monday a sad day for the local wine community.

“It’s tough news for all of us,” he said in an email.

Long Island Wine Council executive director Steve Bate said in an email that he was “shocked beyond words” by the news of his colleagues’ deaths.

The Wine Council issued a statement about the Borgheses Tuesday.

“They quickly established themselves as vital members of our industry and the community,” the statement reads. “Just four years after moving to the North Fork, Marco was elected president of the Long Island Wine Council. With his European charm and relaxed elegance, he was instrumental in leading the organization through some difficult, transitional times.

“Ann Marie was equally indispensable to the region. Vivacious and intelligent, she actively contributed to industry marketing strategies and activities while tirelessly promoting the family’s wines and the North Fork across the New York metropolitan area.

“The Long Island Wine Council and its members will greatly miss our good friends Ann Marie and Marco, and we join together in sending our deepest condolences to Allegra, Giovanni, Fernando and the entire Borghese family.”

Police investigate the scene of the crash. (Credit: AJ Ryan, Stringer News Service)

Police investigate the scene of the crash. (Credit: AJ Ryan, Stringer News Service)

Mr. Borghese was eastbound in a 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee about 3:30 p.m. Monday when he swerved and struck a westbound 2007 International Harvester delivery truck, Riverhead Town police said. He was transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead where he soon died, police said.

The driver of the truck, owned by Southern Wine and Spirits in Syosset, and his passenger were not injured.

A portion of Route 25A was closed for more than five hours as police investigated the crash, said a witness at the crash scene, where a strong smell of gasoline still filled the air after 9 p.m. Monday.

Riverhead Town police made public the fact that Mr. Borghese had died in the crash through a 10 p.m. press release.
Members of the area’s agricultural and restaurant communities also got to know the Borgheses over the years, and reacted with the same degree of sadness.

“The Borgheses were two of the nicest, classiest people to work and be friends with,” said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau in a statement on behalf of the organization. “The Borgheses committed to the East End of Long Island. They were always involved at industry events and Long Island Wine Council events. They were a shining light in their efforts to further Long Island as a premier wine region.

“Their warmth and cooperative spirit will be missed.”

Greenport restaurateur Noah Schwartz called the Borgheses “amazing people.”

“They accomplished so much since purchasing the winery in 1999, helping create North Fork Wine Country what it is today,” he said. “They were dear members of the North Fork community and will be very missed by all.”

Marco Borghese during a tour of his Cutchogue vineyard in 2012. (Credit: Samantha Brix, file)

Marco Borghese during a tour of his Cutchogue vineyard in 2012. (Credit: Samantha Brix, file)

The Borgheses purchased their vineyard during a period of great transition for the wine region. Between the summers of 1999 and 2000, more than $25 million was spent on real estate transfers of vineyards and wineries, and new winery construction.

During that same 12-month period, the former Peconic Bay Winery, Corey Creek, Laurel Lake Vineyards and Bedell Cellars also sold. Six farms purchased that year became vineyards, including the land that would grow grapes for McCall Wines and Shinn Estate Vineyards.

At the vineyard and winery purchased by the Borgheses, who had married in 1985, Louisa and Alex Hargrave remained as consultants for a couple of years. But Mr. Borghese, a graduate of the University of Rome who previously ran an international import/export business, and his wife, a University of Delaware graduate who had established her own jewelry salon, quickly took on more responsibility.

Ann Marie Borghese (Credit: Long Island Wine Press, file)

Ann Marie Borghese (Credit: Long Island Wine Press, file)

Mr. Borghese served as vineyard manager and winemaker. Ms. Borghese assisted in the winemaking, marketing and advertising of the family business, which recently expanded with a second tasting room in Aquebogue, while also organizing the food, wine, art, music and fundraising events for which the winery became known. She was known as a great friend of the arts and also animals, hosting art shows and pet rescue events at the vineyard.

The longtime wine lovers — Mr. Borghese’s relatives owned a vineyard in Florence for generations and Ms. Borghese studied French wine in Paris — fell in love with Long Island’s land of grapevines. But they had a lot of learning to do once they took over the business.

Though he had grown up on a farm in Italy, Mr. Borghese, who moved to the United States from Italy’s Tuscany region in 1969,
had no experience in a vineyard before purchasing his winery.

“I had to learn on the job,” he told the Long Island Wine Press in 2012, but he was accomplishing what he had set out to do.

Reviews of their first wines were positive. New York Times wine critic Howard Goldberg called their Cabernet Franc “juicy, simple … suitable for any number of meat dishes.” Recognizing his important role on behalf of both Long Island and the broader New York State wine industry, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation awarded Mr. Borghese its highest honor in 2005, according to a Long Island Wine Council statement. The Foundation’s “Unity Award” was established in 1990 to recognize “individuals who have volunteered their time, shown exceptional leadership, and achieved recognized results in building industry cooperation and unity,” the Wine Council said.

“I was raised in a farming environment,” Mr. Borghese told a Suffolk Times reporter soon after purchasing the vineyard. “I think it is a little bit in my blood. I have been commuting in business all my life, and now I want to settle down and grow roots. Everything we need is on the North Fork, and I think it’s going to be a nice way of life.”

gparpan@timesreview.com