Bedell Cellers lures veteran winemaker

Noted North Fork winemaker Rich Olsen-Harbich recently made the move to Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue from Raphael Vineyards in Peconic, where he had spent the last 14 years.

After 14 years making wine at Raphael Vineyards in Peconic, noted North Fork winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich has moved down the road to Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue.

Mr. Olsen-Harbich, 49, helped establish Raphael Vineyards with owner John Petrocelli in 1996. Before that, he worked for Hargrave Vineyards (now Castello di Borghese) in Cutchogue and Bridgehampton Winery. With a background in agriculture and as a graduate of Cornell University’s viticulture program, Mr. Olsen-Harbich, a Mattituck resident, has been referred to as one of the architects of Long Island Wine Country, helping to create a distinct identity for the North Fork in the world of wine.

A reporter from the Times/Review sat down for a chat with the seasoned winemaker Friday afternoon at Bedell, a vineyard with some of the region’s oldest vines, at 30 years.

Q: So why did you make the switch from Raphael to Bedell?

A: I think I’m a good fit in terms of helping to take them to the next level. I loved my time at Raphael, I loved the people there. Here, I’ll just continue to be what I’ve always been about, and that’s something called terroir, which is developing the overall taste of a place — the regional flair that’s expressed in a lot of different things. Terroir can exist in people and places and wines. I’m looking to bring that philosophy to wine production here.

Also, this place has a 30-year history that is well documented and well respected. And working with 30-year-old vines will be different from working with 14-year-old vines, which is what I had at Raphael.

Q: Is there really that much of a difference between wines produced from older vines?

A:There is a debate about that, but I believe the older vines can produce wines with more depth of flavor. Their root systems are so well established down into the soil that flavor is more consistent year to year. Younger vines are more vulnerable to climate changes and weather patterns. It’s interesting how vines operate in their own subterranean world.

So, yes, I like to say vines are kind of like men — you find them at their best at 30 to 40 years old.

Q: What do you plan to change or enhance here as far as wine production goes?

A:I’ll be working on my 29th vintage, and I believe that blended wines are the way to go. Making wine is like creating any fine art. In music, it’s great to hear a solo guitar once in a while, but it’s also nice to add instruments to the mix until you have a full orchestra. The same applies to wine production. Merlot is the primary grape here on Long Island, but we’re also getting some great cabernet franc, malbec and cab sauvignon.

Q: You sound like you’re a musician, too.

A:I am. I play the drums. And it’s fun to play the drums by yourself, but you can only do that for so long until you lose interest. It’s hard for people to understand in this country that wines don’t have to be pigeonholed to one varietal. In the Old World, wines are named for towns or regions like Bordeaux — you don’t see the name of the grape on the label like you do here. It’s a complex system.

Q: So you want to bring more of the Old World into the New World at Bedell?

A: I don’t like to compare Long Island Wine Country anymore to any region, young or old. Yes, our weather conditions are similar to France’s, but our own identity as a wine region has evolved. And I’m here to help it express itself.

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