Column: Tragic marker of time for a wine region

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 untimely and tragic deaths of Ann Marie and Marco Borghese have me thinking about the passage of time, particularly insofar as the North Fork’s grape-growing/wine industry is concerned. To the best of my knowledge, the Borgheses were the first second-generation owners/winemakers/industry boosters to pass from the scene, which is an indicator, after a fashion, of just how long this industry has been around hereabouts. Their recent deaths have also caused me to reflect on the list of others who passed before them, which, again, is a reflection that a lot of years have gone by since Louisa and Alex Hargrave planted their first grapes here in the early 1970s. But first, a word about the Borgheses. 

From my perspective as a journalist, Ann Marie and Marco complemented one another perfectly. She was hyper-friendly and outgoing, qualities that first came to the fore in my experience back in 2001, as referenced in last week’s Suffolk Times editorial, when she brought gifts to our daughter Sarah Olsen after the birth of Sarah’s first child. And their only interaction prior to that had come when Sarah profiled the Borgheses in The Wine Press.

In some respects, Marco was Ann Marie’s opposite. He was shy and taciturn, a man of few words. But when I think of him, one defining word comes to mind: regal. Which was only logical, of course, since he was by birth an Italian prince, though he eschewed the use of any royal titles.

The multifaceted positivity of Ann Marie and Marco Borghese’s lives on the North Fork will live on for decades to come. And what a tragedy it is that their time here was cut short so soon.

At the risk of omitting the name of an important player from the following list, here are the names (and brief affiliations) of the first-generation vineyard owners/winemakers/industry boosters who preceded the Borgheses in death. In alphabetical order:

Ray Blum — Founder of Peconic Bay Vineyards in Cutchogue, owner of Ackerly Pond Vineyards in Peconic, and the man who planted several other North Fork vineyards, including portions of Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue and Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue.

Charles Flatt — Associated with several North Fork vineyards over the years, prior to his retirement he was the vineyard manager at McCall Wines in Cutchogue.

Dave Mudd — A retired commercial airline pilot, he planted sauvignon blanc vines here nearly 40 years ago after buying an acre’s worth of grapes from the Hargraves, according to his Suffolk Times obituary. He later established Mudd Vineyards in Southold, the vineyard development and management/consulting firm currently operated by his son, Steve.

Bob Palmer — He established one of Riverhead’s first vineyards, Palmer Vineyards, in 1983, and later served as president of the Long Island Wine Council.

Ben Sisson — He was the vineyard manager at McCall at the time of his untimely death in 2009. Prior to that, he was associated with Raphael and Pindar.

Mike Todd — Some might chuckle at his inclusion on this list, but that would only be appropriate given the irreverence of this bold Brit, who loved to drink wine as much as he loved to write about it. As the founding editor of both The Wine Press and Grapezine, Todd wielded a light touch that helped humanize the local wine industry.

Christian Wölffer — Like Mike Todd, Christian Wölffer lived on the South Fork, but his impact on the industry here was indisputable. As the owner of Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, he helped give Long Island wines credibility in a key market, the Hamptons.

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