The harvesting of the Sauvignon Blanc block had begun. September’s warm days remained and now the region’s tourism high-season was official. This was harvest time in Long Island Wine Country, and the North Fork buzzed with a new energy after a hot, dry summer.
I open the heavy wood door to the vast, Italian-styled winery for my Saturday shift. Upon entering, I am enveloped by the mysterious magic of the place, along with the aroma of freshly pressed juice and an everlasting presence of oak. It was all so delicious, despite the swarm of fruit flies that arrived with the picking of the grapes.
Working at Raphael was my second job on weekends. I sought it out for some extra cash, because I was interested in learning more about wine from the source, and this brand had been a favorite. As I followed my routine without having to think, my mind was allowed to wander into daydream. It immediately went to him. He was all I could think about lately. I obsessed while at work, as I drove around with my radio blasting, and when I closed my eyes at night. Roger and I met at Cornell’s Peconic Dunes Camp – my full time job. You could call it propinquity, but I had a feeling it was much more.
Our relationship was less than ideal. I had a boyfriend of a combined two years, on and off, while Roger was living with someone. It wasn’t exactly your typical, blossoming love story. Yet, it spun in a direction of an exciting romance right here at the winery, during this memorable vintage.
The light poured in through the windows and glass doors, covering the spacious tasting room. The bar, shaped like a tremendous barrel, was prepared meticulously with beverage napkins, carafes of water, bowls of crackers and menus. We opened one bottle from each label on the menu and the popping corks echoed through the rafters. There was an anticipation of the crowds that would fill this room today and line the bar, three people deep. Staff in black polo shirts and black pants were milling around everywhere preparing. I love the excitement and can’t wait to get started.
A few pairs stroll in and seem to be in awe of the scenery. They walk through the gift shop, wander over to the windows that overlook the tank room and finally, hesitantly approach us to ask how a wine tasting works. At this point on the North Fork, Raphael is one of the first to charge for a tasting flight, so explaining that to visitors sometimes invokes a negative response. We don’t care and we speak of our wines confidently. It’s easy to be proud of a quality product and share that feeling with others.
While the building is still calm, the winemaker and vineyard manager make their way up and through. They stop to chat with me and find out how I’m doing. I never miss an opportunity to learn something new so I ask lots of questions. Among these questions are: “How is the harvesting going? Are all of the Sauvignon Blanc grapes in? What’s up next for picking? What do you think of this vintage?” They are elated to speak with me and happy to reply to all of these inquiries and more. They are educating me and therefore everyone else that I get to speak with, as their representative and wine steward. After our discussion, I turn around and catch my breath. There he is standing in front of me at the corner of the bar!
Roger is wearing a warm smile and a button down shirt. His face is tanned from working outside. His presence is surprising and rattles me. We regularly talk and flirt with an underlying heat, or we linger over a conversation at work, and even Instant Message one another when the opportunity presents itself, but we don’t expect anything. Therefore, seeing him here today is thrilling and alarming, because now, I am completely useless to customers. Seeing him here proves his feelings and interest for me. I decide to go over and say hello before I look like a complete idiot. I smile brightly and say, “Hi. It’s great to see you.”
“I was passing by and saw your car. I hope you don’t mind me stopping in.” He spoke with a clear, sweet voice and seemed to blush with his words, even through sun kissed skin.
“No, I don’t mind. I’m really glad you came to visit. Would you like to taste some wine?” My voice raised an octave as I teased.
“Sure, I’ll try a complete flight.” That meant the entire menu, which ultimately lead to hanging around longer to be with me. New love was so interesting. It resembled my eagerness over the topic of wine as well. Both endeavors were unknown to me and I was determined enough to follow through on each.
A little over an hour later, Roger went on his way with chores to complete. He had sipped on his wine and stared at me, while I poured for other customers and described tasting notes. My heart still jumped in my chest and I wore a huge smile. It worked well with the guests at the bar and made for better tips. One of my co-workers nudged me with her elbow and winked. “I like him.” She said. “I think you two make a great couple.” I must have turned a new shade of pink as my cheeks felt tingles.
Soon after, the tourists flooded the tasting room. There were groups of ten and fifteen arriving in limos, and even the small groups and couples created a non-stop flow of traffic. It was bustling at the tasting bar. Corks were popping, people laughing and the sound of that beautiful, rich juice kissing the glass. Glasses clinked, cameras snapped and boxes of empty bottles were carried out regularly. I was sweating with a grin on my face and put forth the friendliest voice that I could as I welcomed each new person looking to sip on some of this renowned wine. This pace didn’t take away from the butterflies that still remained in my belly. They fluttered around with each movement I made. I swore I was glowing.
One of the guys emerged from the kitchen and sought me out from behind the bar. He tapped me on the shoulder as I poured a ruby red blend for two. “Melissa, you should come with me. You really need to see this.” He chuckled as he spoke.
“What? I’m a little busy right now. What is it?” I responded. My friend standing next to me overheard and pushed me, motioning to go and take a break. I jumped on the opportunity due to a growing curiosity. Following through the steamy kitchen and out the side door to the parking lot, he pointed to my car. I noticed something on the windshield and squinted as I moved towards it. Almost robotically, my legs rolled beneath me and were completely numb as my heart rate rose and my neck throbbed. There on the windshield was a bouquet of the brightest Gerber Daisies that I had ever seen. They are one of my favorite types of flowers. They were dazzling and bold, and carefully wrapped in a water bag to keep them fresh in the sunlight. A recycled paper card stuck out of the top. Quickly, I opened it:
I’ll be thinking of you the rest of the day… and night. I cannot wait to see you again!
I had a lot to think about. I knew how I felt and now I know that he shared the same. This was a path I needed to follow, a relationship that I needed to harvest, no matter what it would take.
Eight years later: Summer 2013
Time moves so quickly. It’s hard to believe how I got here, to this point. This November, Roger and I will be married five years. We have been together since that fateful harvest season of 2005, one that lives in Long Island history. I only lasted six months as a wine steward before I needed to leave, but just after returning from our honeymoon, I started full time at Raphael, this time as their director of marketing and sales. It was possible because of the impression I left on the winemaker, who never forgot about me. Everyone at the vineyard means so much to me. They always treated me like I was a part of their family, even when it was time for me to start my own family. (Our daughter Anabeth will be two in September.)
Fortunately, my passion for wine still remains, long after the mystery evaporated. It’s funny how life works – an interest turns into a passion and becomes a journey. Cheers to love, happiness and everything along the way.