Growing Dreams on the North Shore

Written By: Robert  Pellegrino

Merrick to Northport wasn’t that far a move, but that wasn’t the only change. I never attended a public school before and the new found freedoms were confusing to me. The kids congregated in social chunks around the classroom, talking, laughing and acting like teenagers do. But after nine years of wearing a uniform, how can I fit in here? I might as well have come from Mars. I avoided eye contact while reading Conrad Aikens: Silent Snow, Secret Snow and I prayed the day would pass quickly.

Mr. Scott was impeccably dressed for our field trip out to the North Fork. He walked quickly into the classroom, and then announced, “OK, lets settle down people, the bus is here.” We were going to visit the first Long Island winery in Cutchogue. Our assignment was to first fill our senses and imaginations with the beauty of the North Fork, and then write about it – they knew how to teach in 1974.

I tried to be first on the bus figuring if I picked an empty seat, I wouldn’t have to decide whom to sit next to. But I wasn’t that lucky. The noisy bus was being filled with kids dressed in torn Levi’s and black Led Zeppelin T’s. Mr. Scott sat behind the bus driver quietly reading, his legs crossed and wearing argyle socks – he always wore argyle socks.

I sat next to the Asian kid.

The roar of laughing voices grew louder inside the bus as the school building shrank in the distance. I remember the Long Island Expressway ended, but the bus kept going east on narrow country roads. The freshly tilled brown soil and dark green grasses filled my half cracked window as acres turned into miles of misty rolling farmland. It was a perfect springtime day. The bus turned onto Alvahs Lane, drove up a dirt driveway, and then stopped.

As the dust began to settle, I remember seeing two people walking toward us. Alex and Louisa Hargrave were the vineyard owners. They looked like James Taylor and Carly Simon to me, both were tall and slender and dressed in denim overalls.

Mr. Scott stood on the last step inside the bus as the driver threw open the folded door. He extended his stiff hand in much too formal a manner as he introduced himself and our class to the Hargraves – argyle does this to people. The Hargraves asked if we were hungry and everyone followed Alex and Louisa into their Vineyard.

You could just sense this was special land and Alex and Louisa Hargrave were two special people. Both educators themselves, they seemed to love sharing their knowledge of wine making, but as I look back now, some forty years later, they were really sharing their love of the land and their love for each other. There were no wineries on the North Fork in 1974. This was their dream, their hard work and their vision. And we were invited to celebrate it with them. They were teaching us something much greater than making wine, they were teaching us the joy of following your dreams.

Louisa had us form into a single sitting circle next to the newly planted vines. Alex was in the center with a giant platter of PB&J sandwiches and a purple pitcher of grape juice. The noisy kids that filled the school bus a few minutes earlier, were now overtaken by their own senses as they soaked up the beauty of the North Fork, this vineyard and the generosity of the Hargrave’s.

Alex explained how they started the vineyard a year earlier in 1973 and how the first few years are spent waiting in anticipation as the vines must mature before they will bare fruit. Anticipation of realizing your dream, how cool is that? Louisa brought us over to a young plant and said, “This is Chardonnay.” Everyone crouched down beside her as she took out a pair of pruning shears from her torn pocket. She said, “See this knuckle? We must cut it back to here so that the plant will use its resources to grow even bigger and stronger, it will bear more fruit that way”

As Louisa spoke, I lifted my head to see the perfectly aligned rows of young plants; thousands of them. There was a tempo to the Hargrave’s land. Rows of light green Chardonay, a water trench, a mound of brown soil … a peaceful honest repetition existed here that was comforting.

You could hear the sound of a running engine in the distance. And as we turned to look, we could see Alex driving his 1945 John Deere with its broken headlight and empty hay wagon attached. Everyone piled on and he gave us a ride back to the barn. He showed us the oak barrels that would soon be used to age his wine. He said, “These barrels are made from French Oak” and explained how “Oaking” will enhance the wines flavor.

Mike, one of my classmates, mumbled to me, “What’s the difference between French Oak and American Oak?” I shrugged my shoulders because I didn’t know, but it felt good to be asked just the same. We spent the day learning by example and our own dreams were nourished in Hargrave’s soil. I didn’t want to leave this place.

I could see the bus heading our way as it kicked up a puff of driveway dust. And as each kid saw the bus approach, you could read the disappointment on his or her face. No one wanted to leave this place.

Mr. Scott thanked Alex and Louisa for providing such a wonderful experience and promised to send them copies of the essays they helped ignite. Everyone wore some of the vineyard on their clothes as we drove back to Northport. A gentle shift took place inside that bus and you could sense everyone was changed in some unique way.

Mike was staring out the window sitting next to me and quietly said, “Maybe French Oak is cheaper” – I just smiled. It was difficult being sixteen in a new school and town, but somehow that field trip to Hargrave vineyard in 1974 made it ok.

Thanks Alex and Louisa.