(Oh, and co-founder of the Long Island wine industry)
Back in 1971 a young newlywed named Louisa Hargrave wrote a book touting the nutritional and gastronomical wonders of organ meat.
That's right, organ meat.
Although the recipes she and her husband, Alex invented tasted good to them, the book was a failure.
I happen to like organ meat very much. Hearts, gizzards and liver are favorites of mine.
I even enjoy rocky mountain oysters when I’m out west. I would have loved to join Louisa and Alex for dinner the night they served their friends a lamb's testicle decorated to look like a chicken and ice cream made from whipped calves' brains.
As much as I enjoy eating unusual foods, I think in this case the trade was fair--we got wine instead of organ meat. After all, who knows what the book's success might have encouraged her to do next. We almost certainly would have missed out on Long Island wine.
Luckily for us Louisa's next idea was to plant a vineyard and make wine. Enticed by the romance and believing a farm is a good place to raise children, Louisa and Alex began looking for a suitable location.
Finding a place to plant grapes is normally not too difficult as there are grape varieties adapted to almost any climate. But the Hargraves' wanted to plant the European species, vinifera.
Vinifera produces familiar wines like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay but has never been successfully grown on the east coast of the United States. After "diligently" researching a suitable location, they decided that Long Island's north fork would be the place. It seemed to have the proper climate, but most of all, "It felt like home."
So, in 1973 Louisa and Alex planted 10,000 vinifera vines and hoped for the best. Hargrave Vineyards and the Long Island wine industry were born. Well, it really wasn't that simple. It was 10 years and a lot of work before Hargrave Vineyards was profitable, and that first profit was a mere $91.00.
It's more than 30 years later now and things are a little different. Louisa and Alex have divorced and Hargave Vineyards was sold. Alex returned to his etymological studies while Louisa has stayed in the wine business. The Long Island wine industry is growing rapidly.
I had the pleasure of meeting Louisa Hargrave at a presentation she gave at the Smithtown pubic library. It was hard for me to believe that such a small woman had such strength and endurance. You see, in the vineyard she did most of the field work and all of that work was done by hand.
I later found out after reading her memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery, that her might is fueled by determination and independence with just a touch of self doubt to fan the flames.
Well spoken, soft spoken and humorous, Louisa told the story of her family's pioneering adventure building the first Long Island winery. At times she read from her book, giving us a deeper look into the soul of a young wife and mother learning how to farm and raise and family.
The time flew and before I knew it her presentation was over. I bought a copy of her book and asked her to sign it for me.
Louisa Hargrave is done stomping grapes, but is still very active in the wine
She writes for several local papers, is a licensed real estate agent ("Should you decide to go off the deep end and buy a vineyard or winery"), and publishes her own blog at LouisaHargrave.com.
She was also the director of the Stony Brook University Center for Wine, Food and
Culture before it closed, sadly, due to budget cuts.
A conversation with Louisa Hargrave - an interview by Wine, Seriously.