Winemaking and horse rescue, two seemingly divergent pursuits, merge rather seamlessly at Long Island’s North Fork Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard. Settled in 1961 by Sam and Rhoda Rubin, the 17-acre property did not begin yielding wine until 2002, with the horse-rescue endeavor following five years later. The facility produces about 5,000 cases of wine annually and provides shelter for 16 horses. With operations overseen by Sam and Rhoda’s son Richard, assisted by two of his sisters, Sharon Levine and Paula Geonie, the property offers visitors a range of activities, from wine-tasting to guided tours to pony rides for children and even weekend jazz concerts.
“While he was born in Brooklyn, my dad has been a naturalist for most of his life with a commitment to growing produce organically. And now in his 80s, he continues to spend time in the fields, working the land,” Richard says. “For the grapes grown on our property, we use only natural fertilizer, most of which is produced by the horses. Importantly, we use no herbicides and a very minimal amount of sulfur dioxide. And while we don’t grow all the grapes that go into our wine, for our products we purchase the best fruit available, grown as organically as possible.”
The vineyard produces a dozen wines – four whites, five reds and three rosés, with a wine in each category named after a horse rescued by the facility. A substantial portion of the profit from sales goes to maintain and further the horse-rescue endeavors. Based on a recent sampling of three of these, the quality of the final product is well above average – and they pair particularly well with a wide range of fare.
The horse-rescue mission began in 2007 when Sharon received a phone call from someone explaining that there was a 1-year-old filly, Angel, on a tractor-trailer heading for a slaughterhouse. While her owners just couldn’t maintain her anymore, she “didn’t deserve to die.” Since the Rubins had kept some horses on their property, Sharon made the decision to rescue this animal and two others on the truck – a move that has received the overwhelming support of the whole family.
“We thought only old, debilitated horses went to the slaughterhouse. But young abandoned horses are not uncommonly slaughtered for food that is often shipped to Canada or Mexico,” Richard says.
The 16 horses at the facility include descendants of Man o’ War and Secretariat. Horses are given shelter in newly constructed paddocks, land to graze on and lots of love, with the goal to provide a home for them outside the farm, so that room can be made for more rescues.
Although the facility is open during the week for most of the year, the best time to visit is on Saturdays and Sundays when members of the Rubin family are generally available to guide tours and answer questions. The farm is at 2114 Sound Ave., Calverton, N.Y. – less than a two-hour car ride from most Westchester and Fairfield County locales. And in addition to buying the facility’s wine, those wanting to assist the horse-rescue effort should contact their congressional representatives and implore them to support the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act – to prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
2010 Angel Chardonnay ($24)
Dedicated to the Thoroughbred Angel, the first horse rescued by the Rubins, this wine shows a pale yellow color, a bouquet and taste of apples, pears and toasty oak and a smooth, long lasting finish. Pair it with sea fare, particularly shrimp and lobster, and baked or grilled chicken.
2010 Savannah Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon ($20)
Named for the Thoroughbred Savannah – rescued in October 2009, along with her “soul-sister” Sienna from a New Jersey “kill pen” – this wine shows a deep salmon color, a bouquet and taste of ripe strawberries with undertones of vanilla and a pleasant, slightly sweet finish. Perfect as an aperitif and to match with a range of hors d’oeuvres from smoked salmon to duck pâté.
2007 Mirage ($20)
This deep purple blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is named for the rescued Arabian princess, Mirage. It exhibits a very fruity bouquet and taste of ripe plums and blackberries with hints of apricots for a smooth, lingering finish. Mate it with beef, lamb or blue-veined cheeses.
Prices listed are typical retail. While the wines are not available in Westchester and Fairfield counties – except by special order – you can buy them online (baitinghollowfarmvineyard.com), at more than 90 restaurants and shops in Long Island and in Manhattan at 67 Wine & Spirits and Gotham Wine & Spirits.