Widgets Magazine

Giovanni Borghese on his Vineyard and his Journey to it, from Philly through Cuba, the Atlantic and the Loss of his Parents.

Q: How did you come to the North Fork? A: My parents acquired Hargrave Vineyard in 1999 when I was 14, and we moved here from center city Philadelphia. The move was a big culture shock. From center city to a one hundred acre farm—particularly starting high school—so much was different. Luckily, I was met with a community with open arms. As a new kid in high school I could not have been more accepted or welcomed. It was really wonderful.

When my sister and I ask ourselves, why our family moved to the North Fork, we think it brought our father back to his roots. Reminded him of the Tuscan countryside, beautiful trees, on the salt water.

Q:  When your parents turned Hargrave into Borghese, did they have a background in the wine industry? Was it the culmination of a natural evolution?

A: No. My father was a wine enthusiast like anyone else; growing up in Tuscany he was in the setting where everyone was making their own wine in their basement.

For a profession he had been in the garment and textile industry; importing too--fine leathers, lots of things. So the switch to wine wasn’t something we saw coming, but it was something he romanticized about, and then before you know it, he and my mother made it a reality.

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Q: When starting Borghese, did you plant additional grapes/change the grapes? Did you make other changes?

A: We didn’t plant new grapes.  When we came here—there were a few changes right away, the biggest to the tasting room. The winemaking equipment was moved from the current tasting room to an old potato barn on the back of the property. The extra space meant we were able to create our full time art gallery and tasting room event space.

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Q: An art gallery in the tasting room—that’s cool. Here at GoNorthFork we’ve been listing your Winemaker’s Walk every Saturday and, during much of the year, every Thursday too, but haven’t yet been able to experience it. So what’s the Winemaker’s Walk all about?

A: Our Winemaker’s Walk is a very educational and fulfilling experience. We walk among the vines and learn about what is happening at that particular time, then we cover the next 12 months discussing the various tasks required for grape production.

Next, we leave the vineyard and show you winemaking from press to corked bottle. We see the equipment removing the grapes from the stems, and the press. The press surprises people because it’s not a plate at the end of a screw twisting down to crush grapes. It’s like a balloon inside an empty paper towel roll with slits in the roll. You fill the roll with the fruit and then you inflate the balloon, this presses the fruit against the roll and the juice goes out the slits and into a basin below.

Then we go in and down to the cellar (inside a hill) and see where the wine is fermented, and we talk about the chemistry. First room is stainless steel fermenting tanks, the next is full of oak barrels. After fermenting (and after some are aged in oak) wines are filtered and bottled, and we see that equipment on the tour, too. Last we see the corking machine.

The main takeaway is everything is done by hand. We harvest by hand and our bottling, corking and labeling is all done one bottle at a time by hand.

Q: How much wine do you release each year?

We release 5,000-7,000 cases a year. Fabulous years render more reserve wines, which age longer, so there’s a delay in their release, which creates peaks and valleys in our production.

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Q: So that’s how you got to the North Fork, and your family formed Borghese Vineyards; but the vineyard business is yours now. You’re quite young for that role. Did you always want to run the vineyard when you were growing up?

A: No. I had an eclectic career after high school. My parents encouraged both my sister and I to go to school and find something we wanted to do. We didn’t discuss taking over the vineyard someday.

I went to college in Boston and did a bunch of random things—managed a pizzeria, valet parking, had a real estate license and worked in a realty office for 3 years as the only undergrad. After I graduated and worked another summer in Boston I came home from fall to spring, worked at Noah’s in Greenport and applied for career jobs.

That spring I got hired in Manhattan, moved to Brooklyn, and a couple years later left that job to run a bed and breakfast in the Catskills for a friend who was pregnant. During that time my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I came home to the farm to help out—that was summer 2013.

By that fall I was applying to positions back in Manhattan. At the end of October I met a man who asked me to help him sail a 50’ yacht he built to Cuba. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea—I’d already abandoned my career once for the B&B--so I ran it past my folks. My Mom told me I had to go.

She said: They’d brought me up to be cultured and well traveled; I’d learned to sail at a young age and was very good at it; I should see Cuba before it changes, they’d never seen it. She also joked I’d find another boat to crew on and meet her and my dad in Punta Cana five months from then. So I went.

Q: Your journey to head of Borghese involves a Manhattan career job, running a Catskills B&B and sailing to Cuba on a 50’ yacht? That’s an unusual path. How did Cuba lead back to Cutchogue?

A: In Cuba I met a 65 year old Icelandic man who first went to Florida to help his brother, on a whim he bought a boat—though he had no sailing experience—and  hired a crewman from Iceland to tour the Caribbean. When he reached Cuba his homesick crew abandoned him. I had been in Cuba a couple weeks and was walking around the marina asking yachtsmen if they needed a hand on their yacht. I told him I could sail and repair anything he had a manual for and that I would teach him how to sail, so we started cruising.

We went east, hooked along the east end of Cuba, making a stop every two or three days--got yelled at going past Guantanamo Bay because we got too close--stopped in Jamaica, Haiti, the DR—I got to see my Mother & Father there, as she’d said. I didn’t know it but that would be the last time I’d see my mom.

After seeing many other islands during months of travel I learned you can’t sail in the Caribbean after June 1 for insurance reasons—hurricane season--so I joined another boat and sailed across the Atlantic to Portugal. I’d just arrived in Lisbon after very intense, exhausting sailing—trading shifts with the captain every three hours for days—and learned my mother had passed in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

She was in Santa Fe visiting my sister, and her condition turned on a dime. Given my exhaustion my dad sent me to be with family in Rome. We had a lot of family in Rome that wanted to come to New York but none of us were in New York, so I stayed with them. There I waited it out while my father and sister laid my mother to rest in Santa Fe.

Once I got the word that they had returned to NY, I was on the next flight home and we began to adjust to our new life without mom. Three days after that, my father was in a fatal car accident.

We immediately had to focus on and take over the business, to keep it functioning.  We just got to work. Poof, here we are two and a half years later.

Q: Wow that’s so crazy intense, losing both your parents within days of each other, both you and your sister coming home after being far away for years, taking on the business. Has it become your thing? After all your restless career switching and travel, have you put down roots now?

A: I love this business.

In college I majored in entrepreneurship, and I’ve spent my life learning all kinds of businesses at all levels. I’ve also had incredible experiences where you really have to learn to trust yourself, and understand what you are capable of doing so I feel like I can apply a lot of my life’s experiences to this position.

At first, my half brother, sister and I all had a role, as time went on my brother expressed his interest in being bought out and after working closely with my sister for the first two years she is now pursuing her Ph.D—she had a big role and worked very hard here, her contributions were invaluable, but she’s building her own dream right now. I’m really embracing this opportunity; I feel like everything that got me here is really being fulfilled in this time.