Where the history of Smithtown, the environment, and the often-compassionate nature of humanity intersect, that's where you'll find Harmony Vineyards.
On Harbor Road in Head of the Harbor, a short drive from Stony Brook's and , is a four-acre expanse of vines and a tasting room converted from a structure that dates back around 300 years. Now, owner David Acker operates Harmony Vineyards as a charity venture, donating all the profits to a handful of organizations.
In 1997 Acker bought East Farm, the historic property where the winery now lives. Richard Smyth, the founder of Smithtown, built a farmhouse there around the turn of the 18th century, which was later expanded into a mansion after architect Archibald M. Brown bought the property in 1904. In the 19th century, the farm served as the backdrop for some of reknowned artist William Sidney Mount's work, including "Dance of the Haymakers." In the interest of preserving it, Acker said, he moved the original 5,000-square-foot structure to its current location west of the expanded building.
Acker said he "wanted to keep it in the farm tradition" – but there was a problem. It had been planted with green peppers and tomatoes. "I thought that was a little boring," he said, "so I planted grapes."
That was in 2002. Ten years later, in early June, Harmony Vineyards opened the doors to its tasting room. Guests can sample 11 different vintages on Saturdays and Sundays between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
So far, the winery has benefited the Stony Brook Foundation, which facilitates millions of dollars in scholarships at Stony Brook University; Pink Rock at Mather Hospital, which helps support women undergoing treatment at the Fortunato Breast Health Center who are without health insurance; Long Island Harvest and New York City Harvest food banks; and a school in Kenya called the East African Center for the Empowerment of Women and Children.
"The idea behind Harmony Vineyards is that it would be in harmony both with the nature here and with humanity," said Acker, 51, who retired in 2004 from the medical instruments field.
The winery offers two main types: its Harmonious Blend, a Bordeaux-style blend of merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon, of which vintages between 2005 and 2008 are available; and the Chardonnay, of which vintages between 2007 and 2010 are available. By the glass, wines are between $7 and $10; by the bottle, $28 to $42.
At nearby restaurant , Acker is both a customer and a friend to Chef Guy Reuge. Restaurant manager Maria Reuge called Harmony Vineyards a beautiful place, saying, "Guy has tasted the wine on several occasions and enjoyed it."
Acker's is a waterfront vineyard, with two acres of flat grass beyond the rows of vines where guests can enjoy their wine, even bring a picnic. The tasting room doubles as an art gallery, with modern pieces by New York City artists currently on display, as well as a venue for charitable events.
As a waterfront vineyard, Acker said temperatures at Harmony Vineyards are milder from those on the East End, Acker said he sees the buds begin to grow about two weeks ahead of those to the east, yielding a slightly longer growing season. And windier weather after rain aids in the drying of the grapes – an important factor to prevent the grapes from growing moldy – so less drying agents are used.
But the challenges do arise.
"We lose a lot of grapes to the animals: birds, racoons, deer," Acker said. "You're always balancing the loss to the animals against the ripeness of the grapes" when it comes time to decide when to pick them.
In 2007, Acker finally got to taste his first sip of Harmony Vineyards wine.
"It took a very long time," he said. "When we did taste it, it was very satisfying. It was really very good."
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