Tastemaker: Rich Olsen-Harbich, Bedell Cellars

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I’m not sure that Rich Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Bedell Cellars will ever let me live down the fact that I once wrote that while he’s not the founding father of Long Island wine, he’s the region’s “eldest uncle.” It’s perhaps not my best turn of phrase, but that doesn’t make it any less true. He wasn’t the first, but he got here right after the Hargrave’s started. He authored the Long Island’s three official American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), has worked at two of the region’s most important producers (Bedell and Raphael before that) and no one questions his place the past, present and future of Long Island wine.

Early on in my wine writing career, his knowledge and expertise were invaluable. He was always willing to answer my questions — silly or not — and even contributed several stories to this site over the years. He was my first wine mentor.

We don’t talk nearly as often these days, but there is no doubt that he’s an important tastemaker on the East Coast.

Location: Cutchogue, Long Island

Current Job: Winemaker at Bedell Cellars

Wine of the moment: 2010 Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico

My winemaking style in 1-5 words: Authentic, refreshing, reflective and tasty

First bottle of wine I remember drinking: It was probably a homemade red currant wine that my grandfather used to make in the basement. My grandparents lived upstairs in our house and he grew the fruit in the backyard. I remember watching it bubble in the glass carboy he used. It was served at family holiday dinners. I remember that it tasted very sour to me.

How I wound up here: It’s the culmination of my life’s work of 30-plus years of growing grapes and making wine on Long Island. When Michael and Trent approached me to fill the position, I was thrilled. It’s a very creative environment for me and I couldn’t be happier.

My winemaking style — in more words: My style has definitely evolved over the last three decades but I think I’ve really zeroed in on it. I stopped using commercial yeast about a decade ago so that’s really helped me see what’s going on in our terroir. My whites are based on harvesting to retain acidity – to keep them crisp and thirst-quenching and clean. With the reds I’m pretty much leaning in the same direction – ripe fruit flavors, soft mature tannins and balanced acidity. I’m using less oak as time goes on. I really love the bright fruit and don’t want oak interfering. I want my wines to be a sincere reflection of the North Fork and that means low-moderate alcohol, solid acidity and an elegant delicacy that can only be found here.

Mentors: Paul Pontallier, Hermann Wiemer, Larry Perrine and my father, Al Harbich.

Music playing in the cellar right now:  My musical tastes seem to be going back in time. Right now it’s the Magnificat by C. P. E. Bach but I also listen to a lot of Artie Shaw and older jazz.

Favorite thing about Long Island wine industry: Aside from the delicious wines, the industry has helped preserve this beautiful area by continuing a centuries old agricultural tradition. I also love the surrounding water that provides so much pleasure to our lives.

Least favorite thing about Long Island wine industry: Can’t think of anything. I love everything about it. It’s who I am and what I’ve lived for basically my entire life.

One surprising thing that I’m really good at: I can play a mean 5 string banjo.

What I drink: Mostly Old World – French wines and the Loire makes some of my favorites, although I’m digging a lot of Italian reds at the moment from Barolo and Chianti. German and Austrian wines to me are like soul food. I like to drink small producers who are passionate about the wines they’re making.

My “Desert Island Meal” — wine included: Well since I’d be stranded I’d probably try to find some indigenous fruit to ferment to go with whatever I could catch.

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About Author

Lenn Thompson, a proud Pittsburgh, PA native, moved to Long Island more than a decade ago and quickly fell in love with the region’s dynamic and emerging wine community. A digital and content marketing and community professional by day, he founded NewYorkCorkReport.com in early 2004 to share his passion for the wines, beers and spirits of New York State. Since then, the site has become the premier source for independent New York wine commentary, reviews and news. Formerly the editor of the Long Island Wine Gazette, a contributor to Edible Brooklyn, wine columnist for Hamptons.com and regional editor for Appellation America covering the Long Island and Hudson River Valley regions, Lenn contributes to Edible East End, Palate Press, Patch and is the wine columnist for Dan’s Papers in the Hamptons. Lenn is also on the board of directors for Drink Local Wine, and is the creator and founder of TasteCamp, a yearly regional wine immersion event for writers and bloggers. An admitted riesling and cabernet franc fanatic, he’s intensely passionate about eating drinking local and the many local wine regions of America. Lenn lives in Miller Place, NY with his wife Nena, son Jackson, daughter Anna and their dog, Casey Lemieux Thompson.