Richard Olsen-Harbich: ‘Sun, Sea, Soil, Wine: Winemaking On The North Fork Of Long Island’

Richard Olsen-Harbich has worked in the Long Island wine industry since 1981. Over the past 40 years, he has been a leader in the region, implementing pioneering techniques for Long Island vineyards. Currently winemaker at Bedell Cellars, he is the author of “Sun, Sea, Soil, Wine: Winemaking on the North Fork of Long Island.”

We spoke to Olsen-Harbich to learn more.

You’ve been a leader in the wine industry on the North Fork for 40 years. Tell us about your background as a winemaker. 

Ever since I was a young boy I was interested in the outdoors and the natural world. This led me to study agriculture and eventually, viticulture and winemaking at Cornell University. Upon graduation in 1983 I was hired to run the second winery on Long Island in Bridgehampton where I stayed for 10 years before moving to the North Fork to work for the Hargraves. I’ve been making wine ever since for dozens of estates on the Fork including Raphael where I worked with the late Paul Pontallier from Chateau Margaux. Since 2010 I’ve been the winemaker at Bedell Cellars where I’ve made some of the top rated wines on the East Coast.

What inspired you to write the book “Sun, Sea, Soil, Wine: Winemaking on the North Fork of Long Island”? 

I felt that the entire story of the region hadn’t been told. The quality of our wines and the work of the people growing and making wine deserved a complete narrative. After more than forty years I felt I had a lot to say. It’s a beautiful place in the world that makes truly unique wines and I felt the need to tell people more about it.

Wine aficionados typically define regions as old and new world. Old being temperate Europe and parts of Asia — and new being warm and dry North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand. The North Fork doesn’t really fit this traditional New World narrative as it physically and stylistically lays somewhere in the middle. I wanted to redefine how we talk about North Fork wine and its place in the world. In the book I term our region part of the Cool New World.

Tell us little about some of the history and the intricacies of the North Fork region that you discuss in your book.

The fascinating part of our history is that it goes back 500 years. Verrazano was the first European to sight Long Island in 1524 and took extensive notes on his journey. He pointed out the huge amount of wild grapevines growing along the coast and was the first to allude to the possibility of producing wine in the area. One hundred years later, Dutch explorers thought the same thing.

I also found the geological origins of the Fork fascinating as all of the land we live on today was brought south by an advancing glacier about 15,000 years ago. Our landscape and soils are relatively new when compared to other areas in the Old World. So many wine regions lay on soils that were once covered by inland seas that retreated over time. Our soil was carried by glaciers and filled in ancient seas. The North Fork has flipped the script in a number of ways.

The book is a testament to your passion for wine. When did you know you were interested in viticulture?

I call it a love letter to the North Fork. I got into wine and viticulture while an agricultural student at Cornell. The Finger Lakes region was right there and I got turned on to what they were doing. It just clicked for me as it combined agriculture, science, history, food, and romance (subjects that I all love) into one discipline.

What do you see for the future of North Fork winemaking?

I think the future is bright and our very best wines are yet to come. Yet we all need to be mindful of the delicate ecosystem that we live and grow on. Sustainability will become even more important as we experience the effects of climate change and increased development pressure. The more we can do to protect and preserve the North Fork today the better the chance it will be here for future generations. 

Jessica Mackin-Cipro


Jessica Mackin-Cipro is an editor and writer from the East End of Long Island. She has won numerous NYPA and PCLI awards for journalism and social media. She was previously the Executive Editor of The Independent Newspaper.

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