Ron Goerler senior, the founder of Jamesport Vineyard, holds a mysterious North Fork secret.
Ron is the current owner of Jamesport Vineyards. But back in the early 1960’s, Ron was a seasoned harness driver. He won many races in the USA and around the world. Back then, he was a celebrity in the racing world. He, in fact, is the 10th most famous people in the world to be photographed. You have seen his face so many times in different places, billboards, TV and magazine advertising, etc. but you never knew he was. If you come to Jamesport you can see his picture adored next to his racing harness that is affixed to the 50-foot wall of the tasting room. That’s right, his racing harness is meticulously affixed to the wall in all its glory.
Ron contacted me in the middle of night and he told me he had a story to tell that only I could tell for him. So, at 1 a.m. in the morning, during the harvest full moon, I pulled my car up to Jamesport Vineyards. I was a little bit nervous. The barn in the light of day beckons people with its majestic, old world charm, yet during the night, it looms large casting a gigantic shadow. As I began to turn the corner of the barn, heading to the row of vineyards, I heard a low-flying plane. As I looked up I could see a dark figure in the sky streaming down fast towards the ground. In the near distance beyond a few rows of vineyards I heard something breaking, crackling. Something had fallen from the sky and landed among the grapes.
I stopped dead in my tracks petrified. I wanted to run back to my car but yet I couldn’t help myself from wanting to know what was happening.
I heard some grumbling then a voice said, “I’m here, I’m here”.
I walked ever so slowly looking all around me in the light of the moon. Every turn I was sure I saw something horrible wanting to grab me.
“I flew in and parachuted down,” said a husky voice in a firm tone. “We’re gonna start in a few minutes. Oh damn, I crushed the pinot noir grapes. Those are the hardest to harvest.”
As I approached the figure, I could now clearly see that it was Ron Goerler Senior.
“Ron, what is going on? Why are you meeting me here in the middle of the night, in the middle of the vineyards to talk to me?”
“I don’t wanna talk, I want you to witness something.”
We walked back towards the back of the barn. He grabbed something from the backpack. Ron has his pilot’s license. That part made sense but nothing else.
“Here it is”, as a flashlight illuminated the racing harness that was permanently secured to the wall. It looked so much larger on the ground. “Is that the one hanging from inside the…” “Yes it is,” Ron said cutting me off.
“I don’t have much time they’ll all be here soon. Can you pour some Verjus in all those glasses on the barrel, “he said as he turned the flashlight over towards a few bottles of Verjus. “We can’t be drinking wine and driving these days.” There was a slight disappointment in his voice. “We’ll do that after.”
“I’m not riding with my helmet on”, he said as he climbed onto the racing harness. “I’ll be careful”, he said as if he was talking to his wife.
As I poured the Verjus into the glasses, I was more complex-ed than our 5-grape blend of Cinq. “Mr. Goerler, what is going on?”
I heard the clop, clop of horses approaching and things being dragged. My heart was racing. Suddenly Mr. Goerler whistled in a unique way. He stopped as if he was listening. Then a smile began to slowly creep over his face. In the nearby rows of Merlot grapes, a horse emerged trotting quickly towards us.
Ron disembarked from the racing harness and grabbed the reigns of the horse. “I never rode her, I rode her grand-father many of times.” He began attaching the racing harness to the horse. A few other horses and harnesses arrived with racers I knew. They were the owners of the other vineyards. “Give them the Verjus,” he said while struggling to get the gear attached together.
I gave a glass of Verjus to each harness driver. Nobody said anything to me. They looked at me as if they were annoyed to see me.
“OK, I’m ready gentlemen,” Ron said with glee.
I approached Ron with his glass of Verjus as the other drivers began to talk amongst themselves.
Ron spoke in a soft voice to me. “Every year, on the harvest moon, we all get together and ride.” Ron turned to the other drivers lifting his glass of Verjus. “To the race!” “To the Race”, they all said, drinking the Verjus.
Ron turned to me for one last second and gave me a waxing grin. Then, someone yelled out a word or a command that I did not recognize, and suddenly, they were all on their way.
These days, when I look up at see the racing harness in the tasting room at Jamesport Vineyard, and when I see the picture of Ron senior placed behind it, I now know the secret behind it…..and so do you now.