Dave Mudd, North Fork wine industry pioneer, dead at 90

08/22/2011 6:07 PM |

JUDY AHRENS FILE PHOTO | David Mudd tractoring through his vineyard in 1998.

Dave Mudd, a pioneer of the Long Island wine industry who planted the first North Fork sauvignon blanc vines 35 years ago, died at his home in Southold this past weekend. He was 90.

“David is the Johnny Appleseed of the North Fork,” Dr. Dan Damianos, owner of Pindar Vineyards,” said of Mr. Mudd in a profile appearing in “The Wine Press” published by the Times/Review Newsgroup. Mr. Mudd planted Pindar’s first 15 acres and that vineyard is now Long Island’s largest.

Although he grew up on a farm outside St. Louis, Mr. Mudd turned to the sky, not the ground, for his first career as a pilot for Eastern Airlines. During the 1950s he divided his time between flying and a 250-acre farm in New Jersey. He became a permanent North Fork resident in 1960.

Some 14 years later he bought an acre’s worth of grapes from Alex and Louisa Hargrave, the founding family of East End wineries, and planted them on his own land. That came just a year after the Hargraves converted a former potato field into vineyard growing vinifera grapes, the chief source of European wines.

At that time no one knew whether that type of grape could grow here. “There were people who said, ‘You’ve got a lot of nerve to put this stuff in and not know where it’s going,” Mr. Mudd said in an interview.

But grow they did, and Mr. Mudd and his sons soon became the region’s premier grape growing consultants and vineyard managers, a business that continues.

“Dave had a tremendous curiosity and he wasn’t afraid to start something new and learn from the bottom up,” said Ms. Hargrave, now the director of Stony Brook University’s Center for Wine, Food and Culture.  “His death is a great loss, it really is. He was just the type of entrepreneur the North Fork needed because he was able to help other people realize their dreams.”

Visiting hours will be held at DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Mattituck on Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Thursday from 1p.m. to 3 p.m. A funeral service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Thursday followed by interment at Cutchogue Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048 , Westhampton Beach, NY 11978.