North Fork vineyard owner Marco Borghese was killed in a car crash Monday, stunning a Long Island winemaking community already reeling from the loss of his wife to cancer less than two weeks ago.
The Cutchogue couple was widely admired in the wine region, praised for their elegance, energy and innovation in bringing the arts into the tasting room.
Marco and Ann Marie Borghese bought the region's first vineyard in 1999 from the pioneering Hargrave family, which established it in 1973. The new owners named it Castello di Borghese.
Their arrival was the closest the region ever came to hosting royalty. Marco Borghese, a native of Italy, had been a Tuscan prince -- a title he rarely used or acknowledged.
He was driving his Jeep Grand Cherokee east on Route 25A in Wading River at about 3:30 p.m. Monday when he lost control on a turn and hit a delivery truck head-on, police said. Borghese, 70, was later pronounced dead at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.
Wading River Fire Department Chief Kevin McQueeney, whose volunteers transported Borghese to the hospital, said it took more than a dozen firefighters to extricate the vineyard owner from the wreckage.
No one was charged in the accident, which is under investigation. The driver and a co-worker in the truck were not injured, police said.
Ann Marie Borghese, 55, died late last month following a diagnosis of cancer more than a year ago, family friends said.
Long Island Wine Council executive director Steve Bate said the winemaking community was rocked by the twin blows. "It is just unbelievable . . . surreal," he said.
The Castello di Borghese tasting room remained open Tuesday. A hostess said: "All we know is everything is under investigation, so there's no comment from the family at this time."
The Borgheses leave behind two children, Allegra, 26, and Giovanni, 28, neither of whom was active in the vineyard, which had been on the selling block since 2006. Marco Borghese also had a son, Fernando, from a previous marriage. None could be reached for comment.
Bate said he had been working with Marco Borghese in recent days to plan a memorial for Ann Marie Borghese. He remembered the couple as "amazing people."
"He was charming and easygoing, a diplomat. She was fun and lively and articulate and smart," he said. "They both had great senses of humor. That was part of the fun of being around them."
Their deaths were a "big shock to the entire East End," said Joe Gergela, Long Island Farm Bureau executive director.
"They were very classy people," he said. "They were very proud to be out here in the wine industry."
"They are true veterans of North Fork winemaking," said Matthew Berenz, winemaker for Vineyard 48, which neighbors the Borghese vineyard and shared equipment with them. "I was in shock."
The couple first visited the North Fork during Thanksgiving 1998. Ann Marie Borghese, in a 2011 Newsday story, recalled her surprise when her husband suddenly announced, "I'll buy it!"
"I thought he meant the bottle, and he meant the vineyard," she said.
Marco Borghese had previously been an import/exporter and his wife the owner of a jewelry shop.
He would go on to serve as president of the wine council, and the couple became widely respected for their contributions to the developing region.
"They brought elegance to the wine region," said Syma Joffe Gerard, an Eastport real estate agent who worked with the Borgheses in their attempt to sell the vineyard. "They really focused on art and music and beauty in life as part of their marketing, and they taught other winery owners to do it, too."
Funeral arrangements by the DeFriest-Grattan Funeral home in Mattituck are expected to be private, a representative said.
The Borghese vineyard, originally bought for $4 million, was most recently still for sale, said Jim Waters, co-owner of Waters Crest Winery in Cutchogue and an officer of the wine council. The entire 85-acre property was listed in 2006 at $9.2 million.
In addition to its vineyard and wine tasting room on Route 48, Castello di Borghese has a tasting room annex on Main Road in Aquebogue.
Visitors to the North Fork knew the winery on Sound Avenue by its landmark old-model pickup truck loaded with wine barrels, spelling out its most notable wine, pinot noir.Borghese produced more than a dozen varietals, including the region's staple merlot and chardonnay wines.