If heaven hasn’t got oysters and wine, count me out. I’ll go to Cape Cod instead.
Cape Cod is home to Wellfleet oysters, and a more luscious, firm but supple, textural and sweetly briny mollusc you could not want to find. Add a lemon, et voila. The particularly beautiful thing about enjoying these delicacies on the Cape is that you know they are less than a day, maybe two, out of the water. Some restaurants, notably Mac’s Shack in central Wellfleet source local seafood through an in-house distribution. They make use of the ocean’s bounty all summer long with a raw bar (oysters only $2 each), excellent sushi bar (try the NY roll with crab and Granny Smith apple), and kitchen (the stuffed lobster is a must).
Other spots, particularly in popular Provincetown, rely on the Cape’s distributors to bring them the goods. As a result, you can find Littleneck clams from as close as the Cape and as far south as the Jersey Shore. You can compare the local Wellfleet oysters to ones from James River, at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. To get all this along with a laidback beachy (albeit somewhat touristy) vibe, meander over to the perennially popular The Beachcomber, where a raw bar serves up goodies on the halfshell and the kitchen makes all manner of fried seafood deliciousness. Lobster rolls and steamed mussels with a cup of clam chowder? Yes, indeed.
My delightful hostess on the Cape, Tracy, has a background in the Alaskan salmon longline fishing business, and she’s an articulate advocate for sustainable fishing practices. “Humans are meant to be gardeners,” she says. “The ocean is no different from the land. We have to cultivate it carefully and plan our harvest.” She goes on to explain that seafood is one of nature’s touchstones in the sense that we humans cannot fake it or artificially enhance production without noticeable negative results. There’s a reason that Alaskan and Tasmanian salmon command a premium, the same way that oysters and clams are named, priced, and sold according to their home waters. No wonder that Tracy has found the Cape a happy home for the past two years. She and her boyfriend, also a talented fisherman, live in Orleans, and the town is a small mecca for organic, fresh, and sustainably minded living.
When talk turns to matters of sustainability, living well, local produce, cultivating the earth, and terroir, my palate waters for wine. In wine, terroir is the comprehensive concept of origin: soil, terrain, agricultural practices, climate, history. This is what makes Syrah from France’s Rhone Valley different from Australia’s Barossa Shiraz. Sounds like comparing Wellfleet oysters to James River oysters to Tasmanian Cloudy Bay oysters, right? The difference — and the diversity — is crucial to value, flavor, and quality. Terroir is why foodies and wine nerds pay for plane tickets; its what keeps National Geographic Traveller in business.
As luck would have it, Cape Cod has a winery, so off we went to check out the local vinous offerings. Truro Vineyards is located near the sandy, windswept tip of the Cape, an unlikely site for growing grapes. Indeed, many of the grapes used for wine production at Truro are brought to the site from California and New York’s Finger Lakes region. Of the current tasting list, only the 2009 Estate Chardonnay — a crisp, green appley little number with a touch of vanillin oak — was grown completely on the Cape.
The well-manicured and highly-trafficked venue couldn’t be a lovlier stop on a summery day. The main building is an old farmhouse, now a giftshop opening to a large covered patio where visitors gather to taste wine every half hour. Owner Kristin Roberts Yingling talked us through a tasting of the vineyard’s ten current release wines, then was kind enough to conduct an impromptu tour through the winery’s immaculate barrel hall and utilitarian cellar… where the magic really happens! All wines are made on site by Kristin’s brother Dave ************, and they are expanding the business with a distillery currently being built next door. The winery’s best-seller? The Lighthouse Series wines, which come in a beautiful, appropriately shaped bottle specially designed and shipped from Italy for Truro Vineyards.
Running a business on Cape Cod is a tough gamble, with the pressure of high season and the quiet of winters. Kristin, like Tracy and others with whom I spoke noted the difficulty of making a year’s worth of income in a matter of months. But the year-round locals also carry a placid air of contentment. They have a tight-knit community in a beautiful place, buoyed by fresh local produce and savvy, community-minded entrepreneurs. No wonder New England flocks to their door each summer. And no wonder some hearty-souled people hunker down to stay all year… when the tourists are gone, those oysters and wine are all theirs!