The Farm Life Beckons
By Robin Jovanovich
When devoted customers, such as I, heard that Corner Stone was closing its doors in November, after 27 years as the purveyor of parties extraordinaire, great takeout, the best scones in town, and Paul’s stick-to-your-ribs chicken nuggets, sighs quickly turned to sadness.
Another longtime business gone, and this one with people very close to our hearts. Liz and Gary Stone were there for our family from the start. We moved here in 1992, the same year they opened their Milton Road retail shop. The first time I met Gary was when I was attempting to step over his head as he was installing stairway carpeting in our first house. We got talking and he told me he was putting down carpets (for Carpet Trends, a third-generation family business owned by Liz’s parents) to help get a culinary business off the ground. I was among the first customers.
The Family Stone was on the case for big birthday celebrations, engagement parties (for both our sons), bridal showers, a small wedding, Oscar Night, house-under-construction, and Christmas parties, and many gatherings to make lemonade out of everyday occasions. In the process, we were soon on a first-name basis with most members of their crew.
After doing so much for so many people in and around Rye, it was high time Gary and Liz did something for themselves. They bought a vineyard in the Hudson Valley. Over the past seven-and-a-half years, they have restored a number of ramshackle buildings, built a barn in which over 60 weddings take place every year, established acres of flower, herb, and vegetable gardens (it’s amazing what’s growing out of their compost area, too!), and discovered life is pretty great in the slow lane.
Realizing that it was high time we paid them a visit, we made the hour-and-a-half trip north last week. It didn’t take long for us to fall under the magical spell of the lush landscape and the view across the Hudson River to Poughkeepsie. In the distance, you can see the Culinary Institute of America, where Liz and Gary trained and met many moons ago.
Notwithstanding the fact that a wedding was going to take place at the vineyard in a few hours, they gave us the complete tour and shared their incredible journey.
Neither of them had any idea how to take a fine piece of reclaimed wood and turn it into a refectory table, much less make a crisp rosé, when they bought the farm. “It’s amazing what you can learn on YouTube,” said Gary brightly.
The Stones are workers, however, and no project seemed too daunting. They envisioned lots of things — a firepit in the stone ruins was among last year’s projects, as was the new barn in which wedding receptions are held. “Until this year, the receptions were held under a tent. We wanted a permanent space with sliding doors open to the outdoors,” said Liz.
And they weren’t the only ones who pitched in. Their pastry chefs repointed all the bricks. Norm, their longtime chef, came up and helped establish the garden beds. Their daughter Shaleen along with Madi Marshall are now in charge of the wine business.
With a goal of zero waste, Red Maple Vineyard is not only farm-to-table but will soon be beverage-to-table. Their apple cider is going on tap next week. The Stones are determined not to use plastic bottles and containers.
With this year’s bumper crop of butternut squash, butternut squash ravioli has become a menu staple. From peppers they grown, they’ve produced 1,900 bottles of hot sauce.
In their first year, the Stones hosted 12 weddings. They are now booked through 2020.
It was at Wainwright House in Rye that the Stones learned how to put on a wedding to remember. “It holds a special place for us. It’s where we learned the wedding model, especially the importance of flow of spaces and the symbiosis of place,” they said. (Unfortunately, when the City of Rye began limiting the number of wedding receptions that could be held at Wainwright to eight a year, Corner Stone’s catering business suffered a big setback.)
It was also at Wainwright that the Stones first heard about a rustic farm and vineyard for sale in West Park, N.Y. The security guard at Wainwright had gotten married there.
When couples say their vows, it is under the wedding canopy at the top of Deer Ridge. Deer generally aren’t among the guests, but the Stones don’t deny them access…
Last year, the Stones celebrated Christmas on the farm, and they are counting on having all three of their daughters and Liz’s parents and siblings up for more holidays.
What Liz will miss most about Rye is the Milton Road shop — “my fourth daughter” —, the staff, and being a part of so many other families’ special celebrations.
Meanwhile, she acknowledges enjoying a more flexible and less hurried life, and that Red Maple Vineyard is also a fun place to work. She and Gary are looking forward to the big party they hold right after the last wedding of the season in November.
For the foreseeable future, Red Maple Vineyard is only available for weddings, so if you want an excuse to visit Liz and Gary Stone, you’ll have to start thinking about renewing those vows.