As much as any food, oysters taste like where they are from. This expression of place - called merroir - includes the unique flavor characteristics of their surroundings, including water salinity, rainfall, marsh, and types of algae in the water.
This weekend, visitors to the Wine & Brine Lounge at the Gabriel Archer Tavern will experience the terroir of Virginia’s historic York River. Oysterman Tommy Leggett, founder of Chessie Seafood and Aquafarms in Hayes, VA, will be at the Lounge shucking oysters cultivated in the York River.
A first-generation, self-taught oysterman, Leggett founded Chessie Seafood and Aquafarms in 1995.
Though Leggett’s family was not involved in commercial fishing or aquaculture - industries where multi-generational operations are common - he was destined for a life on the water. In the 8th grade Leggett realized he wanted to be an oceanographer and set a educational course in the direction.
After earning a Bachelors degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and Masters degree in Marine Sciences from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at Williams & Mary School of Marine Science, Leggett went into the commercial fishing business.
Leggett started commercial fishing and subsequently joined the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) where he established and ran the Virginia Oyster Restoration Center, responsible for rebuilding native oyster populations throughout Virginia waterways.
He retired from the CBF in 2015 after 18 years to focus on cultivating oysters and clams in the York River.
Located on the west side of the Chesapeake Bay in region seven of the Virginia Oyster Trail, the York River stretches 34 miles, from West Point southeast to the Bay. Leggett’s oyster farm is situated near the mouth of the bay, where water salinity ranges from 20 to 22 parts per thousand (or 2 - 2.2% salt).
Leggett’s oyster farm is a boutique operation; the work of cultivating oysters is done by hand. To ensure quality and uniformity, each oyster is handled five to six times before they are ready for the market.
This weekend, March 25 - 26, visitors to the Wine & Brine Lounge at the Gabriel Archer Tavern will experience the ‘merroir’ of the York River and the ‘terroir’ of Wessex Hundred. Leggett’s buttery, briny York River oysters would pair beautifully with a glass of the unctuous Wessex Hundred estate Viognier, the creamy Acte 12 Chardonnay, or the crisp, dry Wessex Hundred Rose.