Pair Oysters and Wine for a Succulent Evening
Here’s how Bruce Vogt feels about oysters.
“After God created the oyster, he didn’t need to evolve it any further because it was perfect!” says the owner of Big Island Aquaculture in Gloucester.
It’s a sentiment shared by Patrick Duffeler, founder The Williamsburg Winery.
“Oysters are pearls of this region,” he says.
Combine the shellfish with a glass of wine and you have the recipe for a special night.
In fact, Vogt will tell you, there is no better twosome than a half shell of Big Island Aquaculture oysters with The Williamsburg Winery’s “A Midsummer Night’s White.”
The floral, fragrant selection with layers of tropical pineapple, banana and tangerine with stone fruits and cantaloupe, was actually created to go with Vogt’s oysters. The pairing dates back several years from a conversation between Vogt’s son, Daniel, operations manager of the family business, and Matthew Meyer, vice president and winemaker at The Williamsburg Winery.
“What better place than here around the Chesapeake Bay to make white wines that pair well with seafood of this region,” Duffeler says. “We began inviting Big Island Aquaculture here, and we developed a warm relationship.”
Beyond taste, oysters have their own unique set of skills.
They’re eco-friendly in a manner that’s twofold. Oysters boost coastal Virginia’s economy plus help the ecosystem by filtering the nasty stuff out of the Chesapeake Bay.
The sweet, salty, briny taste of the shellfish is something Duffeler appreciated long before Vogt, who remembers nothing remarkable about sampling his first oysters as a teenager on a family vacation in Ocean City. Belgium native Duffeler remembers a trip of a different sort with his parents and brother in Holland, right in the delta of the Rhine River.
He watched fishermen pluck oysters from the deeper areas of the water. Out on a boat with his dad, the 6-year-old ate his first oyster.
“My father had a very special knife to open oysters,” he says. “I have very sharp memories of those oysters and my father telling us how delightful fresh oysters are.”
Vogt’s story with oysters started when he moved to his current home in Gloucester back in the ’80s for a sales job. The waterfront property came with oyster leases; he planted sparingly at first. Harvesting oysters was a hobby for him and his three sons initially.
When Vogt’s eldest son, also named Bruce, grew up to be a marine scientist, his enthusiasm for starting an oyster business spilled over to his father and Daniel. Big Island Aquaculture was born in 2010. The company plants more than 1 million oysters annually.
Profits aside, Vogt appreciates how aquaculture benefits the environment.
When an oyster eats, it filters its food and excess nutrients. Oysters can filter a whopping 48 to 50 gallons of water per day. That’s good news for the Chesapeake Bay.
Oysters have the ability to filter out excess nutrients, including fertilizers, that cause bad grasses to grow. If these grasses grew, they would be eaten by bacteria, which would create carbon dioxide. That would allow carbon dioxide to be absorbed into the atmosphere. Credit oysters for cleaning both our water and our air.
Knowing the superpowers of this shellfish, Vogt and his team strive to provide customers with both a clean and delicious oyster. Where they farm and how they farm are key to taste, he says.
“Oysters are like wine. Where they grow impacts their flavor,” Vogt says.
Salinity of the water where they’re grown contributes to that salty taste. Big Island Aquaculture grows its oysters on Vogt’s 40 acres of property at the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay, Mundy Creek and Mobjack Bay. It’s an ideal spot for salinity levels.
Some farmers grow their oysters in cages 12 inches off the bottom of the water. Voigt prefers cages that float on the surface. When placed in a bottom cage, oysters will filter silt, sand or mud, producing a metallic flavor, he says. Big Island Aquaculture avoids its oysters picking up grit by relying on the floating cages method.
“It’s a cleaner and consistently better tasting oyster,” Vogt says.
Add one more benefit from oysters — ecotourism. Tourists flock to the Commonwealth for its fresh seafood. When they do, they also know they’re feasting on an environmentally sustainable product.
“It’s a wow moment; they have an appreciation for the oyster and what it means to the environment,” Vogt says. “They have a wonderful time on the bay and love seeing our oysters on the surface.”
And, of course, Vogt came to love how oysters taste, too. Vogt roasts the oysters, tops them with a special sauce Daniel makes and pops open a bottle of “A Midsummer Night’s White.”
Somehow, it’s appropriate that Williamsburg Winery was the first major customer for Big Island Aquaculture.
“I can tell you a little bit about wine and Bruce can tell you a little about oysters,” Duffeler says.
Another memorable, marvelous twosome.