The friendship behind Chatham wine & Shooting Point oysters.
What grows together goes together.
That relates to wine from Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek and oysters from Shooting Point Oyster Company — the delicious pairing that returns for three weekends on Virginia’s Eastern Shore starting Jan. 14-16.
But it also applies to Jon and Mills Wehner, and Tom Gallivan and Ann Arseniu Gallivan, neighboring families in Bayford. Both are husband-and-wife professional teams. Jon and Mills own Chatham; Tom and Ann own Shooting Point. They are longtime friends who live out a passion rather than work a job. Their children are similar ages. Lydia Wehner and Sophia Gallivan (whose middle name is Pearl, by the way!) have been softball teammates. Their sons have been buddies for years.
“Our kids have grown up together, and our businesses have grown up together,” Tom says. “We’ve always tried to support each other and co-market. We’ve had a great relationship. Both of our families love the area we live and work in. It’s almost like Wine and Oyster Weekends organically occurred. It just seemed like a good fit.”
Vintners Jon and Mills and aquaculturists Tom and Ann started in business about the same time on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and today both Chatham and Shooting Point thrive as storied brands committed to both quality and sustainability. Despite decades of experience, both families embrace learning and experimenting. Neither takes shortcuts.
“When the oysters are small, you’re constantly worried about them,” Tom says. “It’s something I’m really hands on with. Jon and Mills can empathize with that. There’s certain times when they’re on the edge of a frost and it’s late spring and they’re doing the same thing, worried about losing their crop because of the temperature. You’re always putting in what I call ‘undocumented hours’ of babysitting. We’re both farmers growing something delicate in certain phases of its ontogeny.”
Tom is also an artisan who nurtures his oysters from seedlings small as grains of sand to the plump, meaty, rounded delicacies that fill the plate for Chatham’s annual Winter Wine and Oyster Weekends. (Feb. 18-20 and March 18-19 are the other dates in addition to the January ones.)
Three of the oysters will be Bayside Church Creek Corks™, and three will be Shooting Points Salts, grown on the Seaside at the north end of Hog Island. As oysters are filter feeders, they take on the flavor of their surroundings. The Corks, cultured along the shores of Church Creek, grow a deep cup and thick shell. Their saltiness is less pronounced, and hints of seagrass are in the finish.
“They’ve got some sweetness and some salt,” Tom says.
Like the Corks, the Shooting Salts are a direct reflection of place. As remote as much of the Eastern Shore is, Hog Island is an extreme of that. No houses have been built there. No jet skis or Ferris wheels are in view. It’s nothing but open water beyond the occasional hunter or local angler passing through.
“It’s truly a pristine area,” Tom says. “Hog Island is about as clean and natural a spot as you can find. The channels aren’t marked. It’s wild in more senses of the word than just being natural. One of the ways you can experience what it’s like out there is to taste these oysters.”
The flavor profile of each of the oysters changes with the addition of a glass of wine. Most everyone pairs the oysters with the iconic Chatham Church Creek Steel Chardonnay, a crisp, clean signature expression of the varietal and Eastern Shore terroir.
“If you eat the saltier oyster, it makes the wine almost citrusy,” Tom says. “When you eat the sweeter ones, the wine takes on a melony flavor to it. They work together. It’s amazing how the salinity of the oyster and where it’s the direct reflection of the place will change the exact same glass of wine. It’s a fun pairing.”
The same could be said of Jon and Mills and Tom and Ann.
“It makes sense for our families to work together,” Tom says. “It’s really about all of us growing together.”
Cheers to wine and oysters along with lasting friendships.