BY TARA SMITH
What if you could sit back and sip wine while contributing to the health of your local waterways?
It’s possible, thanks to a recent partnership with the Moriches Bay Project and Proud Pour, a “not-focused-on-profit” company that is dedicated to restoring oyster populations up and down the East coast.
Proud Pour founder and co-CEO Berlin Kelly was working on Wall Street when the idea came to her. A native of Los Angeles, Kelly quickly embraced New York City nightlife. She saw how much money was being spent in this industry and, thanks to her finance background, saw a lucrative pathway that included change. “On any given night, New Yorkers spend over $10 million on alcohol, yet our waters are too polluted to even go swimming,” Kelly said. “I thought, ‘why isn’t there a company that’s doing something with all this money to make the world better?’” she added, citing her inspirations as the “buy a pair, give a pair” ideals of companies such as TOMS shoes or Warby Parker. While she thought these causes were noble, Kelly wanted to make a local impact. Acknowledging that climate change was lofty, she set her sights on the oyster after seeing the documentary “Shellshocked: Saving Oysters to Save Ourselves.” It narrows in on the oyster, described in the film as “a founding block in the web of life in the water,” and “ecosystem engineers.”
“I didn’t even know oysters were an environmental issue in New York,” Kelly said, “and neither did my friends.”
For Kelly, dedicating herself to a local environmental cause was important, namely so that she could see the changes firsthand. “We have to connect people back to the land and teach them what that means and how it affects our lives,” she said. During that time, Kelly learned how the New York Harbor was once home to 220,000 acres of oyster reefs, which were essential to sustaining aquaculture. The bivalves filter water and help form a habitat for local fish and crabs.
She put her professional experience together with her home-brewing hobby and founded Proud Pour in 2014. Today, Kelly is partnered with a winery that she declined to name, but is located in the North Coast region of California. She explained being drawn to their sustainable growing practices and intrigued by their history — four generations of viticulture — and no elaborate or showy tasting room. “Just the grapes speaking for themselves,” she said.
They produce a sauvignon blanc simply named, ‘The Oyster,’ a delightfully crisp wine with notes of citrus and apricot. And, the balanced acidity makes a harmonious pairing with raw oysters. Just like grapevines, oysters take on flavors based on their location; a cold-water climate and tide will taste different than oysters farmed in a warmer, low tide area. It’s a labor of love for Kelly, who collects and attaches oyster shells to each bottle of sauvignon blanc.
Each bottle sold, at an average of $20, restores an average of 100 oysters to each of the eight current East Coast projects. The restoration projects span from the Billion Oyster Project in New York Harbor to Northern Maine’s Casco Bay to the far reaches of Martha’s Vineyard and, most recently, here in the Great South Bay.
Moriches Bay Project co-founder Laura Fabrizio met Kelly two years ago and recalls an instant liking between the two. The grassroots organization announced the partnership with the Moriches Bay Project last summer, and Fabrizio is thrilled to continue efforts to save the bay. “It is an honor to have been asked by Proud Pour owner and friend Berlin Kelly to be a part of her mission. [Berlin’s] passion for her work, her wine, the bay and the environment is truly inspirational and motivating,” Fabrizio said. “They are respectable, innovative and young.”
Established in 2012, the Moriches Bay Project has successfully installed 150,000 oysters in Moriches Bay, a number that has soared to 200,000 and will continue to grow, thanks to additional projects such as the recently installed FLUPSY at Windswept marina. In addition, the organization has planted numerous eelgrass beds throughout the bay and established a watering monitoring program, hosted educational workshops at school districts from William Floyd to Westhampton, in addition to satellite outreach education workshops with the community group and scouting groups.
Since the company was founded in 2014, Proud Pour has restored 3 million oysters through their various projects. “It’s been an eye-opening experience,” Kelly said. The success has been a pleasant surprise. As a self-described loather of marketing, Kelly believes the cause is reason enough for consumers.
She already has her sights on another environmental cause — the bee. The bee project will embrace the same model as the oyster, and help restore bee populations. Kelly explained that saving the bees is important, but often misguided. “We aren’t just talking about honey bees,” she said, explaining the nearly 4,000 species of wild bees that live solitary lives, often underground. Though Kelly declined to go into detail about the new wine, she said it will likely be an Oregon-sourced pinot noir that will plant 3,500 wildflowers per bottle, in an effort to help wild bees.
Though the Moriches Bay Project still has their work cut out for them, the Proud Pour partnership marks a positive step towards a healthy bay once again. It’s another partnership, in addition to working with the Town of Southampton, the Southampton Trustees, the Town of Brookhaven, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Stony Brook University. “Joining forces will bring the local bay back to its natural health,” Fabrizio said. She’s committed to bringing Proud Pour’s The Oyster to local restaurants and spreading the word. “My new motto is, ‘Drink wine, save the bay.’”
For more information about the Moriches Bay Project, visit morichesbayproject.org and for more about Proud Pour or to find the wine locally, visit proudpour.com/locations/.
Photo Caption: Proud Pour partnered with the Moriches Bay Project over the summer and is dedicated to restoring 100 oysters per bottle sold.
Photo by Tara Smith
*This story originally appeared in the December 2016 Tide of the Moriches and was also published in the Long Island Advance.