Aug 29 2008
Yesterday I was on a business trip that took me out through many of the Finger Lakes Winery areas. Unfortunately it was not possible to stop and visit with our old friends because this was on a different matter and I did not have time to do anything for NYuncorked (dot com).
I was able to reflect on some of my years of travel and work throughout that region and the fine people with a strong work ethic that live there. Back in the late 1960′s and through the 70′s and 80′s I witnessed a transformation in the grape growing business and the expansion of many of the excellent wineries that you appreciate so much today.
The excellent drainage and mixture of gravely loam soils coupled with the temperate lake side hill growths became a spledid place to harvest fruit of all types and grapes especially. The old time families that had lived there for many generations and primarily had created a subsistance farming life for themselves were gradually transformed into something that there would always be a great demand for, and that was in growing excellent wine grapes.
Much experimentation was done to create just the best types and varieties that would grow well here and ripen into little pallatte pleasers to the connisseur. Many experiments were performed to learn how to graft European varieties on to ancient American root stock. This practice created healthy plants that would thrive well in this climate and were blight free. This led to the present strong selections of Vitis vinifera vines such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The early vinyards grew grapes in large quantities and when harvest season came there was only a small window of opportunity to gather the crops and get them to market. In those days the farmers were at the mercy of the large corporations, and the prices were fixed, take it or leave it.
Then we saw a handful of early adopters of the small cellars opening up for business. The families that started these micro-wineries were able to develop a clientele and following because they targeted certain groups of people that desired certain varietal tastes and they became quite successful. Think about it, if you had a chance to sell your product to a very large corporation at a price that was controlled by a bunch of cigar smoking board members, or if you could design and nurture and bottle your own product to sell at a much higher margin, which would you do?
That whole situation is still ineffect and it has worked wonders for the small family owned businesses that thrive throughout this region. I remember visiting with growers many years ago, some of which still harvested by hand, and when the grapes were ready, it was a mad house. Everyone, and I mean everyone in the family pitched in, along with all of the neighbors and any people from surrounding areas that wanted to come and work hard for a couple of weeks were invited. These people actully worked 24/7 for about two weeks every year, catching only a few minutes cat nap in between. Sort of builds character you might say.
Most of the harvesting now is done by large machines that straddle the grape row and then shake the Hell out of the vines, gathering the grapes gently and fast and they are not allowed to sit around exposed to oxygen any longer than neccessary. To the wineries they go! I remember once when I was in the Bully Hill tasting palace that was owned and operated by Mr. Walter X (TAYLOR) Jr., looking out the window and seeing an old thing that looked like a pile of rusted iron beds that still had a little blue paint on it, and I asked Walt, what the heck that contraption was. His answer was that it was the very first grape picking machine and he was going to restore it. I always wondered what happened to that old relic and will find out one of these days.
That was a joke, Walt couldn’t even use his family name on his own products. The Taylor Wine Company that his ancestors founded was sold to CocaCola and the non-compete agreement of their contract kept Bully Hill from using the Taylor name. Kind of silly because everyone knew it was Walt Taylor’s place.
Well that’s my trip down memory lane for today. Tell us if you like this sort of story and I’ll continue to mix some of them in with our other announcements here at New York Uncorked.