This week's Q&A victim is Staci Nugent, the winemaker for Keuka Lake Vineyards in Hammondsport, NY. She's a Finger Lakes native and a studied genetics in grad school, before discovering wine as her true calling.
I don't remember my first one, but I'm sure something like wild berry was my favorite varietal. My senior year I took the "Introduction to Wines" class and remember being blown away by the Hermann J. Weimer semi-dry Riesling. Sweet like a wine cooloer, but, well, it tasted like actual fruit. I stuck with the rieslings from that point forward.
What event/bottle/etc. made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
It was while on a camping trip in Paso Robles, California. I had recently ditched graduate school in genetics and was working full-time playing with gene chips in Silicon Valley and conducting wine tastings at Thomas Kruse Winery in Gilroy part-time. I knew I didn't want to be white-coat-wearing laboratory rat for much longer, but hadn't decided on a new direction.
That's when my best friend and I headed on this trip south to tour wineries and to cook bacon over a series of camp fires. While tasting at an Edna Valley winery, Claiborne & Churchill, I met an assistant winemaker who had a science background nearly identical to my own. He had jumped ship and gone into winemaking. I applied shortly thereafter to the wine program at UC Davis.
Which of your current wines is your favorite and why?
Keuka Lake Vineyards 2007 Reserve Vignoles. Typically Vignoles is made in a late harvest or dessert wine style, but ours is vinted as a table wine with only a touch of residual sugar. There's a special intensity of flavor and fruit on the palate of this wine that makes it simply delicious.
What has surprised you most about being a member of the Finger Lakes wine community?
I wasn't expecting the time it takes to travel to our various tastings, meetings, and conferences. As much as the Finger Lakes are beautiful and crucial in enabling grape growing in our climate, they sure are a pain in the butt to drive around.
Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
Friends come over to my place quite often for meals, so I typically find myself enjoying the wines they have made or picked up. Otherwise, a rather shocking percentage of my disposable income is spent supporting Ithaca bars and restaurants, where I imbibe wine and hard cider. A current favorite is Bellwether's Liberty Spy Cider, which is made here in the Finger Lakes and is now wonderfully accessible on tap at a favorite hangout, Pixel Lounge in Collegetown.
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy?
No. I decided a decade ago that my food dislikes were all in my head. It took a fair deal of mental effort to convince myself that I loved, say, olives, but I did manage to negate all my food and drink aversions. Now I like to think I am able to enjoy anything. Even those inexpensive, highly extracted reds from New World countries.
Wine enjoyment is about more than just the wine itself. Describe the combination of wine, locations, food, company, etc. that would make (or has made) for the ultimate wine-drinking experience.
It happens nearly every week. I figure out what I'd like to make from the never-ending stream of fresh produce from my local CSA and invite friends over for dinner. I cook the meal, we open the bottles, and together sit down to enjoy the food, wine, and one another's company.