On my recent trip to Seneca Lake, one of the wineries that surprised me the most was Lakewood Vineyards. Winemaker Chris Stamp is making some classic, well-priced riesling, doing some interesting things with New York oak in his chardonnay and cabernet franc programs and even impressed with some of the hybrid blends. This week, we pose our Q&A questions to Chris:
What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking?
First, you should know that although I grew up on a grape farm, my parents rarely had wine, or any alcoholic beverages around the house. Not because they were against it, but because back in those days, being grape growers for Taylor Wine Company didn't necessarily translate into knowledge about wine other than it came from the bins of fruit that you delivered to the wine factory.
There really wasn't much of a wine culture in this area back then. Today you could walk into any restaurant in Watkins Glen and find 12 people who are well read in matters of wine. Back then you'd be hard pressed to find a dozen in the whole town.
This fact makes it easier for me to remember my first taste of wine. It wasn't a stunning Bordeaux from a storied vintage, but a small glass of "Sparkling Burgundy," which was, I believe a charmat process, Concord-based bubbly. But at the ripe old age of somewhere around 10, I recall it tasted really good.
What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
My fascination with wine making began in my early teens while visiting a neighbor. This neighbor was an off-the-boat Yugoslavian who loved to make wine. Lots of wine. In fact his basement probably had 1000 gals of new wine at any one time. I remember being intrigued by all the barrels, the bubblers, the carboys and probably most of all, the aromas. I would help him on occasion. At the time I thought "what a neat hobby". It was years later that it occurred to me that I could make a profession out of it.
Which of your current wines is your favorite and why?
This is a question I often get if I spend any time in the tasting room. My answer is always in the form of a question: Which of your kids is your favorite?
Fact is, it has more to do with the occasion, what I'm having for dinner, and the weather. I confess, I drink more of the drier wines, but if the company wants a sweeter wine, then that's my favorite that night.
What has surprised you most about being a member of the Finger Lakes wine community?
The growth of the industry. I remember when making 12,000 gallons qualified you as a large winery. We now make over 80,000 gallon/yr. And instead of being one of a couple dozen wineries, we're one of well over 100. Your perspectives sure change.
I'm also impressed at how well everyone still works together. If your neighbor needs something, you help if you can. Despite the growth it still feels like a small community. I like that.
Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
I rarely drink liquor, but I have a serious weakness for German-style Hefe Weizen. It might even be an addiction.
In the winter I drink more reds from all over the world, but when it warms up outside, it's impossible to beat a Finger Lakes Riesling. Every winery here makes a riesling and almost all of them are excellent. But the real sleepers of the Finger Lakes are the Gewurztraminers. This is a variety that we can produce as well as anyone. Your chances of finding Gewurztraminer in my glass at any particular moment are pretty good.
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy?
Yes. Independently I love dry red wine and chocolate. Together, they are an abomination. What really worries me is that some poor soul is going to taste these two together and really believe that this is synergy. What a travesty. Nothing in the pairing works. Whoever proffered this notion show be condemned!
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.
Probably 8 of my top ten wine experiences has taken place right in my own dining room. My wife and I both like to cook, and we have an embarrassingly large wine cellar.
In the winter it might be porterhouse steak with avocado sauce paired with cabernet franc (this one is awesome!) served in the dining room with the fireplace roaring in the background. Or in the summer, garden-fresh grilled vegetables with a crisp dry riesling on my front deck over looking the lake as the sun fades away.
The key is nobody has to be anywhere else that night. There is the feeling that this is what we work for, these moments at the end of the day, when we can all put away our type A side and relax and enjoy the fruits of our labors.