By Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief
With these weekly Q&A posts, we typically talk to a winery owner, winemaker, vineyard manager or someone else employed by an individual winery. This week, we pose our questions to Hans Walter-Peterson, someone who, though he doesn't work for a winery, is very much a part of the Finger Lakes wine community.
He works for Cornell University as the Viticulture Extension Specialist for the university's Finger Lakes Grape Program. What does that mean exactly? It means that Hans helps grape growers with vineyard site selection and establishment, selection of grape varieties, rootstocks and training systems, pruning, canopy and crop load management, soils, vineyard nutrition and water management.
Before coming to the Finger Lakes, he held the same position for the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program, located in western New York, for six years.
Hans holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota and a Masters degree in Viticulture from the University of California – Davis. In between earning those two degrees, he worked as an environmental planner and policy analyst for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Hans’ professional experience in grape and wine included working at a small, premium wine shop in St. Paul and at a small winery in Stillwater, Minnesota where he did everything from crushing grapes to cleaning tanks to pruning vines, and learned that while growing grapes and making wine isn’t nearly as sexy as most people think it is, it can still be a lot of fun.
And now, our standard set of questions:
What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking?The first wine I remember trying was probably sauvignon blanc from Woodridge. My parents always had that wine around when company came over for work parties, friends arrived from out of town, or something to sip while they were cooking.
What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
I worked as an environmental policy analyst for the state of Minnesota for about 8 years in the 1990s, and decided I didn’t want to look the way my colleagues did after being there for 25 years. I had a biology degree, I enjoyed wine, so why not study grapes? So I ended up getting a weekend “cellar rat” job at St. Croix Vineyards in Stillwater to see if the industry was something that really would interest me. In the midst of cleaning tanks, pruning, harvesting, burying vines for winter protection, racking tanks, bottling and all of the other craziness that goes on at any winery and vineyard, I realized that this was an industry I wanted to be a part of.
Which current Finger Lakes wine is your favorite and why?
Are you trying to get me in trouble here?
There are so many that I could pick, but one of the wines that sticks in my mind is Keuka Lake Vineyards Vignoles. Most Vignoles that I have tasted tend to have more apricot, peach or tropical fruit flavors to them. This version, however, really surprised me with its bright acidity that brought out some different citrus and bright fruit flavors that I wasn’t expecting. It’s one that I think demonstrates the ability of hybrids to make some excellent wines here in the Finger Lakes.
What has surprised you most about being a member of the Finger Lakes wine community?
As the extension viticulturist in the region for about 2 1/2 years now, I’ve been really impressed that so many growers and winemakers around here are always looking for new information and new ideas on how to do a better job in the vineyard and in the cellar. I really think this bodes well for the future of the industry in the region. I also really appreciate the fact that there is so much collaboration and sharing of information between members of the industry. While they are certainly competitors in one sense, many of them also recognize that their success lies in the success of the region as a whole. And that’s really fun to be a part of.
Other than Finger Lakes wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
My wife and I are big fans of Navarro Vineyards in the Anderson Valley of California, and Cline Cellars in Sonoma (yes, once in a while I like a big fruity Zin bomb).
When I’m in a beer mood, I’ll usually end up with Southern Tier Brewing’s IPA or Ithaca Beer Co.’s Cascazilla – I am a self-confessed hophead.
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy?
Red wine and chocolate just doesn’t work for me for whatever reason. Maybe I haven’t been exposed to the right combination yet, but I just don’t go for them together. I tried port and a cigar after a dinner once as well – never again. Why ruin a perfectly good port?
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.
Mine is actually coming up at Thanksgiving. My family is coming out to spend the holiday with us this year, and we always spend part of Wednesday and most of Thursday cooking, drinking, playing and laughing as we prepare dinner together. Sitting around the table on that Thursday afternoon, with great food, great wines and our family around us – those are the kinds of experiences that I always remember, and are what I will be truly thankful for this year.