John Ingle, working the harvest in his namesake vineyard
By Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief
Photo courtesy of Heron Hill Winery
By the time John Ingle, owner of Heron Hill Winery on Keuka Lake, graduated from the University of Denver in 1971, he was reading organic gardening magazines regularly and had been bitten by the “back to the earth” bug. After marrying his wife, Josephine, after graduation, they went looking for their promised land. Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon all received consideration but they landed in John’s backyard – Seneca Point, Naples, New York.
There they lived in a two-room cabin with a woodstove while they helped their neighbors with the grape harvest. Something about the work struck the couple as the “good life.”
The next spring the Ingles planted 20 acres of grapes, including chardonnay, riesling, and seyval blanc. John cleared the land – a tangle of poison ivy – and planted some 12,000 vines. They pounded posts, strung wire and battled weeds and pests. And, after four years of nurturing the vineyard, John was ready for harvest.
Unfortunately, at that time, New York State was experiencing an excess of grapes and as a result, the Ingles could find little or no market for their crop. To solve the problem, they built Heron Hill Winery on Keuka Lake.
Being next door to Walter Taylor’s Bully Hill Winery and Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars made it seem like a good location. And it seems that it has been
2010 marks the 33rd anniversary of Heron Hill.
Now, onto our standard set of questions:
What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking?
It seems like just yesterday, late August of 1969, Denver, Colorado.
I had just re-started my college career as a transfer student at the University of Denver. I had chosen this location for it’s obvious recreational opportunities as well as because several of my friends were in attendance there. It also provided me with what I hoped would be ample elbow room and freedom from the perceived restraints of my ever-present parents.
One of my friends was having a back-to-school party in his yard. There were young, happy faces all around, the brilliant Colorado sun was shining down upon us, energy-laced music of that period pulsed in the backyard. The stage was set for great things.
Across the room I saw a lovely diminutive honey-blond and had a surging sensation of place. This was a person who would be a player in my life.
As the pace quickened with the pulse of the music, the Ripple wine entered the picture – a case of white and a case of red – both nicely chilled. Being a beer drinker, this was new to me, but so was a lot there. I ventured a taste, I think it was the white, not bad! I didn’t know enough to analyze the product as I so often do now in my daily wine consuming adventures. It was good, the sun was good, the music was good, it was all good. And still only the first day of school.
The lovely young lady has been my loving wife for over 38 years and we both look back at our days at DU as some of the best in our lives. We don’t drink much Ripple anymore though…
What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
I'm chasing an old wooden wagon down a sun-drenched vineyard row, carrying a 30-pound box of just-picked grapes. It comes to me that there are tens of thousands of people in vineyards around the world doing the same thing and have been for thousands of years! It's a vintage. It's a life.
Which of your current wines is your favorite and why?
We currently are enjoying our 2007 Ingle Vineyard Unoaked Chardonnay. It's light bodied and refreshing for pre-dinner situations – perhaps with some goat cheese dabs on homegrown organic carrot or pear rounds.
Family farmed and sustainably grown for over 30 years, our seven acres of chardonnay include a higher elevation, 2-acre vineyard that holds it's acidity well and yields a steely, mineral-driven, Chablis-type chardonnay quaff. This crisp style wine leads well into a dinner red, perhaps a snappy "Northern Style" pinot noir.
What has surprised you most about being a member of the Finger Lakes wine community?
The single thing that has surprised me most about the Finger Lakes wine industry is how long it is taking to really get a foothold in the wine world. In the last forty years, I planted my vineyard in 1972, we have come so far from "foxy" to "world-class" and yet have been passed by so many other wine regions on the ladder to success. It is baffling.
Other than wines made from your fruit, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
We enjoy Bordeaux and Burgundy, often purchasing futures, but for a break from wine it will be vodka, preferably made from potatoes, on the rocks. Glacier is a favorite.
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy?
We have a pretty flexible attitude about wine pairings. We enjoy a light bodied, off-dry, low alcohol white before dinner, usually a riesling, pinot grigio or unoaked chardonnay with assorted cheeses and crackers and our homegrown organic crudités.
Following a couple glasses of that, we invariably switch to red for dinner. It would be pinot noir or possibly a medium-bodied cabernet franc – Chinon or Finger Lakes, with fish or chicken often grilled or sautéed. For beef, venison or tomato-based sauces we look for merlot, cabernet sauvignon or syrah.
We believe that if you enjoy the wine and you enjoy the food, together, it's a match. We find very few wines or foods that are not acceptable.
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.
I envision the sun shining warmly on a small group of friends gathered comfortably around a table on the terrace at Heron Hill Winery. We're looking out over the vineyards, Keuka Lake and the distant hills with a gentle breeze carrying light jazz music through the air.
The enticing aromas of grilled chicken and vegetables stimulate the appetite while a crisp, refreshing glass of riesling beckons from the center of the table. One taste leads to another as the wine slowly warms and the bouquet of flavors are released increasing waves of enjoyment.