By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Editor
"It's a rare day when a bridge gets burned. It seems that in the Finger Lakes, you can move around in the wine industry and keep your relationships strong with previous employers and colleagues. That's one of the great attributes of this region."
So says Derek Wilber (pictured right), the outgoing president and winemaker of White Springs Winery on Seneca Lake, and the once-and-future winemaker at Swedish Hill on Cayuga Lake. Wilber, who worked at Swedish Hill from 2000 to 2005, will return next week to take over for Ian Barry, who heads west to lead the winemaking operation at Keuka Lake Vineyards.
It is a series of moves that will likely not impact the average consumer very much, and that's unusual with so much change.
But for everyone involved, it means a drastic change in roles.
Ian Barry: Highly respected winemaker will focus on much smaller operation
"At Swedish Hill, I spent a lot of time managing workflow," Barry says, while crediting Swedish Hill for investing in a large staff and high-end equipment. "At KLV, it's just going to be me in the cellar. I'll know exactly what's been going on with every wine at all times. And, ultimately, I feel like I'll be able to spend more time with the wine."
Keuka Lake Vineyards has expanded the riesling program in recent years, and Barry has tasted alongside his friend Staci Nugent, the current winemaker who has decided to move on to other career pursuits. Barry has high praise for Nugent and for the ambitions of KLV owner Mel Goldman.
"I've always found their rieslings in particular to be among the best in the Finger Lakes," Barry says. "The mineral-driven style with racy acidity has always been a style that appeals to me, and I think they're doing it really well."
He adds, "Mel has no desire to grow the business very big. He plans to keep it small and focus on quality, and develop a following for his wines."
Derek Wilber: Return to Swedish Hill ensures stability at large, important operation
Wilber says a large business can still be a family business, and that defines Swedish Hill. "I'm excited to go back," he says. "The Petersons have always been great people to work for."
In recent years, Barry has led Swedish Hill to a long list of industry honors, and Wilber praises his colleague for it. "This is a real good fit for me, but certainly Ian's shoes will be big to fill."
As one of the most visible Finger Lakes wineries, Swedish Hill has guaranteed stability with the return of an experienced winemaker like Wilber.
But Wilber admits that leaving White Springs Winery is difficult, and his move was prompted by the very public attempts to sell the winery. "Since this business was put up for sale, I've kept my eyes and ears open," Wilber says. "I didn't go looking for work, but I also had no guarantee of my current position if the winery is sold. You just never know, and so when Swedish Hill called, it felt right."
White Springs Winery: A maturing operation now has an uncertain future
Wilber will consult for White Springs Winery and professes his desire to see it sold to someone who will keep the business operating as a winery. "We've really gained some good understanding of what this land is capable of in the past five years," Wilber says. "It's tough to walk away from that. You do it with a heavy heart. But that doesn't mean the next owners won't see the same potential."
A listing by the Pyramid Brokerage Company shows White Springs Winery for sale at a price of $5 million.
After substantial investments to grow the brand, improve the tasting room, and modernize the winery, White Springs will eventually have its future determined by new owners. Wilber thinks wine lovers won't see much change. "I don't see any reason why that would be the case," he says. "We'll all do our part to preserve what they've started."