Kurt Johnston is something of an elder statesman among winemakers in eastern upstate New York.
When Johnston opened Johnston’s Winery, which originally started out exclusively making fruit wine, 17 years ago in Galway, he was one of just three winemakers in this area. But the other two wineries — Larry’s Vineyard in Altamont and The Meadery in Greenwich — both closed after Johnston’s opened, leaving Johnston as the only winemaker for a while. (Larry’s Vineyard has since reopened as The Altamont Winery).
“As far as the other two wineries were concerned, I was the newcomer . . .” Johnston said. “But when [new wineries] came up, I couldn’t believe I had outlived the competition — I was the ripe old age of 34 or 35 when Larry died. But I survived out here, serving an absolutely high-quality product.”
Today, he makes everything from traditional reds and whites to mead and the original apple wine that he started out making. And now he’s no longer alone.
More crop up
In the past four or five years, a number of wineries have been cropping up in the region. The Uncork New York website, www.newyorkwines.com, a clearinghouse for wineries in the state, currently lists 14 wineries for the Greater Adirondacks area.
“The population shift in New York state from downstate to upstate was a really huge thing,” Johnston said. “When the housing boom was happening, there were dozens and dozens of people looking for houses. I would get Realtors in the shop. A lot of people came up here and stayed here, and now interest in wine is becoming all over the place. People are into wine now, and I hope that continues; I hope it’s not just a fad that fizzles out.”
For more info
The Saratoga Winery
Where: 462 Route 29, Saratoga Springs
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday
More Info: 584-WINE (9463), www.thesaratogawinery.com
Ledge Rock Hill Winery and Vineyard
Where: 41 Stewart Dam Road, Corinth
Hours: Noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (April through August); 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (September through October); 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (November through December); closed January through March
More Info: 654-5467, www.lrhwinery.com
Where: 285 Canada St., Lake George
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
More Info: 668-WINE (9463), www.adirondackwinery.com
Where: 5140 Bliss Road, Galway
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; any other time by appointment
More Info: 882-6310, www.johnstonswinery.com
Other winemakers who have been drawn to the region are noticing the increased attention wine has been given in recent years.
“It’s a market trend. Wine’s a growing industry and as it’s caught on as a tourist draw in some of the larger areas, it’s starting to spread out to some of the little more rural areas, particularly with people who might have their own passions for wine,” said Michael Pardy, who together with his wife, Sasha, owns and operates Adirondack Winery in Lake George.
Wineries in New York state are nothing new, with established vineyards, tasting rooms and wine trails in the Finger Lakes region, the Hudson Valley and on Long Island. With such proximity to established wine country, the Adirondack region has cultivated some wine fans of its own.
“It’s a very knowledgeable wine area,” Michael Pardy said. “By its close proximity to some of the other larger, more established areas, such as the Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, Long Island, a lot of the folks understand the basics of wine. They have the desire to go out and seek out new stuff and creative stuff, which leads to them going to these different places, even if they’re not on the traditional path or grouped together where you can go to one, go to the next and the next.”
After four summer seasons, Adirondack Winery has expanded to include a 4,000-square-foot winemaking facility in Queensbury in addition to the Lake George tasting room. The company makes over 35 varieties of wine, from traditional reds and whites to fruit wines such as the Strawsling (a strawberry riesling wine). The wines have won numerous accolades — their pinot grigio won a gold medal at the 2011 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
The two are originally from the Northeast — Michael from Granville, Sasha from New Hampshire. Michael picked up winemaking as a hobby when the two lived in Florida for about six years. The couple had always wanted to own their own business, and after deciding on winemaking, upstate New York seemed to them the best spot to do it.
“Tourism is a big factor — Saratoga is a tourist area, Lake George is a tourist area,” Sasha Pardy said. “But other than that, I would say the economy here has held up pretty well in comparison to the entire country. There’s some great schools around here. And I will say that in general, when you look at people that are 21 to 30 or whatever — there [are] more and more young adults that are into wine and are interested in it. It’s not like before when they didn’t even barely know what wine was — they’re actually interested and into pairing food with wine.”
The Saratoga Winery is another newcomer to the area. Owners Rich and Tara Nimmo, who lived in the Saratoga area already, first opened their wine bar two years ago in an old farm stand and greenhouse four miles outside Saratoga Springs. Rich had been diagnosed with cancer a year prior, which provided the push needed for the two to open their winery (a year after they opened, Rich was diagnosed cancer-free).
“They felt as though Saratoga had a big wine culture that was kind of bubbling underneath the surface that needed somebody to kind of take that into their hands and offer a unique product of their own,” said Kelsey Whalen, who manages the wine bar.
The couple make more than 20 different styles of wine but specialize in melomel, an all-natural wine, without additives such as sulfites, that is made strictly from honey, grapes and a small amount of yeast. Because of this, the fermentation process takes up to three times longer than other styles of wine.
Both the Adirondack Winery and Saratoga Winery source their grapes from outside the area. The Adirondack Winery uses California grapes that are pre-pressed and then shipped. Saratoga Winery gets pre-pressed grapes from the Finger Lakes.
“The Finger Lakes vines have been around for several decades,” Whalen said. “You can’t beat that maturity level, for New York grapes especially. Also, it allows us to allow a much wider variety of wines.”
Though the climate and soil conditions can make grape growing a challenge in the region, some local wineries do have vineyards, such as the Altamont Winery.
Gary and Debra Akrop opened Ledge Rock Hill Winery in Corinth in May, but the couple have been making wine for more than 20 years working in other people’s wineries in the Hudson Valley. They relocated to the area to try their luck with a new kind of hybrid grape, the marquette, that was first grown at the University of Minnesota in 2006. The Akrops are some of the first winemakers to use the cold-climate grape.
“It makes for a very good, dry red wine that I feel still has a lot of potential above and beyond where I have it at this point, because I’m still refining that particular wine,” Gary said.
The Akrops have a small marquette vineyard at the top of the mountain where their winery is located, which they first planted four years ago. Those grapes are just now reaching the point where they can be harvested, pressed, moved into metal vats for fermentation and then placed into oak barrels to age. The whole process can take up to two years for red wines.
“My red wines are all about complexity,” Gary said. “What impresses me the most is the level of sophistication of the wine drinker that I’ve attracted here. They’re very surprised, in a good way, at the level of complexity that exists in my red wines.”
With the wide variety of wines being made in the region, along with each winery’s own specialties, many local wineries are looking to band together and form a wine trail like some of the ones that have existed for years in the Finger Lakes region. Though nothing is official yet, there are now enough wineries in the region to make it happen.
“Nobody just goes to one winery,” Gary said. “When you visit here, you want to know where the next one might be.”
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