When it comes to American wines, New York is second only to Napa Valley…and, as some would argue, even that is subjective. So we took the discussion of sustainable wine up North to the famed Finger Lakes Region with assistant wine maker (or “vintner-in-training”) Alexandra Doniger of one of the regions newest wineries, Hector Wine Company.
One of more than 200 wineries in the area, Hector Wine Co. makes an assortment of dry red and whites from grapes grown right next door. A family-owned business, Jason and Justin Boyette, along with a small team including Ms. Doniger, take exceptional pride in what they produce and oversee every single aspect of production. Ms. Doniger was kind enough to give us the rundown on their production practices and how their wines fit into the conscious eater’s life.
FS: While many wineries outsource some aspect of their wine-making process, you guys keep it totally local, totally in-house. Why?
AD: Yes, everything is done on-site, from press to bottle. Our grapes are hand picked in the vineyard and then hand sorted, and we use minimal intervention in the cellar. Throughout the entire process, we let our wines do the talking and we just interpret.
We think it makes a good wine. We don’t want to make mediocre wine and we think best is something that is handled by us from start to finish.
FS: What are some of the methods you use to ensure that your wines are part of a sustainable food system?
AD: We don’t bring grapes in from any other region, so everything is from the Finger Lakes. The vineyards that we do have – Sawmill Creek Vineyards – adhere to the New York Guide to Sustainable Viticulture Practices. So, we’re using local sustainably-grown grapes that local people are employed to pick. We also sell local cheeses in our winery, so tasting room guests are being served local wine and cheeses by local people.
And we’re a really strong community here. It’s all about helping each other out – it’s a web and we’re all interconnected. Whether it’s a piece of equipment that’s died or we’re working extremely late at night during harvest, we’re all working together and that’s really what sustainability is – being an integral part of that community.
FS: You mentioned that organic wines are hard to come by, especially for the Finger Lakes Region. Why is that?
AD: First, the term organic is difficult to define. Plus, there’s a lot of disease pressure, climactic challenges and insect threats, all of which mean we have to do a lot of spraying early in the season. Everybody in the Finger Lakes has a spray program.
We don’t use a lot – we actually use the most minimal amount that we have to, but if we don’t spray, we won’t have a crop. Even if we are using the most traditional, natural practices. I tell people that we make traditional wines in a modern world. We make wine by hand for human consumption and we use minimal intervention.
FS: What’s the one question a production-conscious consumer should ask of the wine they drink?
AD: That’s a tough question. There are these fads and these moments where a lot of people suddenly want to know “Is it organic?” or “Is it natural?” but they may not even fully understand what it is that they’re really asking. They should ask about the region where everything came from. For instance, if the winery is importing, they’re not supporting sustainable practices. But that said, they may be forced to import that specific variety of grape to make a specific wine. So, it’s just about education. A good question is, “How much of it is done on premise and by the people who are serving the wine?” For our region, the “local” issue is far more relevant than “organic.”
FS: Anything else you want to mention?
AD: We’re starting to toy with wild yeast, and we’re allowing the wine to ferment on its own. It’s a new practice that isn’t being done much in the Finger Lakes – so keep an eye out!
Interested in learning more about the Hector Wine Co. and the stunning Finger Lakes Region? Click here!