The creation and consumption of wine has been part of human experience for at least 6,000 years and wine has been produced in the Finger Lakes region since the early 1800s. By the mid 19th century the wineries in this section of New York State were gaining world-wide respect and the appreciation of both serious oenophiles and casual drinkers. But it’s only been in the past half-century that the Finger Lakes has established itself as a premier wine-growing region. Partially this is because it takes so long for the fields to be cultivated and maintained with the proper grapes and for the output to be abundant and consistent. Winemaking is as much an art as a science, and a labor of love in which the love can often be strained.
“The Seasons of a Finger Lakes Winery” by John C. Hartsock is the story of one couple and their struggle to produce truly fine wines. Gary Barletta remembers growing up in an Italian neighborhood in Syracuse where every family seemed to be making wine. His wife Rosie is sometimes skeptical of his efforts but supports him effectively with her attention to marketing and record-keeping. Together they launch Long Point Winery on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. John Hartsock is with them at every step and his book reads like a novel of family life and struggle with nature. It is also a brave excursion by Hartsock himself, who late in the book (and in the Barlettas’ winemaking process) has to try pressing grapes the old-fashioned way, with his bare feet. John C. Hartsock is a former newspaper reporter and a professor of communications studies at SUNY-Cortland.
If Hartsock views winemaking with an outsider’s amazement and sympathy, Richard Figiel is able to act as the gracious host at the winery, able to answer any question. His 1995 book “Culture in a Glass: Reflections on the Rich Heritage of Finger Lakes Wine” is now a classic among books on wine and local history. (It is available from the Finger Lakes Wine Center in Ithaca). Figiel is proprietor of Silver Thread Winery in Lodi, NY, which John Hartsock describes as “a small, intimate winery tucked away behind vineyards and at the edge of a wood. They use sustainable farming techniques and green energy sources.” Richard Figiel’s book covers the history of winemaking from ancient times, the emergence of Finger Lakes wines through the work of the Taylor family and especially Dr. Konstantin Frank, a German-Russian emigre who in the 1950’s successfully transplanted European grapevines and spread the word of European viticulture.
Along with Hartsock and Figiel on OFF THE PAGE will be Hank Stark, amateur winemaker, long-time food and wine reviewer for the Ithaca newspapers and writer of a new food and wine blog for public broadcaster WCNY in Syracuse. They join Bill Jaker in a program recorded at the Finger Lakes Wine Center in Ithaca as the kickoff event of the second annual Finger Lakes Literary Festival.