Thursday, July 28, 2011

If Your Refrigerator Could Talk

by Ben Peacock, President, Tousey Winery

Dieticians would say that you can tell a lot about a person from a peek inside their fridge.  I would argue you can tell just as much from what's on the outside.  For reasons unknown to me, people seem  desperate to reveal and express themselves via the white and chrome vastness of this kitchen utility's outer surfaces.  All of which are ready to be scanned and analyzed by covert fridge scanners like me.  There's the snotty nose kid on a bicycle, the reminder of a dentist appointment and more often than not, a green takeout menu.

But forget the bills and the grandchidren's latest masterpiece. I'm perpetually on the lookout for fridge magnets, and more specifically, fridge magnet quotes.  Rarely, in fact never, do I come across the wit of Churchill or a magical poem from Kipling.  In the real world fridge magnets tend to range from the mildly amusing ('Jesus is coming....look busy'), to a variation on the cliche, 'It's not the destination that counts, it's the journey'.  I saw the latter at some friends' dinner party the other night (now they know I scan their fridge!) and it got me thinking about my own situation and how it reflects that of the Finger Lakes wine community.

This Is a Fridge of Love
Or pure chaos.  It's a 50/50.

Let me give you some context.  I am from a small start-up winery down in the Hudson Valley.  Like every winery, we want to be known for quality and consistency.  And because we are brand new, we wanted to get a good start.  After a number of enquiries, all roads led to Peter Bell at Fox Run who agreed to give us some support and guidance as we build our business.  Now, with hindsight, neither of us knew what we letting ourselves in for.  But turning up on Peter's doorstep showing notes of greenness with a crisp, dry ignorance, I had a clear destination in mind - to make top quality wine.  Little did I know the journey to achieve such a goal would be most enlightening and rewarding. (Did I mention humbling?)

Why so enlightening and rewarding?  Easy answer - the people.  The collaborative, friendly, we're-all-in-this-together spirit of the Finger Lakes wine community has often been spoken and written about. I have been lucky enough to witness it first hand.  But before I get to the wider community, let me first focus on Fox Run.

Let's be clear: Fox Run doesn't have to help an unknown winery four hours' drive away.  But they do, and with gusto.  Peter Bell is selfless when it comes to giving help and sharing his knowledge. This could be anything from winemaking, cork selection to sun protection in the vineyard.  I should show my gratitude by picking up the varying subjects at a much quicker pace.  But I don't: I labor along trying to cling on to the vast subject in front of me - he doesn't say a word, and if he does, it's words of encouragement.

Tricia Renshaw is of a similar vein, always happy to help and make time even though she doesn't have any herself.  And when I make a fool of myself in the lab (which is often)  - I should be able to carry out simple calculations but to no avail - Kelby Russell doesn't mock me (to which I fully deserve, I might add).  He just directs me, professionally and with the utmost respect, to the next task in the cellar.

It doesn't stop there.  We have Scott Osborn at the ready with knowledge and advice from the business end.  John Kaiser, bending over backwards to answer any vineyard questions I have.  And then there's Pete Howe....if they allow me back on this blog, I will elaborate on him more fully in a later post.  This may seem like a glorification, but all this is a run-of-the-mill scene here at Fox Run.

But the more time I spend in the Finger Lakes, the more I see examples of support and a collaborative spirit at other wineries.  Fox Run isn't the exception, it's the rule.  From a full spectrum of subjects spanning vineyard contacts to cooperage (barrel and tank) advice, everybody seems to want to help and share their best practices.  And it's all done in a way that helps to bring people up, not keep them down.

Being invited to the blending sessions of last year's Tierce Riesling (an earlier bottling of which Dan Berger, the west coast wine critic, called the best American Riesling ever made) is a case in point.  This is an important wine, a collaboration of three of the best winemakers in the northeast with a philosophy to adhere to.  Not only was I invited to this elite event, but they actively sought out my opinion.  I was amazed - I'm relatively new on the scene and an outsider, yet that doesn't matter.  It's the overall message that does: we're striving for the same goal, the same destination, and let's help each other get there.  This leaves room for everybody, no matter what stage of the journey they may be at.  To feel, at first hand, the sheer weight and depth of this spirit, this collaborative nature, feels special.  And as a consequence, special wines will continue to emerge from the Spirit of the Finger Lakes.

Now, be careful what you put on your fridge; it may spark another blog post.

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