As harvest was winding down in the Finger Lakes, I visited Hunt Country Vineyards on Keuka Lake. The Hunt family has been making wine since the early 80s, but they’ve been farming the land far longer than that. It’s a family history that’s on display in their tasting room.
“These are all original photos of Hunts through the years. The barn that is out over there, that’s the same barn from the 1880s. And, so there’s all of this seventh generation history here.”
Matt Kelly greeted me on my arrival. He’s a member of the family by marriage to Suzanne Hunt. While they take pride in their history and heritage, a big part of their story today is how they’re moving forward.
“I still meet a lot of people who don’t know that we’re a seventh generation farm. I meet a lot of people who aren’t aware that we’ve essentially eliminated fossil fuels for heating and electricity. I meet a lot of folks who don’t know that we have a pollinator habitat, bee boxes, bat boxes, wild pollinator hotels, and that we really take a holistic approach to taking care of our terroir.”
From the parking lot, solar panels are clearly visible on the roof of the tasting room. In the vineyards, you can see the beehives. Suzanne Hunt Hunt operates a company separate from the winery with a portfolio that includes clean and sustainable technologies and agriculture. It’s been an interest of hers pretty much her entire life.
“I actually remember having a conversation, I can show you the picture over there on the wall, with the first governor Cuomo when I was about 10. They typical politician question for a kid is what do you want to be when you grow up? So, I had a whole conversation with Mario Cuomo about how I wanted to get degrees in environmental science and public policy and all that kind of thing.”
Hunt Country Vineyards is looking forward with its winemaking as well. They welcomed a new head winemaker in April. Craig Hosboch came to the Finger Lakes from the North Country. He’s been impressed by the sense of community among the region’s winemakers.
“Nobody feels like there’s anything worth withholding. Everyone just wants to share and help each other. There’s always a few outliers, but overall it’s about a rising tide lifts all ships. I feel that a majority of people here believe that. The goal is for all of us to make better wine and to make the best wine we possibly can so that we’re known as a region not just individuals.”
As with the other winemakers I’ve spoken with in the region, Hosbach says the warm and sunny weather late in the season made for a good harvest and he’s looking forward to what this year has to offer.
“We’re going to have some really, really nice wines this year, I truly believe from here and just as the region in general. There’s a lot of very good winemakers out there and more and more are coming here all the time. They know how to roll with the punches. They know how to work in challenging seasons and still produce great wine. You’re going to see a lot of that this year, more than you have in the past.”
With a new winemaker comes new ideas and Hosboch is already looking for ways to put his own mark on the brand.
“The one thing I did different this year is traditional port. We’ve always made port and this year we decided, let’s go traditional. Let’s stop the ferment with spirits. It’s all timing. You want to hit it at the right point when the aromatics are at their peak during fermentation, but you still have a lot of residual sugar and not much alcohol. I think we nailed it. We’ll see.”
Suzanne Hunt is working to advance the environment in the state for the kind of sustainability she believes will carry them into the future.
“What I’m spending a lot of my personal time on right now, my volunteer time is trying to accelerate the evolution of the regulatory framework in the state. Because working with some of the big power producers in the area, I can’t make a business case for large scale batteries instead of dirty fossil fuels right now because the state hasn’t clarified how the services that those technologies provide will be compensated.”