Home » A winery, brewery and cafe all at one of the Finger Lakes’ oldest and best-known producers

A winery, brewery and cafe all at one of the Finger Lakes’ oldest and best-known producers

Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery is one of the oldest wineries in the Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York.

It’s also one of the most recognized, having opened in 1979 on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. By now, the fourth and fifth generations of the Wagner family are overseeing an operation that now includes the winery, a restaurant (The Ginny Lee Cafe) that opened in 1983 and a brewing operation that opened in 1997 (Wagner Valley Brewing Co.).

The winery sources 250 acres of grapes and produces 50,000 cases of wine per year, according to its website. It makes more than 30 award-winning wines ranging from bone dry to dessert wine sweet. You can find the winery’s numerous awards in an easy-to-navigate page on the website. Its variety of Rieslings each have won a long list of accolades.

Two awards that stand out. It was named Winery of the Year, Eastern United States, by the San Diego International Wine Challenge judges in 2016, and New York’s Winery of the Year through its performance in the New York Wine Classic in 2019.

The winery is located at 322 State Route 414, in Lodi. New York; it’s open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It’s a 200-mile drive (about three and a half hours) from Harrisburg due north to Lodi.

The brewery and cafe are both at 9322 State Route 414, with the brewery open the same hours as the winery.

Presently, the cafe is open during lunch Fridays through Sundays for takeout and limited seating inside, and for outdoor seating as the weather permits. That will change in May when the cafe’s hours are expanded to seven days a week for lunch and other special events.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board carries a variety of Wagner’s wines in its Fine Wines & Good Spirits stores. You can see what they carry at this link.

One other fact worth noting. The winery last week announced that it was unveiling a code of conduct for all of its visitors moving forward. It noted in a Facebook post that the return of events and large gatherings brings with it the increased chance for “people of color and marginalized identities” to be harrassed, threatened or discriminated against.

“We have enacted a Visitor Code of Conduct to better reflect our values and ensure our physical and virtual spaces are safe for all identities,” the winery noted in the post, thanking the Lift Collective for providing the framework and guidance for the creation of this policy. “Any violation of this policy will result in immediate and swift removal from the premises and future visits to Wagner Vineyards, Wagner Valley Brewing Co., and the Ginny Lee Café at the discretion of winery/brewery/restaurant management.”

Below is the latest in the “6 Questions” series of interviews with winemakers and owners of East Coast wineries, which looks behind at what has been a turbulent year and, with optimism, looks ahead. Thanks to Alex Jankowski, the marketing and PR manager for the winery, for taking these on.

Welcome to Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery, which opened in 1979. It sources grapes from 250 acres of vineyards and produces 50,000 cases of wine per year.

Q, For readers who aren’t familiar with the winery, what are a few things they should know about it?

A, We are a 100{431c92db2ef93c421a350be785d244bd702e2c73a34f2b6f60cd8fd62b61507d} estate-bottled winery founded in 1978 by Stanley “Bill” Wagner, who was a lifelong grape grower for the Taylor Wine Co. before building his own winery after the passage of the 1976 New York Farm Winery Act. In total, we sustainably farm 20 grape varieties across 240 acres, translating to wines that encapsulate the freshness and ripeness we are able to achieve in the fruit grown here on the east side of Seneca Lake. We focus primarily on Riesling and Cabernet Franc, but we take pride in each and every one of the 30 wines we make.

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Q, In the vineyard how was the winter? How much has the vineyard evolved through the years in terms of replantings or plantings, new clones? Or new varieties of grapes?

A, The focus has shifted dramatically over the course of the 40+ years we’ve been in business from the native and French-American hybrids we grew for the Taylor Wine Co. to the European vinifera varieties we are known for today. Bill Wagner planted our first vinifera vineyard in 1978 (eight acres of Riesling we still farm to this day), and now more than half of our farm consists of vinifera varieties. That said, we still hold great reverence for native and hybrid grapes — some of which we are the only farm in the region still growing and making single-varietal wine from. That balance gives us a unique portfolio of wines that cater to all taste preferences.

The winter was relatively calm. One practice we perform each year to lengthen the life on our vines is to “hill up” a mound of dirt over the graft union of every vinifera vine before winter. This insulates the rootstock and lower scion trunk from harsh winter temperatures and keeps the vine alive in the event of a killing frost. We then “de hill” each spring to re-expose the graft union and prevent the scion from developing its own root system.

Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery

A look from above at Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery in Lodi, New York.

Q, I was looking at the history there and all that’s been done is there a “next project” on the horizon?

A, We continue to evolve our practices and methods in the vineyard and in the cellar to keep our business running as sustainably as we can. Since 2015 we have been installing solar panels on our café and several of our outbuildings. We now have more than 800 panels that provide more than two-thirds of the electricity we use in a year. In the vineyard, we continue to experiment with several different cover-cropping techniques for our row middles to strengthen our land against erosion and provide additional nutrients into the soil. Current cover crops include cereal rye, organic hay (grown and baled on our farm), and an OVN mixture of tenacious grasses and fescues.

Q, Your Riesling program: How much has it evolved or grown there are the 5 varietals, yes? … Are they in any blends?

A, For 30 years, all of our Riesling came from that one vineyard Bill planted back in 1978. After recognizing the staying power and potential of Riesling in the Finger Lakes, we expanded our plantings to now boast the largest and most diverse Riesling farm in the Northeast. We have 62 acres of Riesling across six different sites that vary in both age of vine and elevation.

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We use these plantings to make seven different wines: Caywood East Riesling (a dry, single-vineyard offering), Riesling Dry, Riesling Semi Dry, Riesling Select (a medium sweet Riesling from grapes on our oldest vineyard block), Riesling Ice (a dessert wine), Fathom 107 (a Riesling/Gewurztraminer blend), and our Sparkling Riesling.

Q, Too soon to write about your Alta B Weekend? Is there a date for that yet? Are there other weekly or annual events you do there that readers should know about?

A, At the very least, we will have the Alta B Weekend sale both in the winery and on our website that folks have come to expect and love over the years. We are hoping that we can hold the in-person festivities associated with the weekend in 2021 as well, but no final decisions have been made.

We can, however, confirm that our Friday Night Sunset Series will take place each Friday from May 28 through September 3. These extended hours allow folks to enjoy our beautiful sunset scenes over Seneca Lake along with drinks, food, and music.

Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery

A lineup of a couple of ines from Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery in the Finger Lakes.

Q, I’ve asked everyone for these interviews the same thing what has the past year been like running a winery and brewery amid all that has taken place? And are these practices instituted because of the pandemic that could stay permanent?

A, It’s been a challenge, for sure, but it’s nothing compared to those who have felt the physical toll of the pandemic or have put their lives on the line to battle the virus on the front lines. To them, we are forever indebted and grateful.

We emerged from the shutdown with several new policies and practices in place that will remain so for the immediate future. One of these practices is going to a reservation-only system for our indoor, seated tastings. We still allow walk-in visitors to enjoy drinks by the flight or glass as space permits [and we are thankful to have plenty of space].

But folks who want to really dive into the rich history of Wagner and our region now have the ability to book a 45-minute window with a member of our tasting staff and know that our pourer will dedicate that time to teaching them about our wines and answering any questions they might have. Our tasting staff also appreciates this delineation between who is coming to drink and have a good time and who is coming to educate themselves about our work. We are thrilled to accommodate both sets of visitors, and we hope to see you all this summer!

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