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Burying Vines to Make Fine Wine in Skaneateles

The scenic vistas of high hills, a sparkling lake and fertile ground boasting agricultural bounty in Skaneateles have been gradually encroached upon by a litter of “McMansions,” must to the chagrin of longtime residents. But a relatively new neighbor, Anyela’s Vineyards, offers both quality wine and stunning vistas from its hilltop perch four miles south of the village of Skaneateles.

While the bulk of Central New York’s wineries coalesce several miles to the west, clustered around Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka Lakes, founder and owner Jim Nocek wanted to stand out rather than be one of 30 vintners in a “wine trail.” “Skaneateles is all about the market,” he said. “It’s not like there’s a deficit of wine. You can buy good wine at a decent price from all over the world at any liquor store. I needed to find a place that’s a destination with the right demographics that could justify a high-quality wine.” Mr. Nocek is a third-generation viticulturist. His grandmother, Anyela, for whom the vineyard is named, immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe around 1918. After settling in western New York, the family worked at vineyards for several years. Fast forward several decades to 1995, when Mr. Nocek decided to establish his own winery, and purchased the current 100-acre property that overlooks the western shore of Skaneateles Lake.

Mr. Nocek planted his first vines in 2001 and continued to work at the family vineyards before opening Anyela’s gates to the public in 2008. His first two vintages were red wines. Though the practice of purchasing another grower’s grapes is common and allows the fermentation and bottling process to begin earlier, Mr. Nocek decided against that strategy. “It’s not that there may not be better grapes out there, but I know the land and I wanted to control the whole process,” Mr. Nocek said. “I wanted responsibility for the whole ball of wax, from the plants in the ground to the bottle in the customer’s hands.” This responsibility is taken seriously at Anyela’s; Mr. Nocek and his crew actually bury their vines during the winter. With 27 acres under cultivation, this is a highly labor-intensive process, but it protects the sensitive plants from the harsh Central New York winter weather. “The vines can crack at about minus-5 to minus-10 degrees, and large temperature drops can also be detrimental,” he explained, noting that the grafts between the scion—the shoot that buds into grapes—and the vine itself can be fragile. “We bury the vines because we want a crop every year.”

The process begins with the Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc grapes, which are harvested in mid-September. As soon as the crop is picked, the vines are pruned, fixed to a wire in the ground and plowed over. The cycle completes by the end of November. “If you come out here after Thanksgiving all you’ll see is mounds of dirt,” Mr. Nocek said. The process is reversed during the second or third week of March, when the vines are pulled up with hooks from their winter “hibernation” and re-attached to their trellises, and the sheltering dirt is cleared away. The efforts of Mr. Nocek and his staff are paying off. The vineyard’s website lists dozens of awards bestowed upon Anyela’s wines dating back to the winery’s founding year. Nocek says his “signature” award was bestowed recently in a California competition. “To take a red to California and get recognition, that makes me happy,” he said. “Our 2011 vintage also won the best sweet Riesling in the Finger Lakes,” Mr. Nocek added. “It’s not an international award, but there are a lot of good Rieslings in the Finger Lakes.” Anyela’s offers daily tastings between noon and 5 p.m., five samples for $3, with live music on occasional Saturday evenings. The facility is also available for weddings and other private functions, and will also accommodate group tastings.

The vineyard grounds feature flower and vegetable gardens through which to stroll, a large outdoor deck, and will soon open a two-story VIP tasting room with a great view of the lake. Anyela’s wines are sold at a number of restaurants and liquor stores throughout Central New York, all of which are listed on the company website. Mr. Nocek has no interest in resting on past laurels. He has planted a “partial crop” of Al Barino, a white Spanish grape that he describes as “very fruit-forward with a lot of nice, crisp characteristics.” This grape has a stronger cold tolerance, so Mr. Nocek hopes it will thrive. “It’s a different variety that we haven’t tried,” he said. Anyela’s Al Barino wine will be available in 2015.

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