Vinifera Wine Cellars innovators Fred (left, the current president) and Dr. Konstantin Frank (the founder, at right) are credited with promoting the growth of vinifera
winegrape varieties in the eastern U.S.
—Dr. Konstantin Frank, one of the biggest proponents of growing vinifera
in the eastern United States, bonded Vinifera Wine Cellars
in June 1962. On the morning of July 1 the Frank family, which still owns the winery, celebrated the 50th anniversary with wine writers and members of the trade, following the event with a public reception in the afternoon.
Approximately 100 people attended the morning event, which featured a vertical tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines dating back to the 1980s. During a luncheon featuring German cuisine paired with Konstantin Frank wines, government officials paid tribute to the winery and its 50 years of accomplishments. Former New York state commissioner of agriculture Patrick Hooker brought greetings from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo; congressman Tom Reed read an article being published in the Congressional Record, and local representatives presented a joint resolution from the New York state legislature. Among those in attendance were 29 members of Dr. Frank’s family.
More than 200 people turned out for the afternoon open house, which included cellar and vineyard tours and historical vertical tastings. Of special interest was the showing of a rediscovered documentary about Dr. Frank that was filmed in the 1970s.
Dr. Konstantin Frank, who was born in Russia in 1899 and came to the United States in 1951, had successfully grown vinifera
grape varieties in the Ukraine and was convinced that they could be grown in New York state. After working with Charles Fournier to establish the vinifera
vineyards at Gold Seal Vineyards
in Hammondsport, he left in 1962 to start his own winery, Vinifera Wine Cellars. His fiery advocacy of vinifera
and its wines led many growers in the east to follow his example.
Willy Frank takes over
Dr. Frank’s son Willy Frank helped build the winery in 1962 and returned from Long Island every year to help with the harvest. Both men had strong personalities, and their relationship was often difficult. With his health failing in the early 1980s, Dr. Frank turned the management of Vinifera Wine Cellars over to his son Sept. 15, 1984, a year before his death.
The younger Frank took over a winery that had been struggling financially and put it back on solid footing through his promotional abilities and his success in changing the wine list to include vinifera
wines that attracted more customers. He’d always had a dream of making world-class Champagne, and Frank and his wife Margrit purchased land next to Vinifera Wine Cellars in 1982 and established Chateau Frank
, a sparkling wine facility that had its first vintage in 1985.
The couple’s daughter Barbara Frank was a trained enologist who graduated from Geisenheim, earned a master’s degree from the California State University, Fresno
, and was involved with the early vintages at Chateau Frank. Today she handles sales for the winery in the New York metro area and is a consultant for the sparkling wine operation.
Their son Frederick Frank also studied at Geisenheim and had spent 10 years as managing director for Banfi Vintners in Old Brookville, N.Y., when his father brought him into Vinifera Wine Cellars as president and majority stockholder in 1993. One of his early contributions was to introduce the Salmon Run line of wines, a second label that helped the winery during poor economic times and was responsible for elevating the status of the wines marketed under the Dr. Konstantin Frank label.
The fourth generation
The most committed great-grandchild of the new generation is Fred and Maryclaire’s daughter Meaghan Frank, who has worked during the summer at the winery and also full-time for an eight-month period. The Cornell
graduate is working on an MBA at the University of Adelaide in Australia and plans to rejoin the winery after graduation. Her brother Kyle has worked for five summers at the winery and is a junior in the School of Agriculture at Cornell.
Fred Frank told Wines & Vines
that this has been a very exciting time for him—and not just because of the 50th anniversary. So far this year the family’s wines have been awarded more than 50 gold medals, a faster pace than any other year.
But he is also excited about a new wine now in its third vintage, Grüner Veltliner. In 2007 he purchased a vineyard on the southern part of Seneca Lake and planted the first of 10 acres of the tender variety, which produced its first vintage in 2009. Frank said he believes Grüner Veltliner will not only help his winery but the broader Finger Lakes wine industry. Indeed, the first 50 years are history, but the Frank family’s outlook for the future remains bright.