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Chateau LaFayette Reneau Sold in New York

Glenora Wine Cellars group now one of the larger producers in Finger Lakes area

by Linda Jones McKee
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Gene Pierce and Scott Welliver now own Chateau LaFayette Reneau located on Seneca Lake in New York's Finger Lakes region.

Hector, N.Y.—Dick and Betty Reno started Chateau LaFayette Reneau in 1985 on 140 acres of land with a spectacular view of Seneca Lake. Over the years, they added an inn and grew the winery to 10,000 cases.

In anticipation of their retirement, the Renos recently sold the winery and inn to Gene Pierce and Scott Welliver, owners of Glenora Wine Cellars on the west side of Seneca Lake and Knapp Winery & Vineyard Restaurant on Cayuga Lake.

The combined total production by Glenora Wine Cellars, Knapp Winery and Chateau LaFayette Reneau of approximately 74,000 cases will make the Glenora group one of the larger wine companies in the Finger Lakes region.

According to Pierce, their purchase of Chateau LaFayette Reneau was agreed to months ago, but it took six months to get the official licenses in place for Pierce and Welliver to take over production and the management of the winery. They plan to keep the winery independent from their other two properties from the customers’ perspective, but integrate the business management and supply chain for all three wineries.

The new owners also intend to keep the staff at both the winery and the inn in place. Tim Miller, winemaker at Chateau LaFayette Reneau for 10 years, started his winemaking career at Glenora, and his brother Tracey Miller is currently the production manager at Glenora.

Purchase provides expansion option
Chateau LaFayette Reneau has approximately 50 acres of vineyard with another 25-30 acres that are tiled and ready to plant with additional vineyards. “We know it’s a good site, and close to both Glenora and Knapp,” Pierce said. “Our two wineries have grown, and the Renos have grown Chateau LaFayette Reneau, and this will give us the option to expand our vineyards.” Currently Glenora has 40 acres of vineyard and Knapp Winery has 45 acres planted.

“The Renos have done a good job,” Pierce said. “We don’t plan to make any dramatic changes at the winery. Most of their sales are out the cellar door, although they have done some self-distribution and we’ll continue to do that.”

Annual production at Chateau LaFayette Reneau is 10,000 cases and the winery sells 18 different wines ranging in price from $29.99 for the Cabernet Sauvignon Owner’s Reserve to $8.99 for Meadow Mist (Catawba) and Niagara Mist (Niagara). Chateau LaFayette Reneau’s wines have won multiple awards and last year the 2010 Dry Riesling won the Grand Champion award at the 2012 Jerry Mead New World International Wine Competition.

Glenora Wine Cellars, the first winery to open on Seneca Lake after the New York Farm Winery Act was passed in 1976, currently produces about 50,000 cases. Knapp Winery, which produces approximately 14,000 cases, was founded by Doug and Suzie Knapp in 1984. The Knapps planted some of the first vinifera on Cayuga Lake, including Cabernet Franc, opened the Vineyard Restaurant, the first winery restaurant on that lake in 1992, and sold the property to Pierce and Welliver in 2000.

Open to innovation
Glenora Wine Cellars has long been noted for a willingness to try new ideas and projects. Pierce has been a leader in the region: he planted some of the first vinifera varietals on Lake Seneca, opened the first restaurant, Veraisons, established the first inn, and now is the first in the region to make wine in a seven-foot tall concrete egg. Pierce said winemaker Steve DiFrancesco has a Pinot Blanc wine fermenting in stainless steel and barrels as well as in the egg. “We plan to keep growing in volume and at the same time keep our minds open to new ideas.”

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