EWE Honors Vinifera Wine Cellars
New York winery celebrated during Eastern Winery Exposition
Vinifera Wine Cellars, founded in 1962 by Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian immigrant with a deep-seated conviction that vinifera grapes could be grown in the East, has become commercially successful based on those grapes. Dr. Frank is widely recognized as one of the eastern wine region’s pioneers for his advocacy and success in growing vinifera in the East.
According to Leahy, Vinifera Wine Cellars was founded on Dr. Frank’s belief that “Americans deserve excellent grapes and excellent wine.” The winery is now the most award-winning winery in New York and in 2013 won more than 100 gold medals. Frederick Frank, grandson of Konstantin Frank, accepted the award on behalf of the four generations of his family involved in running the winery.
Dr. Frank, a professor of plant sciences with a Ph.D. in viticulture, came to the United States with his wife and three children in 1951. After a short time in New York City, he moved to Geneva to work in the vineyards at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. He believed ardently that vinifera grapes would survive in the Finger Lakes region if they were planted on the right rootstock. Frank met Charles Fournier, a French Champagne maker and president of Gold Seal Vineyards (also in Hammondsport), and in 1954 Fournier hired Frank. The two men then began a program to find the rootstocks that would enable vinifera vines both to ripen the grapes and allow the wood to harden before winter.
While working for Gold Seal, Frank purchased more than 100 acres on Lake Keuka and planted his first vinifera vines there in 1958. He left Gold Seal in 1962, bonded Vinifera Wine Cellars in June and crushed its first vintage that fall. The first wines were well received, and one (a Trockenbeerenauslese) sold for $45 per bottle (the equivalent of $350 today). Wine enthusiasts and home winemakers gradually found his wines, purchased juice and grapes from the winery and became supporters of his enthusiasm for vinifera grapes. One of Frank’s “cooperators,” as they were known, was Doug Moorhead, who received EWE’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.
Dr. Frank’s son Willy joined his father at Vinifera Wine Cellars and in the 1980s opened Chateau Frank, which specializes in méthode champenoise sparkling wines. Fred Frank assumed leadership of Vinifera Wine Cellars in 1993, expanded production and introduced a line of value wines under the brand Salmon Run. His daughter, Meaghan, joined the winery in fall 2013. After majoring in communications in college, she finished a master’s degree in wine business from the University of Adelaide in Australia.
In commenting on the award, Fred Frank noted, “All 50 states have wineries, and those wineries create a ripple effect throughout their region. Tourism benefits and local foods and cuisines complement those local wines. I’m sure Konstantin is looking down with a smile to see how the wines are improving and how vinifera grapes are being grown on the East coast to make great wines.”
The Eastern Winery Exposition continues with sessions today and tomorrow at the Lancaster County Convention Center in Lancaster, Pa. For more information, visit EasternWineryExposition.com.