A Finger Lakes Winery in Spring

The vineyard at Longmont slopes gently to the lake. Photo by Dan Stevens

Long Point Winery, located a few miles south of Aurora on the east side of Cayuga Lake, opened in 1999. Owners Gary and Rosemary (Rosie) Barletta were wine enthusiasts who got into the business after years of dreaming and planning … and dreaming. During the early years, they continued working their day jobs at the hospital in Cortland about 30 miles away. Gary was a nuclear medicine technician there; Rosie was his boss. Now semi-retired, Gary occasionally puts in a few hours at the hospital in the mornings, but devotes most of his time to his work as winemaker. Rosie continues working full time as director of imaging and cardiology, manning the tasting counter and balancing the books on the weekends.

“She’s the boss there. She’s the boss here,” Gary likes to say.

Rosie says of the winery, “I’m doing it to humor Gary.”

Though their sense of humor has remained fairly constant since they got started, some things have changed as the operation has grown. For example, though they started out with no vines, they now have about eight acres: slightly more than one of Cabernet Franc, one and a half each of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, and nearly three and a half of Riesling. Expansion has meant hiring on help and continues to this day.

Long Point currently produces about 10,000 gallons of wine annually. Someday, Gary would like to make 18,000.

Doing the dirty work

One mid-April morning at the winery, Gary was down on his hands and knees inserting his head into a manway, a 22-inch-round hatch in one of the stainless steel tanks. He began to crawl through it in his rain suit, and his yellow-trousered legs disappeared like the tail of a fish slipping into a watery cave. In the stainless steel tunnel he felt the pressure against his aging knees, the kind of pressure that makes it difficult “to ski powder anymore,” he complained.

Gary’s feet disappeared at one end of the manway and he clambered out of the tunnel at the other and into the 10-foot-high tank with a bucket in hand. He had already removed the lid. When the 3,000-liter tank is filled with wine, a stainless steel cover, five feet across, is placed on top as if it were a giant cooking pot, except that this lid has a round pneumatic rubber gasket that he inflates to make an airtight seal.

His arm swept back and forth across the curved stainless steel wall as he scrubbed it down with a large sponge and a chlorine solution. He resembled a window washer as he worked his way down the walls and across the stainless steel floor. He worked backward into the manhole opening until his yellow legs reemerged outside the tank.

After he rinsed off the chlorine solution with a hot water hose, Gary crawled back into the tank, complained once more about the pressure on his knees, and scrubbed down the interior with a clean sponge and a citric acid solution to neutralize the chlorine. When he finished, he backed out through the manway, his hand sweeping the surface with the sponge as he retreated. Then he rinsed the tank from above to wash out the citric acid.

By the utilitarian looks of it, Long Point Winery could just as easily house an industrial production line. The work area where the wine is processed takes up the rear three-quarters of the building, a large warehouse where the wine ages in the oak barrels, while cases of bonded bottles are stacked to the ceiling. The cavernous 50-by-75-foot room has 12 inches of insulation in the ceiling and nine inches in the walls. A towering 5,000-liter stainless steel tank with a refrigeration jacket around it, as well as 3,000-liter and two 2,000-liter tanks line one wall near the oversized garage door. Sixty-gallon white oak barrels are arranged in neat rows two to a cradle, and the cradles are stacked as many as four high (placed there by a propane-powered Toyota forklift).

The smooth, well-scrubbed concrete floor is so clean you could eat off of it. It makes me think of a clean room in a computer-chip manufacturing facility: no dripping, moldy cellars here suitable for those distinctly French creations, mushrooms, cheese, and, yes, wine.

A cozy tasting room in the front quarter of the building has a wide-angle view of Cayuga Lake through a bank of double-hung windows. Offices (where Gary and Rosemary sometimes opt to spend the night rather than drive back to Cortland) are located over the tasting room.

Account for every ounce 

Rosie emerged from her office onto the balcony overlooking the warehouse and called out. You could tell she was flustered.

“I’m missing 168 gallons of wine,” she said, her voice echoing between the wine barrels. “I can’t find them anywhere. Are you sure you’ve been recording what you’ve been taking?”

She’s filling out the required monthly audit for the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Gary shrugged his shoulders.

“I can’t find them anywhere,” she repeated, an edge to her voice.

Another silence, and Rosie walked down the stairs from the balcony to confront Gary.

“Are you sure you’ve been doing the paperwork?” she asked, arching one eyebrow beneath her dark brunette bob. There’s a hint of an accusation. It’s a conversation they’ve had before because Gary dislikes doing the paperwork.

“If we don’t find them, I’ll have to inventory everything again,” Rosie said. She turned in frustration to the stacked, bonded boxes of wine towering above her, containing some ten thousand bottles.

Gary deflected the accusatory hint by saying nothing. He shrugged. Then, “Have the girls been filling out all the paperwork properly?” he asked, referring to the tasting room help.

“How about the case you gave your brother? Did you record that?” she countered.
He nodded. “That’s not 168 gallons.”

“I’ll go over the receipts again,” Rosie said. She turned and headed up the stairs, resigning herself to the prospect of having to do another inventory.

“There is more paperwork to do for a winery than in accounting for nuclear materials in a hospital,” Gary said. “You have to account for every ounce of wine you make.”

The Feds monitor all aspects of commercial winemaking. It’s not because the government is disposed to Prussian efficiency. Nor does it stem from any altruistic concern for public health. It’s simply that for the U.S. Treasury, wine translates into revenue.

Gary removed a bung from the top of a barrel and inserted his wine thief to extract some Chardonnay. Today he was tasting to see if the vintage was ready for release. He poured the Chardonnay into a glass, swished it around at nose level, and took his time inhaling. He lifted the glass to his lips and tasted. He nodded.

A silence followed as he thought about it.

“This is good,” he said. “This is very good. It’s so good I think I’m going to sell it for $35 a bottle.”

But he’s joking, because the Chardonnay market has deflated by 25 percent in recent years. What Gary might have charged $15.99 for back then is now down to $11.99 a bottle. The problem is that Chardonnay has become very abundant.

In hindsight, he contributed in his own small way to the problem when he put in his Chardonnay vineyard. Then there was something of a shift in taste from whites to reds because of the reputed health benefits of reds. But Gary thinks he’s seeing that abate as wine drinkers are learning to appreciate the qualities of Finger Lakes whites.

Gary passed judgment: The Chardonnay was ready.

“It still has some nice fruit on it, some nice oak.”

By fruit, he means that it has aromas suggestive of fresh fruit, although not necessarily of grapes. In the case of Chardonnay, it can be apple, melon, lemon and pineapple. Oak tannins enhance these aromas during bottle aging.

Oak complements Chardonnay – if there’s not too much. That said, it’s a delicate balancing act between maintaining some of the crispness one expects of whites and some body.

Gary poured me a tasting. Compared to what I had tasted at the beginning of January it was fuller. You could catch the oak. Ever so slightly, I could taste the butter. But the decision to bottle the wine is not as clear as it sounds. Rather, it’s more of a slow evolution, as week after week he tastes the maturing wine, until a crucial moment is reached.

“You can tell. It develops more of a roundness. It’s more mature. It develops better balance,” Gary said. The roundness and maturity result in mouthfeel, filling the palate with hints of other tastes, hints I struggle to understand, but which I can detect when Gary identifies them.

Rosie returned.

“Okay. I went over the paperwork again. It’s sixteen gallons,” she said, adding quickly, defensively, “I was off by a decimal point.” Clearly, she’s relieved she doesn’t have to do another inventory.

“And before it was how much?” Gary asked loudly, knowing well it was 168 gallons. But, he’s making up for the accusatory hint, the way husbands do, with a barely concealed display of gloating.

She walked down the steps from the balcony.

“168.”

“From 168 to 16 is quite a difference.”

“I made a mistake in a decimal point.”
She walked up to him and leaned her head on his shoulder. It was as if to say something more than, “I’m sorry.” It was more in the nature of, “Honey, why are we in this business?”

Gary wrapped his arm around her shoulder and patted her comfortingly, as if he knew the answer to her query.
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Read the next installment in the summer issue.


by John C. Hartsock