The scale of harvest for most wineries is just big enough to overwhelm the average observer. At the busiest times, there is a small army running and manipulating crusher-destemmers, stacked bins of fermenting red grapes, conveyers, must pumps, forklifts, giant stainless steel programmable bladder presses, and clamped hoses running every which way. Winemaking can look and feel like an industrial process.
And then there’s Ian Barry of Barry Family Cellars, loading Cabernet Franc into an old workhorse press with a shovel.
To highlight the rudimentary process – as it currently stands – at Barry Family Cellars is not to castigate. On a smaller scale, this hands-on approach makes perfect sense, and Ian is certainly no stranger to large industrial winemaking. He has held posts at some of the largest wineries in the Finger Lakes and has worked in Washington and Oregon to boot. This is the way he wants it.
I visited Ian Barry during the harvest of 2016 to get a sense of how he was approaching his new venture, his thoughts on starting a winery, and to see for myself a rather unusual tasting room setup. We spent the first half of the afternoon talking while he loaded the press, one shovelful at a time.
Barry Family Cellars was bonded in 2011, but it has only begun production in earnest in the last few years. It is still quite a small operation; the production facility is located in a converted outbuilding in Ian’s backyard in Burdett, just above the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake. Despite its simplicity, the facility’s size will more than allow for the few thousand cases that Ian plans to make in the coming years.
Right now, the winery is focusing on Riesling and Cabernet Franc, but the plan is to expand to other varietals. Ian just planted the beginnings of his own vineyard: an acre of Pinot Noir to start, as well as half an acre of an Austrian red called St. Laurent.
A native of Hoosick Falls, New York, Ian cut his winemaking teeth in the small Shawangunk wine region while attending SUNY New Paltz. He worked a few harvests in Oregon and Washington before returning to New York and landing a job at Heron Hill in 2003. From 2006 to 2010, Ian was the head winemaker at Swedish Hill, one of the larger wineries in the Finger Lakes, where he made a variety of wines in significant quantities.
Feeling the itch to strike out on his own, Ian has spent the last several years consulting while he formed his vision for Barry Family Cellars, an effort made in conjunction with his extended family and his wife, Tricia. It is no accident that Barry has taken a very hands-on and somewhat rustic approach.
“I’m into the vibe of repurposing things,” Ian tells me as he loads the decades-old horizontal basket press by hand, purple juice streaming off his shovel. “The tanks, the press, this building – I guess this is more philosophical than I’m even aware of at times.”
Just behind us stands a small basket press, filled with white grape skins from a pressing the day before. He apologizes that he’s not yet cleaned up the skins. I marvel at the use of a device that one would mostly see in home winemaking. This is Ian’s personal wine workshop.
The first press run of the Cab Franc complete, we head a quarter-mile down the road to the newly opened Barry Family Cellars tasting room. The setup is unlike any other tasting room in the Finger Lakes. Located in an old storefront, the aptly-named 1800 building is an ancient structure that once housed the post office in the very early days of Burdett. While most tasting rooms in the Finger Lakes aim toward the new, this place embraces the old. The long plank floors and decorative molding hark back to the image of an authentic rural Finger Lakes.
Ian and Tricia have preserved the old charm of the place, but have added some funky, homemade décor. A collection of old 45s lines the shelves around the wine bottles, and a hearty sound system pumps out tunes. Wine can be purchased by the glass as well as by the bottle, and there are chairs for people to sit and mingle. Ian not only sells his own wine, but some wine from other small producers with whom he has collaborated or befriended – a rather unusual arrangement. To Ian, this acknowledgement of others who share his craft seems natural.
During our tasting, I ask Ian if he fears that being above the lake, away from the main drag, might deter the foot traffic that a tasting room needs. He relates the story of how he and Tricia fell in love with the building, but with some additional thought adds, “We want the people to find us who are really looking for this type of place.”
Ian wants Barry Family Cellars to offer good wine, but it’s obvious he’s looking to do so in a certain way, in a style that is just a little bit different than what is currently the typical Finger Lakes approach. “I’ve always admired the self-reliant lifestyle,” Ian jokes when I ask him to describe why he’s founded a winery that appears easygoing and yet goes against the grain. Hardly loquacious by nature, Ian seems comfortable letting the place, and the wine, speak for itself.
As a “new” winery, Barry Family Cellars doesn’t offer a deep bench, but it’s already a striking one. The highlight is the series of single-vineyard Rieslings that Ian didn’t set out to make. He just couldn’t bear to blend the various lots. The 2014 Tuller Vineyard Riesling is very interesting and complex.
In collaboration with some other winemakers, Ian helped make a pétillant naturel under the label Fossil & Till. This is basically a form of sparkling wine made with a traditional/primitive method. At first glance, it resembles a cider in its body and nose, and is unlike a typical wine. Definitely worth a try!
I was privileged to get a sneak peek at some recently-fermented Cabernet Franc from the tank – very tasty with deep and luxurious fruit. The 2016 vintage looks very promising for Barry Family Cellars.
Barry Family Cellars is located near the southeast shore of Seneca Lake in the Village of Burdett. From Watkins Glen, take Route 79 just after it branches off from 414 (route to Ithaca).
During the warmer months, the tasting room is open seven days a week. Check the website (barryfamilywines.com) for limited winter hours, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 607-569-2352 for an appointment.
Story and photos by Jason Feulner