How do you improve upon an already much-loved 1880 stone castle on the shores of Seneca Lake? That’s the question the Reeder family pondered for five or so years while Belhurst forged on as one of the most endearing inns in the Finger Lakes. After conducting much tourism-based research, Duane Reeder found his initial idea held much water – when you’re in the middle of the Finger Lakes wine country you create a new, unique winery. As a whole, the Belhurst expansion included a new luxury hotel featuring 20 lake view rooms, a large bar/tavern, a second huge lakeview ballroom, and, of course, a spacious wine and gift shop.
In seeking a winemaker, Reeder knew he wanted someone of world-class caliber, someone who could bring a new style and new vision to the Finger Lakes wineries. He found that vision in Frederique Perrin, a young winemaker from France who grew up with the love of wine. As she tells it, her grandfather, who died shortly before she was born, was an avid wine lover who amassed an extensive wine cellar full of outstanding wines. As she grew, she drank wine from his cellar until one day, when she was about 18, the wines were gone. The one item remaining in the cellar was her grandfather’s notebook where he had recorded information on all his favorite wines. She contacted Michel Juillot, a winemaker whose wines graced the top of her grandfather’s list. He remembered her grandfather and accepted her as a trainee. Frederique went on to earn her master’s degree in oenology and viticulture from Ecole Nationale Superieure Agronomique in Montpellier. Thus began her career in winemaking.
One of the very few women winemakers in the Finger Lakes, Frederique’s vision here is certainly unique. One of her highly acclaimed wines, a classic dry rose wine, is virtually the first of its kind to be produced in the Finger Lakes. With a 0 percent residual sugar, this blush wine is made by soignée (bleeding) of the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon ferments. Belhurst guests have been surprised by the Dry Rose, which quickly became a very popular seller. Her Rieslings and just released Sweet Cayuga have been declared by many as the best they’ve ever tasted. The limited release Lemberger – only 720 bottles – has been pleasing many wine lovers and is soon to be gone.
As for planting the vineyard, Duane Reeder knew he’d need some farmland. Keeping with his family history in Geneva he reached out to Carl Fribolin, owner of White Springs Farm, two miles East of Belhurst Castle. Reeder’s own father had been a farm worker on that same farm many years ago, and now the Reeder family owns White Springs Manor, the early Georgian revival-style inn located in the midst of the rolling farmland. It was an obvious choice to plant Belhurst’s vineyards within sights of the White Springs Manor.
In choosing how to fill over 30 acres of vineyard, Perrin and Reeder worked together to choose varieties that are popular to this region as well as uncommon varieties which would take to the climate. With current varieties such as Rieslings, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lemberger and Merlot in the ground, Belhurst expects to plant more acres in the coming years.
Vineyard manager Warren Colvin takes great care to cultivate the fruit which become Frederique’s artwork. Raised in the local vineyards, Colvin has much experience with a broad range of grapes.
When faced with the task of building a brand new winery, Reeder looked to Frederique and her winemaker’s vision. “If you could build the winery of your dreams, what would it look like?” Reeder asked her. In turn, Frederique put pencil to paper and drew her dream winery. That drawing became the blueprint for building the 18,000-square-foot, technically advanced wine making facility. The winery was constructed, in part, by renovating an old barn at the White Springs Farm.
Frederique’s plan called for the most advanced winery equipment, well-esteemed machinery and equipment vendors to custom-create each piece of the winery. French experts Vaslin Bucher built the technically innovative pneumatic press in use at the winery – the largest XPF Bucher Press in the East. “The pneumatic press represents an essential tool of the vinification process. The diversity of grape varieties and change in grape quality from year to year require a fine, accurate adaptation of the pressing operation to obtain must (part of the pressing and fermenting process) of perfect and constant quality. We worked with KLR Machines to construct the winery crush pad which consists of the pneumatic press, a de-stemmer which processes up to 20 tons of grapes per hour, and the sorting table” explains Reeder. The winery also boasts a diatomaceous earth filter (or DE filter). Widely considered the best filtration system for any winery, this advanced system expertly utilizes DE to filter particles from the lees.
An important safety factor for Frederique’s winery design was a catwalk system. “We don’t work with ladders here,” she says. Local company Vance Metal built the stainless steel functional catwalk system and 20 custom stainless steel upright tanks which together hold more than 20,000 gallons. Additionally, 11 open-top fermenters were custom built by Santa Rosa Stainless Steel in California, which together hold 33 tons of must.
The Wine Shop
Walk into the spacious Belhurst wine shop and you’ll be greeted by knowledgeable wine servers with over 25 years of combined local experience. Adorned with antique carriages, stone fireplace, and relaxing sitting area, the gift shop is easily a spot to take your time browsing unique gifts. From crystal glasses imported from Germany to hand-made artisan jewelry to local gourmet foods and pottery to wine accessories the wine & gift shop is geared to a wine lover’s lifestyle. Wine shop manager, Ruth Frampton has long been a local favorite among wine lovers for her knowledge of the area, wine growing and tasting as well as her fun loving spirit. Many returning guests will visit Ruth bearing her gifts from their home towns, including Pennsylvania woman who brings Ruth homemade lasagna every time she visits!
One of Ruth’s favorite Belhurst wines is the Cabernet Franc 02 “the bouquet permeates the nasal passages. It’s full of flavor and smooth – a substantial and pleasant tasting red wine,” she explains. As for the whites she prefers Belhurst’s Dry Riesling. “Of all my years in the Finger Lakes, I find it’s one of the better Rieslings in the area. It’s fruity, so it doesn’t taste too dry or too mineralic. Many visitors who don’t usually prefer Rieslings will taste and fall in love with our Riesling. It offers a flowery and fruity taste that is very refreshing,” Ruth says.
While Belhurst’s wines are currently only available in the Wine & Gift Shop right at Belhurst, the company has just launched its online shopping page to cater to its many out of town customers who were asking for wine shipments.
Over the past year Belhurst has received much acclaim for its wines and well-planned expansion. It looks forward to serving all who come to visit. Make Belhurst a part of your summer plans.
by Deborah Drago-Leaf