Chef and Master Sommelier Christopher Bates agreed to meet with me early on a Friday morning at his new Seneca Lake restaurant, The Wienery, but only if we could interrupt our meeting to attend the start Finger Lakes Produce Auction in Dundee. Our conversation started over a glass of homemade kombucha on ice, a fermented black tea from Asia that has recently become popular in the U.S. “I’m somewhat interested in fermentation,” Christopher deadpans, as he also explained The Wienery’s house-fermented sauerkraut and kimchi, as well as his own winemaking background. Within minutes we are out the door, on our way to the produce auction, starting a morning quest to secure the raw ingredients for some of the most unique hamburgers and hot dogs one can imagine.
Yes, hamburgers and hot dogs. This is what The Wienery is all about: roadside food like nothing you’ve ever seen. Christopher Bates is the owner and chef of a hot dog stand, but he possesses an exclusive wine certification that only 219 people in the world have achieved. His wife and business partner, Isabel Bogadtke, has managed five-star restaurants, and in recent years won a “Best Service in the World” award from Mobil Travel Guide. She now spends her days at The Wienery on Route 14.
It’s a long and delicious story.
From Arkport to Italy and Back Again
Christopher Bates grew up in Arkport, a tiny town lying between Hornell and Dansville just southwest of the Finger Lakes region. He recalls that his mother’s proficiency in cooking and the family’s limited foray into agriculture led him to an interest in food and the culinary arts. After high school, Christopher enrolled at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration in the Food and Beverage program.
At Cornell, Christopher was initially interested in scotch, but wine coursework eventually won him over. During summer internships he found himself gravitating toward sommelier duties in restaurants. It was during his college studies that Christopher first entered the Best Sommelier competition and also took the intro exam for the Court of Master Sommeliers, the most exclusive designation in the wine service field. Christopher graduated from Cornell in 2003 and worked for a brief time at an experimental vegetable restaurant in Chicago before deciding to travel to Italy to further his wine knowledge.
Once in Italy, Christopher followed the harvest north to the Mosel, one of Germany’s premier wine regions and the epicenter of Old World riesling production. It was in the Mosel that Christopher met Isabel, a native of Berlin, who grew up in the ice cream business and was also pursuing more experience in wine and hospitality. After advancing their winemaking education in Germany, both Christopher and Isabel returned to Italy, where they helped start a new restaurant near Vienna.
By 2005, Christopher felt a longing to return to the United States and expand upon some of his growing expertise. He and Isabel found their first opportunity in an out-of-way property in Texas called the Inn at Dos Brisas, a chateau that they helped grow and elevate to five-star status. It was at Dos Brisas that Isabel was honored for providing the “Best Service in the World” by the Mobil Travel Guide. The couple then moved on to the celebrated Hotel Fauchere in Milford, Pennsylvania, where Christopher served as executive chef and sommelier while Isabel managed the restaurant.
During this time, Christopher continued to earn awards and accolades for his wine expertise. In 2010 Christopher won the World Cup of Wine, beating out competitors from all over the world. He was named Best Young Sommelier in the World in 2012 by Chaine de Rotisseur, and won the TopSomm competition in 2013. He passed his Master Sommelier exam in 2013, after 12 years of study, and has also earned titles as a Certified Wine Educator and a Certified Specialist of Spirts.
One of Christopher’s most exciting side projects started in 2005, when he and his father Bob Bates started a winery in Arkport called Element. Using Finger Lakes grapes, the winery makes riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet Franc and syrah. While Christopher avoids the term “natural wine” due to its marketing overreach in the wine industry, he does prefer something akin to a minimalist approach, describing his wines as revealing honest varietal character for the region. Element makes only 1,000 cases a year and, lacking a tasting room, sells most of its wine to restaurants or through subscription.
As we hurried around the produce auction on the morning of our interview, Christopher told me that he likes to avoid the term local as he, without a hint of irony, poured over local fruits and vegetables to find just the right match for one of his many culinary projects. In addition to sourcing fresh produce for The Wienery, Christopher was also seeking ingredients for a culinary demonstration somewhere downstate, a booth at Fox Run’s annual garlic festival, a wedding that he was catering, a coming pig roast and a few other odds and ends that I quickly lost track of in the flurry of activity. In his free time, Christopher also teaches courses at the International Culinary Center in New York City.
Christopher darted around the auction like a man on a mission, chatting up Mennonite farmers and auction employees while sampling their goods, at the same time carrying on his conversation with me with hardly a break in his train of thought. “Local has become an overused term; The Wienery is first about being consistently The Wienery,” he explained, before launching into his thoughts on why syrah finds great expression as a cool-climate grape, and a variety of other topics.
The Wienery’s menu offers hamburger and hot dog concoctions that may seem intimidating at first, but when one considers that nearly everything in the restaurant is house-made, the real quality behind the food becomes readily apparent. I tried a hamburger with egg, kimchi, mustard and herb relish—condiments made in-house—and I was shocked by how good it was. I was also handed a blueberry milkshake that tasted like no other milkshake I’d had before. Christopher refers proudly to The Wienery’s rotating milkshake menu as a program, and it lives up to the title.
Christopher and Isabel would like to create several different projects in the Finger Lakes, perhaps some approaching five-star food and service, but they are proud to start with something like The Wienery, which they believe will be supported by locals year-round. “Many of our friends were a bit shocked that we started with this concept,” Christopher reflected, “but this is an authentic expression of the region and its fits the here and now. If you are passionate about food, it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a milkshake or a glass of Burgundy. It’s about the experience.”
The Wienery is located in Dundee (Rt. 14) on the west side of Seneca Lake. Visit flxwienery.com for hours and information.
Element winery, located in Arkport, does not have a tasting room but inquiries are welcome. Visit elementwinery.com for more information.
by Jason Fuelner