With the wine industry growing steadily in the Finger Lakes, I’ve often wondered why Canandaigua Lake doesn’t boast more wineries. The high cost of real estate? Close commuter proximity to Rochester? I’m not sure. But in light of the fact that Widmer’s Lake Niagara was a “first favorite” for so many in this region, I have to ponder the paucity of vintners on this well-trafficked lake.
That’s why I was delighted to see Wilhelmus Estate Winery post its sign on East Lake Road about a year ago. I did a double-take the first few times I passed it. A new winery? On Canandaigua Lake?
A European Tradition
The current winery owners, Boud (pronounced “Bowd”) and Karen Kuenen, trace their winemaking roots back to Holland. Boud’s father, Wilhelmus, survived Nazi occupation during World War II and was expected by his family to become a priest. At the urging of his wife, Carmen, the couple sought a sponsor in the U.S. and ventured here in 1956.
Wilhelmus, known in this country as Bill, was sponsored by the Bennett family near Ionia. He learned the mink farm business from the Bennetts and in 1958, purchased the house and land where the winery stands today. There were a few grapevines growing on the property, so Bill began dabbling with winemaking.
Eventually, Bill took a job at Mobil Chemical, where he worked until his retirement in the 1970’s. It was then that he was able to devote more time to winemaking. He entered several competitions statewide and brought home numerous awards. At the winery, a photo of Bill and his medals is proudly displayed.
The Next Generation
Bill’s son, Boud, was the only one of three siblings who took an interest in continuing the family’s winemaking tradition. As father and son started making wine together, they used grapes grown in the Finger Lakes and imported from France and California. Specializing in blends, Bill and Boud enjoyed tweaking the wines to obtain just the right characteristics. “Our wine cellar was full of Bill’s wines,” says Karen Kuenen, “and he claimed that he would predecease his wines, which he did. Every time we brought out one of Bill’s bottles to complement a meal, it almost felt as if he were present.”
Although Karen and Boud both got MBAs and wanted to start their own business, they built careers in the aerospace industry before being able to do so. Karen worked as an operations analyst at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boud did a stint as a fighter pilot with the Navy and became a fueling specialist for C-130s, which are used to refuel planes mid-flight. He also worked as a design engineer at Eaton Corporation until a recent layoff caused him to take another look at his entrepreneurial drive.
Karen and Boud had grown up in the area, though Boud’s military career took him around the world while Karen lived in Florida. They dated for decades and finally tied the knot, returning to New York State to raise a family of their own. Now they’re back where their roots are and are able to visit with Boud’s 91-year-old mother, who lives on the family homestead.
Karen enjoys capturing the beauty of the Finger Lakes with her camera. The winery gift shop features several of her photographs, a sampling of furniture made from wine barrels and her collection of Finger Lakes note cards.
New Winery, New Challenges
As with any new venture, the Kuenens have had to overcome obstacles. Their initial plantings – done mostly on their hands and knees – were largely lost during the severe winter of 2004. “The vines were young and vulnerable, and many growers were hit hard that year,” notes Karen. The couple currently buys grapes from local growers, but they plan to plant their 56 acres and continue purchasing some of the grapes used to make their wines.
As the only winery on the east side of the lake, Karen admits that it can get lonely. The formation of the Canandaigua Wine Trail has helped to make people aware of Wilhelmus and other nearby members. Another challenge has been the fact that Gorham, where the winery is located, is technically a dry town. Boud presented his case to the State Commissioner, claiming that wine tastings are not primarily for consumption. The winery is now able to do tastings, which may open up opportunities for future wineries in the area.
Wilhelmus Estate Winery offers eight varieties of wines and plans to unveil three champagne varietals in December or January. “In addition to the one-year anniversary of our winery debut, we’ll be celebrating the birthday of our 13-year-old lab mix, Duke,” says Karen. “He’s being featured in an upcoming book, ‘Winery Dogs of New York,’ by Andrea Jacoby.”
Wilhelmus Featured Wines
With the exception of Razzle, all of the Wilhelmus wines are dry.
2007 Semi-Dry Riesling: This fruity wine is an ideal companion for marinated poultry, pork dishes and German cuisine.
2006 Cayuga White: A light, crisp white well suited for cheeses, fruits, chocolates and delicate fish or chicken dishes.
2006 Chardonnay: A traditional wine that goes well with seafood, Oriental or Cajun entrees, pork, poultry or cheeses.
2006 Traminette Classic: A spicy wine best served with spicy cuisine as well as seafood.
2006 Traminette Free-run (award winner): A one-of-a-kind wine made from the juice that naturally accumulates at the bottom of transport containers immediately after picking. This wine is perfect for Asian dishes, cheese and pork.
2006 Chambourcin (award winner): A light-bodied red ideal for lighter cuts of meat, pasta or poultry with hints of berry, pepper and plum.
2006 Cabernet Franc: Dry, moderately oaked red made in the Bordeaux style. A great partner for game and beef.
2006 Noiret (sold out): This full-bodied red stands up to hearty dishes and has been characterized as a fruity Sangiovese.
Razzle: A fruity semi-sweet to semi-dry blend with a refreshing splash of raspberry.
by Joy Underhill
Joy Underhill is a freelance writer from Farmington. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.