The Finger Lakes’ Smallest Winery

Kendal-wine tasting 1 - by Bob Silsbee

The Finger Lakes’ Smallest “Winery”

By Charles Wilcox


Kendal at Ithaca, a continuing care retirement community located on the old Savage farm just off Triphammer Road, opened its doors just after Christmas 1995. Even before that event, future residents Elmer “Flip” Philips and Jim Spero began planning a winemakers group to be located in the cellar of the existing farmhouse. That effort caught on and today we have about a dozen residents who make about 120 gallons of wine each year in what we proudly call The Finger Lakes’ Smallest “Winery.”

The winemaking process starts in the fall when our group gathers to combine our juice purchase decisions and arrange car pools to pick up our orders. In recent years all of our juices have come from the Fulkerson Winery in Dundee on Seneca Lake and is acquired in our 5-gallon glass carboys. Fulkerson offers 30 or more juices spread out over a six-week harvesting period. Our choices range from the well known Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to the less familiar new hybrids such as Corot Noir and Valvin Muscat. After anxious trips back to Ithaca with our two dozen carboys, the juices are warmed to room temperature and then packaged yeasts added to start the fermentation processes.

One of the concerns for our aging vintners is how to safely lift filled carboys from floor level to the bench top, an operation that must be repeated several times during the fermentation, racking and settling periods. We have now eliminated this challenge by acquiring a small pneumatic lift. A few gentle pumps on the foot pedal of the lift can raise as much as 350 pounds of juice or wine. The lift sits on lockable rollers so that filled carboys can be moved safely around the wine cellar with the only effort required is to slide the carboy on or off the platform and bench-top.

In the fall the Kendal Wine Makers also hold an open house wine tasting for residents and their guests. This event provides a warm, congenial atmosphere in which to sip last season’s wines and talk with the vintners about their experience. Frequently, several of the wine types have been made by two or more of our vintners, which gave residents a chance to compare the taste variation that occurs even with the same starting batch of juice. It demonstrates that wine making is as much an art as it is a science.

Charles Wilcox is a retired Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology from Cornell University and a resident at Kendal at Ithaca

Photo by Bob Silsbee

This article originally appeared in our 2014 Wine issue.

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