Every year, we hold our own version of the Oscars: the Local Hero Awards, wherein readers vote for their favorite local chefs/restaurants, farm/farmers, non-profits, culinary artisans, beverage producers and food or wine retailers, and the winners are awarded with a feature in our March/April print issue. Every weekday till the polling booths close on December 31st* we’ll be looking back at last year’s winners.
Today we’re highlighting Cayuga Ridge Winery! The below story originally appeared as part of our Local Heroes feature in the 2011 Spring issue.
*There’s still time to make sure your voice is heard! Vote here for your 2019 local hero chefs, farmers, non-profits and artisans.
Cayuga Ridge Winery
Perched on the western edge of Cayuga Lake, Cayuga Ridge Winery owners Tom and Susie Challen offer up a variety of chardonnays, award-winning Riesling and other vinifera wines from a rustic red barn.
The couple arrived from Canada’s Niagara Peninsula, a grape growing region similar to the Finger Lakes, in 1991. “Twenty years ago there were eight wineries, and they were all very small,” says Susie, noting that the crowds who attended winery events weren’t much bigger. “Back then, I thought ‘Oh my gosh, 300 people.’ Now during the Herb Festival, 3,500 people knock on our door. It’s totally different.”
Despite the brisk growth, the Challens have kept the enterprise a family affair. Their children—Mary Jane, Katie and Andrew—each have a hand in the business, helping with the harvest, designing advertisements and serving up fresh, wood-fired pizzas.
Local wine lovers can get their hands dirty by leasing vines through Cayuga Ridge’s Vigneron program. From March through harvest time, Tom leads individuals through each step of the growing process. “I get a sense of passing along knowledge,” says Tom. “Others helped when I got started 40 years ago. This is a great way to give back—and it’s a lot of fun.”— Andrea Ellickson