by Carol Cain
Antonio Arias was born in Mexico City. Though he initially pursued a degree in chemical engineering, wine had become a passion that he couldn’t ignore. In Mexico, wine is often reserved for special occasions and not commonly enjoyed leisurely or with everyday meals. Yet, wine has always been an integral part of Antonio’s life thanks to his mother’s Spanish heritage, where it is enjoyed pretty regularly. It wasn’t until his aunt took him to a formal wine appreciation class featuring wines from Navarra, Spain, that he felt bitten by the bug and how, he says, wine can transport the taster to a different time and place. “I love that through wine you can taste not only a vineyard site but also the strong impact of the philosophies and beliefs of the people who craft it.”
He took several wine courses, which was when he first learned about the Finger Lakes. Soon after graduating and working for a couple of years in the plastics industry he decided to follow his passion and moved to Australia to pursue a master’s degree in Wine Business at the University of Adelaide. He left Mexico City at the age of 26.
The more he learned about wine and working in the industry, the more he felt it was his calling. He had been living and working in Australia for four years when, he says, “I happened to fall in love with an extraordinary girl from the Finger Lakes who was also in the wine industry (Meaghan Frank of Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery) and the rest is history!”
Antonio continues to pursue his passion for wine through his new venture, Once Finger Lakes, a regional wine tasting room. Once (pronounced OWN-seh) is the Spanish word for the number eleven, and the number of lakes that form the Finger Lakes region. “Once is about bringing the region together, about working with the great producers we have in the region to ultimately contribute to position the Finger Lakes among the best in the world,” Antonio explained.
Visitors to the tasting room can reserve different types of themed tasting experiences. One tasting experience highlights different wines and foods from around the region, while a different experience offers the space to enjoy wine by the glass while learning about the stories of the families behind the products.
Antonio has quickly learned that a passion for wine is a bit different than starting a wine business. He shares that, “the most unexpected lesson I learned very quickly was that following a passion and being an entrepreneur is not as easy, nor as glamorous, as people think. It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to start a business from scratch, but I am finding it is totally worth it.” He added, “I have also realized that it is something that you cannot do by yourself. I am grateful that I have a wonderful wife and family that have supported me every step of the way.”
The tasting room concept that inspired Once is one Antonio learned while working at Taste Eden Valley, a regional wine tasting room in Australia. His job consisted of pouring wines from the Barossa Valley region to guests from all over Australia. He would help them find a new favorite winery and wine, sharing all the region had to offer and leave them with a story to tell when they returned home. He always hoped when they opened that bottle of wine they purchased from him, they would remember their time in South Australia fondly.
It is the pursuit of that “aha moment” that inspires his work at Once and what he hopes guests to his wine tasting room will walk away with and experience at home too. “The Finger Lakes region has such a warm, inviting, welcoming, and diverse community,” Antonio said. “We want our guests to leave with a smile, but also with the ammunition to continue elevating the region’s image and help solidify what we already know – that the Finger Lakes is a world-class wine region and should be recognized as such.”
Antonio also hopes to get more involved with the local community and help create programming for outreach and inclusion within the wine industry. He has not forgotten how his Mexican heritage played a big influence throughout his wine journey. When he reminisces on the approachable, warm togetherness, experience-driven Mexican lifestyle, he sees wine as an integral part of that identity as well.
“I do not believe the wine industry is intentionally reducing diversity as it is an extremely welcoming industry, however,” he continued, “efforts to diversify those who work in wine has been a bit too passive, in my opinion.” Antonio believes that more of those in the industry need to plant the seeds and support programs that’ll encourage young people that didn’t even think about wine as a possible career path to join the ranks. As he points out, “This is another example of the Latinx way of thinking, where looking after the community is as important as looking after yourself.”
At the moment, Antonio is into Finger Lakes sparkling wines and thinks the 2020 vintage is one to look out for. Guests to Once will have a chance to taste anything from traditional, benchmark styles, to the up-and-coming, off-the-beaten-path, hard-to-find wines from Dr. Konstantin Frank, Forge, Hermann J. Wiemer, Hosmer, Inspire Moore, Kelby James Russell, Living Roots, Silver Thread, Trestle Thirty One, and Weis.
Once Finger Lakes, 655 NY-14, Penn Yan, NY 14527, (315) 901-2029
Carol Cain is happiest when on an adventure, whether close to home or farther away. She is a small business owner and travel writer. You can follow her at @GirlGoneTravel.