Dave Breeden, a native of Michigan, came to New York via California, Iowa, and Illinois. He has been making wine at Sheldrake Point Winery on Cayuga Lake since 2002. He came to the Finger Lakes with advanced degrees in chemistry and philosophy and hopes for a career in academia but was sidetracked by the beauty of the region and the wines being made here. The scientific rigor of chemistry and the ethereal beauty of philosophic writing came together for him in winemaking. His focus in winemaking at Sheldrake Point Winery is respecting the care shown by the vineyard team in growing the grapes. His hope is that wines from Sheldrake Point can be the basis for joyful evenings of spectacular meals shared with good friends.
Why did you choose to make wine here?
I chose to make wine here because this is the place where I chose to make wine. And I know that sounds like not an answer, but really it is. The longer answer is that I didn’t have any idea of making wine, or even really that you COULD make wine if you weren’t a winery owner, until I came here. I came here intending to finish my Ph.D in philosophy and go off and get a professor job, but instead fell in love with the beauty of the region. So I decided to make wine instead, so I could stay here. And I’m very glad I did.
What’s your background and education in winemaking?
I don’t really have an academic education in winemaking to speak of. I took the “Wine Science” course at Cornell while I was still working there, before I started in the industry as an employee. And after I started at Sheldrake, in 2003 or 2004, probably, I took an online winemaking course though UCDavis extension. Beyond that, I learned how to make wine from Pete Saltonstall at King Ferry winery where I had my first winemaking job, from Eric Fry, who consulted at King Ferry and at Sheldrake, and more than anything else, from my colleagues in the Finger Lakes winemaking community, who are always happy to help one another out and share new techniques or equipment or supplies with anyone who needs it.
What is your favorite non-wine FLX beverage?
My favorite beverage outside of wine, FLX or not, is a well-made cocktail. I love a good margarita, but we’re not particularly good at tequila here, so I guess my favorite FLX beverage would have to be gin, probably from Myer’s Farm Distillery. Their Myer Farm Gin makes a great base for a gin and tonic, a Corpse Reviver #2 (my favorite) or a dirty martini with their Electa Fig Liqueur as the “dirt.”
Do you have a favorite story you tell about working in the Finger Lakes wine scene?
My favorite FLX wine story is from 2017. For those not in the industry in 2017, that year was the year of ALL the grapes, way more grapes than we expected or could possibly deal with. By way of example, here at Sheldrake we were forecasted to harvest about 200 tons of grapes, and instead got 250. And normally that wouldn’t be a problem, because we’d just sell the excess grapes. But everyone in the state had more grapes than expected (a byproduct of the previous year’s drought and shortage of grapes), so there was no market to sell them. And I, like most winemakers, had made plans for how many barrels to buy early in the year, in May or so.
But the end of October hit and we still had LOTS of Cabernet Franc grapes in the vineyard, and no barrels to age them in. And you really hate to let them just sit out there and rot. So a bunch of us in the community got together and put in an emergency order to a used barrel broker for maybe 200 barrels for all of us combined. And they all showed up on single truck, and we assumed they’d be nicely palletized, and we could use a forklift to get them of the truck.
When we opened the truck, it looked more like someone had tipped the truck on end, open end up, and just dumped barrels in pell mell. Anyway, it was November, and snowing, and we were exhausted from a long harvest, and we looked at that truck (me and Kim White Marconi, my assistant winemaker at the time), and just about gave up.
But instead we called a bunch of our winemaker friends and they all swarmed in from across the Finger Lakes and at great risk to life and limb, threw themselves into that truck and got all the barrels out and sorted into piles by owner. It maybe seems like a small victory, but it’s illustrative of the tightness of the winemaking community in the FLX.
What do you love about where you work?
The two things I love most about making wine in the Finger Lakes are the geography of the place, the beauty of which is what kept me here in the first place and the topography of which allows for vinifera grape growing, and the winemaking community. I never stop being amazed at what great people there are in the Finger Lakes winemaking community, how open they are to sharing their palates and ideas and thoughts and equipment and techniques and labor. Almost everyone is truly devoted to helping everyone make the best wine that they possibly can, without worrying about competition or possible lost sales or anything else. It’s all about raising the quality bar for the entire region, rather than just for the winery you work for.
Sheldrake Point Winery, 7448 County Rd 153, Ovid, (607) 532-9401
The Edible Finger Lakes Meet Your (Wine) Maker column is developed in partnership with the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance whose mission is to increase the visibility and reputation of the Finger Lakes AVA, its wines, and wineries.