Susan Passmore has been the head winemaker at Buttonwood Grove Winery since 2014. Prior to that time, she served as the Tasting Room manager for several years, under original owners Ken and Diane Riemer. When the winery was purchased by Dave and Melissa Pittard in 2014, Sue moved into the newly-created position of winemaker. Her many years of experience working in vineyards throughout the Finger Lakes region made her a natural candidate for that role when the Pittards made the decision to produce their wines onsite, rather than contracting them out. Her first vintages of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Riesling from the estate vineyards were harvested and produced in 2015. Shortly thereafter, her 2016 Riesling won the New York State Governor’s Cup (August 2017)
On the Finger Lakes wine scene:
Looking ahead to the next 5 – 10 years, I believe that we are going to see the emergence of some larger wineries, as people from outside the region really begin to see our potential. As our winemaking style and practices mature, I expect to see more outside influences coming in, and creating both large-scale venues, and small boutique wineries. The diversity of wines, more sophisticated consumers, and niche wineries focusing on innovation are moving us away from wineries that strive to please every palate, and into a more concentrated focus on crafting exciting, unique wines.
On surprises in winemaking:
Our Blanc de Franc (white Cabernet Franc) is evidence that even some of our biggest mistakes can be turned into an opportunity. In 2016, our second year of production, we sourced some Cabernet Franc grapes from another vineyard to produce our very first Rosé. The fruit we obtained was under-ripe and somewhat compromised. After a brief cold soak, it was put through the destemmer/crusher, then immediately pressed off. We were expecting a beautiful, delicate Rosé, but when processing was complete, we were not-so-pleasantly surprised – the resulting wine was a deep, rich, white with not even a hint of pink. I called Ian Barry, who had been working with us as a consultant, and he suggested bottling it as a Blanc de Franc. With only 50 cases produced that first year, it was incredibly popular, mostly due to its uniqueness. Five vintages later, this happy accident has become one of our best selling seasonal wines.
On her love of growing things:
I think my inherent love of gardening is what ultimately led me to where I am today. I started my career in the wine industry picking grapes with other women from my church while our kids were in school, a common practice in the early days of the Finger Lakes wine scene. My vegetable and flower gardens inject a bit of sanity into my otherwise demanding and busy days, and growing and working with grapes is a natural extension of that passion. There’s nothing quite so therapeutic as yanking out weeds and working in the dirt, especially when you’ve grown up on a farm, as I did.
On harvest traditions:
Most Sunday mornings during the harvest season, I head for the vineyards, all by myself, without the hustle and bustle of the busy week ahead. I hop on the Gator and buzz through the vines, assessing the progress of the grapes, and envisioning what the week ahead will look like. At that time of year, the mist is rising off the lake as the early morning sun peeks through, the dew is heavy, and the vineyards are truly magical. That’s my time to get my focus, regroup, and mentally prepare for the long hours and weeks ahead.
I came to winemaking quite late in my career path, and quite unexpectedly. The support and advice from neighboring winemakers and vineyardists has been incredible. As I reflect back on these past few years, I feel truly grateful that Dave and Melissa have given me this opportunity to combine so many facets of my life into one grand and exciting adventure.
Buttonwood Grove Winery, 5986 State Route 89 Romulus, 607-869-9760
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.