This month we interviewed the Stamp family from Lakewood Vineyards on Seneca Lake- Siblings Abby and Ben, and their father Chris. The Stamps have managed vineyards and made wine in the Finger Lakes for over 30 years and are one of the most highly respected families in the region. We hope you enjoy learning more about them!
What do you find most challenging about making wine here?
I think the most challenging thing about making wine in the Finger Lakes is vintage variation, though that is not an answer unique to the Finger Lakes. Winemakers in every region experience their share of extreme weather, but I find it hard to overlook the challenges Mother Nature throws our way as it is currently raining steadily while we run brix on grape samples and hope for more sunshine. That said, it keeps things interesting and has helped us, as a region, to weed out which varietals struggle in the Finger Lakes and to focus our energy on those that are suited to the oft wet, but sometimes too dry, cool, but occasionally too hot, growing seasons we experience.
How would you describe your winemaking style?
As a team, I believe we strive to make the best possible wines with the least possible interference. As a result, we produce clean wines with character that is reflective of where they are grown. Winemaking is a balance of art and science, and sometimes just coaxing a wine in the right direction, and the scales may shift depending on the vintage.
What is your favorite non-wine FLX beverage?
Local beer. We, at Lakewood, are big supporters of the local craft beer industry, especially during harvest. We lean heavily on Seneca Sunrise coffee, too!
Music choice for harvest vs bottling?
We spend a lot of hours on the bottling line in the spring and summer so while we try to listen to a variety of tunes, we definitely have some favorite Spotify playlists, including Shady Ladies of the 80s, 90s alternative, and 90s and 2000s Hip Hop. A couple of my coworkers have banned country music while we bottle, amongst other categories. During harvest, all bets are off. We keep the music upbeat during harvest, especially before our caffeine has kicked in!
What do you love about where you work?
I love working with family and the extended family we have created here at Lakewood. There is a fun and relaxed work environment because everyone is very comfortable working with each other. We are not afraid to challenge each other’s ideas either, which sometimes results is a lively debate, but always results in each of us walking away a bit wiser.
Why did you choose to make wine here?
My family has been growing grapes at this location since 1951. While we didn’t have a winery until 1988, I grew up working in these vineyards. In the 1980’s, it was tough making a living selling grapes at the depressed prices of the day. As a family we concluded that we needed to change our business model if we were going to keep the farm. I had been making wine professionally since 1983 and combined with my family’s history of grape growing, we felt collectively that we had the necessary experience to make the leap. We were blissfully ignorant. My wife Liz and I were living in Ohio at the time, but we knew we wanted to return to the Finger Lakes. I guess the short answer is because this is home.
What’s your background and education in winemaking?
I feel that spending my youth working in vineyards is probably the most important part of my education, because I think growing up immersed in a particular business, you develop an intuitive understanding. Formally, my education is in Food Science from Cornell. I certainly would have chosen Winemaking as a major had it been offered at the time, but my graduation predated the creation of the Viticulture & Enology program by well over 2 decades. I spent my college summer breaks first as a tour guide at Glenora Wine Cellars, then working in the lab at Taylor and Great Western Winery in Hammondsport. Directly out of college, I began making wine for Planes Cayuga Vineyards. Eventually I moved to Ohio to work for Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center as a Research Associate and Extension agent to the wine industry there. When we opened Lakewood Vineyards, my wife and I (and our first child, Ben) moved back to NY. We’ve been here ever since. I don’t know this for certain, but I would bet that Lakewood Vineyards is one of very few, if not the only, 33-year-old Finger Lakes winery that has the same winemaker since day 1. That may not make me special, but it does make me old.
What is your favorite activity outside of winemaking?
I’ve never been accused of having too few interests, but over the years I’ve narrowed it down to just a few. I really enjoy gardening, but my favorite challenge/hobby is flying. I earned my pilots license back in 1989. Flying a small plane is an incredible privilege and flying over the Finger Lakes is spectacular.
I don’t think I’m a superstitious person, but I do avoid tempting fate. Habit? That’s a no brainer: Coffee. Some years, my cellar crew will quit shaving. We get scruffy, except Abby.
What advice do you have for aspiring winemakers?
I would suggest to winemakers of any experience level to ditch their pride. Pride makes you defensive, and when you’re defensive, you stop learning. Even the best can learn from others. I’ve been in this business for all my adult life, yet I’m learning things from my kids. Another piece of advice is to be grateful every day for this awesome job you have. You get to make something from scratch that is science, art, and personality. You get to package it and hand it to the end consumer. In a world of outsourcing and assembly lines, somehow our craft has survived. In my mind that makes our job special.
If you had a crystal ball, where do you see the region in 5-10 years?
10 years can bring a great deal of change to a wine region. I suspect that the greater world of wine will continue to discover the wonderful wines of the Finger Lakes in the next 5-10 years, and we will no longer be referred to as an “up-and-coming wine region” but as the premier cool climate wine region in North America.
What was your biggest winemaking blunder?
I suppose, though sometimes serendipitous, the classic “accidental blend” blunder would be right up there. Nobody needs to know any more about that…
What wine do you love to drink… and your favorite to make?
I love to make Pinot Noir, because it is difficult on every level, in every region, every year. I love to drink Riesling, because it is the most versatile and food friendly varietal I know, and because the Finger Lakes expression of Riesling is so pure.
Feel free to share some other special story here if you’d like!
Here at Lakewood we have an ever-expanding list of curiosities/potential wine experiments. Each August before harvest starts, we select (read: argue over) several items on this list to experiment with during the pending vintage. This is typically the genesis of some of our more unique wines, like our Reserve Cabernet Franc for instance. Though most of the experiments don’t lead to a new product, the results help us to build our knowledge base and refine our style.
Who in the FLX wine community do you admire?
How about a little love for the hardworking grape growers? Winemakers have the easy job. I admire the growers, who are right there on the front lines with Mother Nature.
Lakewood Vineyards, 4024 Route 14, Watkins Glen, (607) 535-9252, lakewoodvineyards.com
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.