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Newly planted vineyard

Finger Lakes winemakers land a ‘home’ for their new property ahead of 1st release

How well are things coming together for winemakers Kelby James Russell and Julia Rose Hoyle as they build the foundation for a new Finger Lakes winery called Apollo’s Praise?

Based on the set of circumstances that occurred with an 1840s farmhouse located across the road from the Lahoma Vineyards they will source for their line of wines, the run-up couldn’t be going much better. They purchased that farmhouse today, which they plan to use for dinners and pick-up parties for members of their wine club in addition to making it available as an Airbnb.

Russell says he had seen the farmhouse for years during his stint with Red Newt Cellars, where his stellar reputation grew with the world-class Rieslings and other wines he produced before this latest venture. “But Julia, one day we were driving around and she made the comment, ‘If that ever went up for sale, my gosh, what a perfect addition to the property [that would be].’ For all we know it might have been the original farmhouse because there used to be an orchard where the vineyard is.”

Lo and behold, last August it went on the market. “We’re like, well you don’t really get to choose when opportunity strikes, even though it wasn’t necessarily the ideal timing to make another big move,” Russell says. “I guess we feel really happy we made the offer because the last time it sold was 1947. “

While the couple has no short-term plans for a tasting room, Russell says this gives them a cozy home for club members and others to visit. “It’s nice to have sort of a hearth to welcome people to,” he says.

A Finger Lakes native, Russell left home for Harvard, where he studied Orchestra Management. According to a June 2023 story on the New York Wines website, it was winemaking that drew him back in 2009, and he began his tenure as Red Newt winemaker in 2012. His accolades include outstanding reviews and a spot on Wine Enthusiast’s “40 Under 40 Tastemaker” list, and last year he was honored by his colleagues in the New York Wine and Grape Foundation with the “Phyllis Feder Unity Award.” He also played a key role as a co-chair for the “FLXcursion” International Riesling Conferences in 2019, ‘21 and ‘23, which have helped to showcase the region and its extraordinary wines.

Russell left Red Newt last spring around the same time he and Hoyle were purchasing Lahoma Vineyards — a source of grapes for several Red Newt classics such as the “Big H” Riesling and The Knoll Riesling as well as other wine producers — from grower Ken Fulkerson and setting in motion their plan to start Apollo’s Praise. The vineyard and farmhouse are both located across the lake from Red Newt Cellars, in Rock Stream, New York.

The name is inspired by a song entitled “Glorious Apollo” that Russell sang in the men’s choir, one that was familiar to members through the years. He says since his career path was meant to be Orchestra Management, “this is a way to tie everything back together.” While Russell is now focused exclusively on this winery, Hoyle will continue as the winemaker at nearby Hosmer Estate Winery while serving as her husband’s co-conspirator, as she references it on the website, with their ambitious project.

The availability of grapes from the 55 acres of vines located on Seneca Lake’s southwest shore figures to change very little, he says, even with their venture. “There’s been no shortage of demand for the fruit. We weren’t looking to upset the applecart in any way,” adding that “it’s been a very easy path to keep a little bit of what we wanted and keep supplying a lot of the longtime customers.”

If there was one setback, it was the infamous May 18, 2023, late frost, which robbed Fingers Lake vineyards of tons of potential fruit, including at Lahoma, where Russell and Hoyle lost half of their available fruit a month after purchasing the vineyard. Still, Russell told New York Wines, “We’re going to make people sit up and notice with the wines we do get to make.”

In an interview last week with PennLive, he says they have cleared the main hurdles, securing their bonded winery permit and approval from the state. They are aiming at releasing around half of their wines to members of what they call their Wine and Glee Club on May 1 and then the second set on Sept. 1. Club membership, of which there are still some openings, will include six wines from each of their two releases, which can either be shipped or picked up.

Skurnik will otherwise provide distribution to several states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and probably California. “We’re not expecting to sell a ton in California,” Russell says, “but there are some wine restaurants out there, of course, that we’d really like to showcase [our products] to the wine world.”

The portfolio at this point will include nine wines, starting with some Finger Lakes classics — a dry Riesling, a Kabinett-style (made from fully ripe grapes) Riesling, a dry rosé of Cabernet Franc and a stainless-steel Cabernet Franc, with the remainder of the list, Russell says, featuring “some of the things that are unique to us”:
  • Reserve Cab Franc that’s done in a 400-gallon oak tank, “very Old World-inspired in that way”
  • Gruner Veltliner
  • Barrel-fermented Chardonnay
  • The reserve Riesling, The Knoll
  • And “a real perky one called Scheurebe. It’s widely planted in Germany, especially in the faults in the Rheinhessen, which is where I had it when I was visiting some states in 2016 and just really fell in love with the grape,” he says. “The owner at the time of Lahoma Vineyard, he had a little half-acre parcel and he asked what I’d be curious to see planted, and that just kind of stuck out to me.”

Their first commercial crop from that trial plot was harvested last year. “It’s a really fascinating combination of things in terms of how it presents,” he says. “It has a little bit of, sort of like, acidity and fruit of Riesling, but also has some of the spice notes from Gewurztraminer.” While he expects that wine will require a bit of education for consumers, he anticipates that it will become as much a cult wine as anything. “That would be the sort of goal for this wine. In a good year, [production] might be 100 cases” that will be offered as a wine club exclusive.

Read the rest of the original article on Penn Live.

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