As the modern Finger Lakes wine industry matures, and some of its pioneers retire, the now-iconic brands they created are being carried forward by a new generation. Many children of winemakers and winery owners came of age participating as youngsters in the hard work—and learning curve—of transforming the family farm from grape growing to winemaking production and sales.
“I’ve been working in the vineyard since I was a little kid,” said Liz Leidenfrost, 25, daughter of John Leidenfrost of the eponymous vineyard in Hector. Although she originally planned to go to music school, as college approached, she asked herself, “Do I really want to have the struggle of trying to succeed as a musician?” After watching a cousin work with her father in the cellar for a year, “I thought, hey, I can do what he’s doing—but better! So I took a leap of faith,” she said, and after the cousin left, she apprenticed with her father in the vineyard and wine cellar. Six years later, she’s created three new wines, hoping to “think outside the box and pique the interest of people who like this region’s wines by respecting the tradition and trying to have a product not a lot of wineries offer.”
In this small farm winery, she said, her hardest job was learning to balance all the jobs her father did, from vineyard management to making sure the tasting room has all the supplies needed. “At the end of the day,” she added, “ I look at my father as my teacher and not as my dad.”
Like Leidenfrost, Stamp said she had a jump-start as a winemaker from early years of tasting and evaluating wine at home. “I have a lot of friends who are just starting to like wine and decide what they like. But I started that process way earlier. I feel now that I’m able to speak up and have my voice heard. We make group decisions.”
On Keuka Lake, Fred Frank of Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, the area’s first fourth-generation winery, has experienced many sides of the generational transition. His grandfather, Konstantin Frank, established the winery in 1962, using it as a lab and teaching facility as well where he taught vineyardists throughout the eastern U.S. to grow and use European vinifera grapes, calling his young apprentices “cooperators.”
Dr. Frank’s son Willy, and grandson Fred worked alongside him, but the relationship between grandson and grandfather was closer than the one between Konstantin and Willy. The eldest Frank wanted Fred to take over the business from him, but Willy quoted an old saying, “You should learn to shave on another man’s beard,” meaning he should make his first mistakes somewhere else.
Not willing to add fuel to the differences between his father and grandfather, after graduating Cornell University, Fred Frank worked at a large downstate vineyard, then studied winemaking and viticulture at Geisenheim, in Germany. Meanwhile, Willy Frank, who was a businessman and consummate people-person, worked alongside his father, who did not relinquish full control until only a year before he died at 86. Fred’s sister, Barbara, also joined the winery and began making champagne. After about a year, she re-located to New Jersey, though she continues to consult and help with sales. A few years later, Fred, by then a father of three, was urgently requested to drop everything and come back to take over the family business—Willy had become ill.
Fred returned—and his father recovered. The two worked happily together until Willy’s death more than a dozen years later, having divided responsibilities to their mutual satisfaction. Meanwhile, Frank said, “I learned from other family business owners not to push but let kids find their own way back to the family farm if they want to.” And to his delight, his oldest daughter Meaghan, in her senior year at college, decided to join the business. After receiving her master’s degree in wine business, she went on for a second degree in oenology. “We’re very excited, and confident that she’ll follow the legacy of her great grandfather,” he said, with evident pride. §