As the new executive director of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, it's Auburn resident Carmela Barbagallo's mission to promote the region as one of the best in the country.
Since taking the position in April, her days have often consisted of fielding questions from international wine journalists, submitting local wines for rating, organizing events and other marketing tasks.
She has the background for it: Barbagallo spent several years working for the Aurora Inn, at one point managing wine and spirit sales, before joining the alliance based on her love of the area's wine.
One of her favorite parts of her new position is organizing events where guests can meet the local winemakers and winery owners, and get a sense of their passion and commitment, she said.
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"People can get a sense of the friendly faces behind the wines," Barbagallo said.
What makes her appreciate such events, and what's become a focus of her work, is the chance to bring newcomers into the wine world, or to show aficionados what makes the Finger Lakes special, she said. Sometimes, people new to wine can be intimidated by the trappings and expectations around it, and she takes pleasure in helping novices learn what they like, rather than what they think they should like.
Barbagallo pointed to a recent USA Today poll naming the Finger Lakes the country's best wine region for the second year in a row as proof that the area is able to provide that welcoming experience. Nominees for the poll were chosen by a panel of experts, but were voted on by readers. Barbagallo believes that shows that the region's wineries are adept at offering an enjoyable experience for everyone, whether that's through their tasting rooms, tours or dinners.
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Similarly, Barbagallo said, she loves to show connoisseurs from across the world or surrounding counties that the 130-plus wineries in the Finger Lakes produce varieties for anyone's palate.
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The region produces a wide array of wines, but it truly excels at cool climate wines like chardonnay, cabernet franc and pinot noir, Barbagallo said.
In particular, the region is renowned for its Rieslings, which the alliance works hard to promote through events like the Riesling Road Show, Riesling Camp and FLXcursion, an international Riesling exposition that welcomed hundreds to Geneva in July, Barbagallo said.
Thanks to the deep water of the lakes, the terroir of the region — the sum of environmental factors that affect a wine's characteristics and flavors — is perfectly suited to growing cool climate varieties of grapes, according to the alliance's website.
What also makes the Finger Lakes wine industry unique, and something the alliance symbolizes, is the level of cooperation between wineries, Barbagallo said.
"You don't see that in all wine regions," Barbagallo said.
With a few months behind her, Barbagallo hopes to continue encouraging the wine-curious who have never visited the Finger Lakes to see what the region can offer.