Cayuga Community College Winemaking

Winemakers from across Cayuga County led a discussion on wine tasting in the last event in Cayuga Community College's Cultural Speaker Series on Monday.

AUBURN — To cap off the inaugural Cultural Speaker Series at Cayuga Community College, owners and staff from four local wineries held a tasting class in a discussion of what makes wine from the Finger Lakes region unique.

"We thought there's no better way to end our season than with the winery round table," said Emily Cameron, the college's assistant director of community education and workforce development who has organized the speaker series. 

Incoming Executive Director of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance Carmela Barbagallo, who also teaches a class on wine tasting at the college, started the discussion by asking the winemakers how they made their way into the business.

"I lied to my wife and said 'How much work could it possibly be?'" John Izzo, who co-owns Izzo's White Barn Winery with his wife in the village of Cayuga, joked.

Susan Higgins, who co-owns Heart & Hands Wine Company in Union Springs with her husband, a Finger Lakes native, said they left behind hectic careers in New York City to pursue a love of wine.

"It was about a passion for wine," Higgins said, sharing a sentiment all the presenters echoed.

The discussion touched on topics including the types of grapes the vintners preferred, how to cultivate crops in the climate of the Finger Lakes, trends in consumer preferences, how well the state supports the industry, and more.

One key factor behind the success of the presenters was cooperation, according to Izzo, who said he'll frequently refer customers to all the other winemakers at the table based on their specialties and customer preferences.

Similarly, Nate Pieper, tasting and marketing associate with Long Point Winery in Aurora, said, especially for wineries on Cayuga Lake's eastern side that tend to be smaller than the west, shared traffic from big events in the region are crucial.

As the crowd in attendance included several members from Barbagallo's class, the winemakers also offered tips for hobbyists looking to move from just tasting wine to making their own.

The most important factor in winemaking, according to Chris Scholomiti, of CJS Vineyards in Aurelius?

"Patience," he said, advising the audience to especially take their time in waiting to taste their wine after bottling it.

When it comes to actually drinking the wine, however, Higgins recommended favoring what's enjoyable rather than what traditional rules suggest.

"I think some of them are quite antiquated and I think you should experiment and find out what you enjoy," Higgins said.

With the first season of the Cultural Speaker Series completed, Cameron said the college is already at work planning for the next round, hopefully to begin in September.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin