A New York ‘Vinifera’ Pioneer Still Going Strong After 56 Years

Fotolia_35436870_SIn France, Italy and Germany, it’s not unusual to encounter wineries that have been owned and operated by the same family for generations.

Multi-generational wineries are not so common in the United States, partly because America is a relatively young country, and partly because Prohibition forced so many wine families of the early 20th century to seek out other ways to make a living.

But on the west side of Keuka Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region, three generations of the Frank family — with a fourth waiting in the wings — have carved out a unique niche.

It all began in 1958 when Dr. Konstantin Frank ignored conventional wisdom of the time and planted vinifera grape varieties. Established grape growers and winemakers scoffed at Dr. Frank’s belief that traditional European varieties could be grown successfully in the region’s harsh, often bitter cold winters. Up until then, the native Labrusca variety was commonly grown, as were various French-American hybrids that had been developed for the area.

Dr. Frank firmly believed that vinifera grapes could fare well, and experimented with varieties, clones and sites. In the years to come, he would prove the naysayers wrong. Through trial and error, toil and sweat, the Frank family found that northern European varieties, in particular, shine in the region. Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir have been stalwarts, and more recently, Gruner Veltliner has been grown with great success.

Dr. Frank introduced his first wines in 1962, and they have been consistent award winners ever since. His legacy will be the ignition of the “vinifera revolution” in the Finger Lakes region, resulting in more than 100 area wineries producing vinifera wines today.

In the mid-1980s, Dr. Frank’s son, Willy, made history of his own when he introduced high-quality sparkling wine to the region. Frank believed that the labor-intensive methode champenoise was the only way to make sparkling wine, and that the classic Champagne grape varieties should be utilized.

His Chateau Frank sparkling wines quickly gained widespread acclaim, and today are considered among the best made in the state of New York.

In 1993, Willy Frank’s son, Fred, took over leadership of the family winery. With established lines of popular table and sparkling wines enjoying a loyal audience, Fred decided to develop a value-focused label: Salmon Run. It includes both single-variety wines and blends, and has helped introduce many more people to the wines of Dr. Konstantin Frank.

The increase in production necessitated an expansion of the winemaking team. Today, that team includes talented winemakers from New York, California, Australia and Germany, each of whom brings a unique skill set to the cellar.

The vineyards planted by Dr. Frank back in 1958 are now considered “old vine,” and produce grapes of exceptional quality and concentration — a key to crafting complex, top-quality wines.

And you can expect the Dr. Konstantin Frank, Chateau Frank and Salmon Run labels to be around for many vintages to come as Fred Frank’s daughter, Meaghan, recently joined the family business after receiving a Master’s degree in Wine Business from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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