My first real harvest began in 2013. I was still responsible for the wine program and running the floor in the Bistro, Thursday evenings through Sunday evenings. The rest of my mornings and afternoons were spent learning the ins and outs of cellar work during crush.
There is a steep learning curve during harvest at a winery! Day one, I had no idea how to even connect wine transfer hoses. By week two, I was able to set up the crush pad in the morning, rack tanks, clean tanks, run a DE machine and a plethora of other tasks. The days are filled with hard physical labor, lots of sticky juice, and cleaning constantly. I had never been so tired after a long day of work and had never been so enthused to go back and do it again the next day.
People often envision the profession of winemaking as a day at work spent sniffing and tasting wine. Winemaking in reality, especially during crush, is sticky (from all the grape juice), dirty (all the dirt sticking to said grape juice), exhausting, and full of problem solving. That being said, I knew after my first harvest, that I just needed to do it again and I have been ever since.
The past few weeks it has been our pleasure to share the various facets of our story with you. So many of you have tuned into our Virtual Tastings, commented on our daily posts and supported us in many ways. Today, we want to take a moment to show how our story is reflected in our philosophy of making wine.
Recently, winemaker Kelby Russell explained our philosophy of wine production. He replied, “Red Newt’s winemaking philosophy has always placed vineyard expression first and foremost, particularly with grapes like Riesling that are so terroir expressive. We are fortunate to have a remarkably beautiful and diverse set of vineyards to work with, and it has been a pleasure to make wines that show t hose distinctions.In recent years, I have looked to showcase the strength of our vineyards in producing richer, more textured styles of wine.”
This is why, on June 8th, 2020 at 5pm we will conduct a simulcast, from Lahoma Vineyards, across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Founding winemaker David Whiting, winemaker Kelby Russell, and assistant winemaker Meagz Goodwin will lead a “Walk n Talk in the Vineyard.” This is an opportunity to see the vineyard up close and personal, ask the questions you didn’t know you had about the land and the wines. Grab a glass and join us. Better yet, check out the event, and order the wines to taste right along with us! This will be an amazing treat – so we’ll see you in the vineyard next Monday at 5pm.
First days of harvest share a lot in common with first days of school: a beautiful autumn day, new clothes and footwear, the excitement of seeing old acquaintances, the ceremonial first photo… and that they all start to blur together.
My first harvest, however? That is one that you never forget. I showed up on the doorstep at Fox Run Vineyards in early October 2009, just a handful of days into their Chardonnay picking. I was dressed sharply, under the impression it would be a business interview, and immediately found myself thrown on the crush pad with a broom and a shovel by the irascible Peter Bell. I loved it, and started showing up every day just to be a part of the magic. I remember it as being a sun-dappled and thrilling experience through and through. There was so much to learn and see, new friends to make, invigorating work, and fun music blasting late into the evening. It was everything I could have hoped for, and it hooked me for life.
That last part is, as it turns out, not so insignificant. In the years since I have seen many interns experience their first – and last – harvest. In wine production, there is a common sentiment that the first harvest makes or breaks someone; either you thrill to the work and pace, or you find it overwhelming or too grueling. No judgement is attached to that, it is just a reality of determining whether wine cellar work is a good fit or not. (And frankly, how many of us wish we could have found that out about a career path in 6 well-paid weeks?) Fortunately for me, it was love at first sight.
From tasting room to Cellar Master……..a cellar rat’s journey.
I grew up in Pennsylvania but I have been coming to Finger Lakes all my life. As a kid my family would bring me and my two older sisters to the Finger Lakes for months at a time in the summer. I learned to swim in the waters of Seneca, climbed the many waterfalls, got cut by zebra mussels, boating, fishing, hiking…I learned it all in the Finger Lakes. As you can probably guess, I love this area. I went to school for years studying information technology and psychology. After a lot of money and time I realized that this was not the life I wanted. I wanted to be outside getting dirty, I wanted to be so tired that at the end of the day I wouldn’t care that I smelled bad. I also wanted to be surrounded by caring people. I found all of that in the Finger Lakes.
When I decided it was time for a change I came to the Finger Lakes and started to apply to the wineries. One of the first wineries I worked for back in 2009 was Red Newt. I started in the tasting room having a phenomenal time with the people coming to enjoy the Finger Lakes. After showing interest, I was quickly tried out in the cellar. It was immediately clear that I was born to be a cellar rat…..I was hooked. Since then I have been working in wine cellars in the Finger Lakes . I worked for Red Newt for a couple of years and then in 2015 I moved to Fox Run for a harvest. I then moved to Lamoreaux Landing 2016 and did a harvest there. However, I still missed Red Newt, and in 2017 I found myself back at their doors asking to work with the same people who made me fall in love with this industry and this gorgeous region.
And I have been a happy Red Newt-er ever since…………..
Kelby James Russell Wines first began as a casual brainstorm at Red Newt Cellars, where owner and winemaker David Whiting suggested that a separate wine project might be an important creative outlet for Kelby. With a diverse selection of vineyards and wine styles, the label promises to bring something new to the wine world; ‘off-beat’ wines both in reference to their musical inspiration as well as their individual spirit.
Kelby says, “starting this label allows me to focus on a limited number of wines that I am most passionate about, inspired by the music I am passionate about. The hope for these wines is that they always have personality and speak for themselves.”
The “KJR” lineup began in 2013 with the release of the Rose and Riesling. Since then the Cabernet Franc has also been released. If you’re a fan of these wines, grab them while you can. They have a tendency to sell out quickly!
Katie Goodwin – Wine Club/Customer Relations Director
Our Story – Katie’s Story
Katie has been a part of the Red Newt team for well over a decade, wearing many hats she has worked in the Tasting Room, Bistro, kitchen, and the office.
A US native she spent her formative years living overseas in Bavaria in the southeast corner of Germany. After moving back to the states, she spent vacations with family in the Finger Lakes (ironically less than two miles from Red Newt Cellars). After falling in love with the area her family made the decision to move to Seneca Lake. How many people can say that they got to move to the place that they love to vacation?
A hard-working goofball Katie has been in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. After completing her degree in paralegal studies, she realized that office work excluded one of the rewarding aspects of her career path: working with people in an exciting and active way. Katie joined the team at Red Newt in 2006 where she immediately fell in love with the people and the industry.
If any of this story seems familiar to another member of the staff at Red Newt, it is! Katie and Meagz are sisters, and it is probably a good thing they work in different parts of the business. In reality, although Katie and Meagz work well together and are in fact family, the entire team at Red Newt has become an extended family.
When Katie is not at Red Newt she is home with her partner-in-life Tony, children Cordelia and Lewis, and furbaby Loki, spending time hiking, lake-side, at the stables, reading, dancing in the kitchen cooking and eating.
Music is as diversified in genres and expression, as wine is by varietal and vintage. For many, this makes the two perfect companions. Today, we tell Susan’s story. Susan Waterbuy is co-owner of Red Newt Cellars Winery and Bistro, and has been instrumental in developing the current music program.
Susan Waterbury is Professor of Violin at the Ithaca College School of Music in Ithaca, NY and maintains an active performing schedule. She has also taught at the Cleveland Institute of Music with the Cavani String Quartet as String Quartet in Residence, at The University of Memphis as an Associate Professor of Violin and member of the Ceruti String Quartet, and at Garth Newel Music Center as Co-Artistic Director and Artist in Residence.
For eleven years, Waterbury was a founding violinist in the Cavani String Quartet. Cavani performed and taught regularly for concert series and festivals throughout the U.S. and abroad and garnered many awards including First Prize in the Walter W. Naumberg Chamber Music, Cleveland Quartet, and Carmel chamber music competitions. Cavani also received prizes in the Banff International, Fischoff, and Coleman competitions. Susan plays on an 1865 Postiglione violin and also enjoys playing Old Time fiddle and other improvised music with her banjo playing husband, playing on her grandfather’s fiddle.
She and David Whiting married in November of 2015. Their mutual love of music and her passion for exploring music in alternative spaces kick-started the music at Red Newt Cellars. First, Red Newt Cellars began the Sunset Chamber Music nights. This series takes place in the evening in order to capture the beauty of the Finger Lakes sunset over Seneca Lake. These programs draw on incredible musical talent in the Finger Lakes as well as from musicians across the globe. Held three or four times per year, the idea is to bring chamber music into non-traditional environments, with less structure than traditional classical music venues. The space is more intimate and encourages the creation of a connection between the musicians and the audience.
In 2019, we launched a lunchtime music series happening concurrently with our lunch service. The result is an afternoon that is both relaxing, full of energy, friendship bringing in some of our region’s greatest talent. The lunchtime program is every Sunday from 1:00 PM until 2:30 PM. The variety of music changes each week and our local musicians love playing in our space. We have enjoyed such success with this program that we will be expanding this program to Saturdays as well.
Music has always been a part of Red Newt culture. If you know a member of the Whiting family, then you know music. No gathering is complete without the sounds of banjo, piano, guitar, and fiddle. Music is in the Whiting blood and emanates from their creative souls. Their love of music is infectious to all around them and is embedded in the soul of Red Newt Cellars.
In the early days, morning visitors to Red Newt would hear music bellowing from the kitchen as the bread was made. Music would blast from the cellar on bottling days to keep everyone moving. Some nights the sounds of swing would echo through the bistro and dance lessons were offered. On Thursday nights music from the bistro filled the air with tunes from local musicians. Thursday nights were dubbed “Acoustic Newt Nights” and local favorites including Rebecca Colleen and the Chore Lads, Maplewood Jazz, and the Yardvarks could be heard. “The Acoustic Newt” became a weekly tradition and local favorite. The Acoustic Newt program has evolved, but the love of music remains, in many new and wonderful ways.
Tune in next week for more on the current music program at Red Newt Cellars Winery and Bistro and read about Susan, co-owner of Red Newt Cellars, who has been instrumental in developing the current Red Newt music program! In the meantime, see if any of your local musicians are offering music via Facebook or IGTV and consider tipping them using a virtual tip jar!
You’ve probably met her. She’s a lean, mean, machine with a quirky and fun personality. You’d never forget her once you’ve met her. Fun orange glasses, and a passion for food and wine that is infectious.
Meagz didn’t grow up in the Finger Lakes. Her mom was in the army and the family moved around A LOT when she was younger. Meagz didn’t even live in NY until she started 10th grade of high school. Talk about culture shock. Meagz returned to the Finger Lakes after University in 2006. “It has always reminded me a little bit of Germany where I spent a good portion of my childhood years. Everything is green and lush in the spring and summer. Hiking in the woods has all the right smells. And of course, there is a body of water nearby. Lakes have always made me happy. Now as an adult, wine does too!”
Meagz came to Red Newt with a BS in both Biology and Math; winemaking pulls aspects of both degrees into the mix. She finds the balance of the physical and cerebral challenges of winemaking ideal. “I’m not designed to sit behind a desk all day. I’ll be like a 6 year old and start fidgeting and staring out the window. However, standing in the lab running tests on the wines/juice and scaling the barrel stacks for topping sounds like an ideal day to me.” Meagz finds the fast paced environment of harvest invigorating, the slumber of the tanks during winter a welcome reprieve, and the ramping back up into summer with bottling a welcome push back into the busier side of life.
When she’s not working in the cellar, you’ll find Meagz outdoors with her dog Bandit and partner Ryan. But, wherever you run into Meagz, be sure to come with Scooby Snacks, preferably Haribo gummies. You see, Meagz does come with a warning label: “If there is a decrease in attitude and/or productivity – fuel levels are low! Warning: Feed immediately!”
In 2012, Kelby James Russell joined the Red Newt Team as an assistant winemaker. He brought with him a distinct passion for Riesling, similar to founding winemaker David Whiting. David began making Single Vineyard focused wines, and with Kelby on board that program has expanded. We believe that each vineyard site provides a unique sense of place with it’s own personality and soul. Each vintage our wines are a reflection of that time and space. Red Newt produces world class Rieslings, has a strong, diverse Cabernet Franc program and continues to produce Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Merlot and Pinot Noir. In 2013, David Whiting passed the reins of winemaking to Kelby Russell and Assistant Winemaker Meagz Goodwin.
With the winemaking under Kelby’s direction, connections with our growers, and focus on the individual expressions of distinct vineyard sites became our priority. Today Kelby oversees the production of a stable of single vineyard designated Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris as well as limited quantities of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. In 2013 Kelby and Red Newt launched the “Kelby James Russell” winemaker signature series of wines. The first release was the KJR Cabernet Franc Rosé – a single vineyard selection from “Nutt Road Vineyards” on the west side of Seneca Lake. Red Newt’s reputation and distribution continues to grow with wines now available in most north-eastern states, select states in the midwest. Farther afield, find Red Newt in California, Belgium and the UK.
“The joy of making wine at Red Newt goes far beyond our Single Vineyard Rieslings,” says Kelby, “Our red wines are a constant surprise and delight for those visiting us, and that is to say nothing of our ‘hidden gems.'” Indeed, buried within our barrel stacks, many treasures can be found. Secret small lot wines, a robust sherry-style fortified line-up, and even a multi-vintage Sekt (Méthode Champenoise Riesling) program are all carefully being worked on at Red Newt. With these wines getting ready for release in the years to come, along with our continued passion for making inspiring, World Class Rieslings, there has never been a more exciting time to join us at Red Newt!