Why This Finger Lakes Winery Decided To Think Small

[Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in the July/August issue of Vintner Magazine.]

Some wineries that have been open a decade have made growth a priority. In the span of a decade, there are certainly wine producers that after just 10 years in business feature multiple brands, numerous varietals and, in some cases, have built restaurants and resorts.
To say New Vines Winery is not among those wineries would be an understatement. Celebrating 10 years in business this year, the Finger Lakes winery has intentionally thought small, farming just an acre of land to produce estate-grown grapes for its wines.
High school sweethearts and Rochester, New York natives Todd and Dani Eichas always dreamed of retiring to Finger Lakes WIne Country. The wine and gardening enthusiasts purchased land to build a bed and breakfast overlooking Seneca Lake in 2007, and decided they would grow grapes while they were at it.
The winery officially opened in 2011, and 10 years later, it produces approximately 300 cases of Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Lemberger, Cabernet Franc and Marquette Rosé annually.
The decision to take a “think small” approach was made organically.
“This started out as logistics, as our property is only 3.5 acres and there is little room to add more vines,” Todd Eichas said. “Once in operation, though, we found that this size worked well for what we wanted to accomplish.
“It allows us to perform about 95% of the grape growing and winemaking with just the two of us.”

Eichas began planting grapes on their land in 2007 after he and his wife had a long conversation to determine their vision for the property.
“As our home was being built, which we designed to be a bed and breakfast, I thought, ‘How could we move into this up-and-coming wine region and not grow some grapes and make some wine?’” he recalled. “At that point, I had made wine, but never had grown grapes. We then started down a path with a tremendous learning curve. I planted about 80 vines that year and continued planting more each year until the one-acre block was complete. Fortunately, resources such as Cornell Cooperative Extension and neighboring wineries were a tremendous help.”
Doing things on a small scale is by no means synonymous with simplicity or taking it easy, but it does allow the Eichases to take a hands-on approach with their vines and their product.
“Don’t get me wrong, sometimes small-scale is hard. However, I am able to perform vineyard tasks that many large wineries never do,” he said. “For example, I am currently making a first pass through the vineyard removing basal leaves near the newly forming clusters and removing secondary and lateral shoots prior to bloom.
“This increases air flow in the canopy which reduces the chance for disease and improves spray penetration. It also helps balance each vine. After bloom, I will make a second pass, removing all leaves in the fruit zone on the east side of each row for morning sun exposure.
“Prior to veraison, I will cluster thin and remove any additional fruit zone leaves to ensure good ripening. All of these operations are performed by hand, which I think are more precise than a mechanized version. I am a firm believer that good wine starts in the vineyard.”
Eichas said consistency was not necessarily the goal. Making the best product they can with the grapes they have available is.
“My goal is to make the highest quality wine that I can with the fruit that the growing season gives us,” he said. “Each growing season is different here in the cool climate of the Finger Lakes, resulting in fruit variation from year to year. We embrace vintage variation here.
“My winemaking process is very similar to large wineries, just on a smaller scale. It is definitely a science, as all decisions are based on fruit chemistry. I have a small lab, and also rely on some lab work from a neighboring winery. My goal is to make well-balanced wines that are easy to enjoy.”
After 10 years, the couple is still doing the lion’s share of the work themselves.
“To me, my vineyard is an extension of my garden. I want it to be aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. That means keeping it as weed free as possible using only mechanical cultivation and no herbicides,” Eichas said. “Starting out, we had our fair share of challenges, but there were plenty of resources available to get us to where we are today. We’ll always be thankful for the collaborative spirit of the Finger Lakes wine industry.”
The winery hosted a day of tours and tastings on June 26 to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
The small-but-mighty winery is beloved among fellow Finger Lakes vintners.
“Todd’s got to be one of the most under-appreciated winemakers in the Finger Lakes,” said Vinny Aliperti, winemaker and co-owner of Billsboro Winery. When he’s not working his own land, Eichas can be seen helping out in neighboring vineyards, including at nearby Fox Run Vineyards.
“New Vines is making some of the best Gruner in the region. His wines are really the best kept secret of the Finger Lakes,” said Fox Run co-owner Scott Osborn.
After a decade, New Vines is ready to build notoriety while sticking to its guns.
“Our wines are relatively unknown, so we are attempting to expose them to more people to build our brand,” Eichas said. “We hope to acquire a dedicated following of people who want to enjoy unique wines from a very small producer.”

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