Last SlideNext Slide
Several area wineries lure new visitors with beer offerings
The Ginny Lee Cafe, next door to Wagner Vineyards on Seneca Lake, offers a variety of Wagner Valley Brewing Co. beer samples, displayed here in a tower.(Photo: JEFF RICHARDS / CORRESPONDENT PHOTO)
Beer is made on-site at Wagner Vineyards on Seneca Lake, home to Wagner Valley Brewing Co.
Three Brothers Wineries and Estates opened as a winery in 2007 and added beer tastings the next year
Rock Stream Vineyards on Seneca Lake wanted to offer an option for men who wouldn’t taste wine
It’s officially tourism season in Finger Lakes wine country — and several of the wineries are enticing new visitors with the added taste of beer.
Wagner Vineyards on Seneca Lake, home to Wagner Valley Brewing Co., was the trendsetter all the way back in 1997 — and is still the only winery/brewery combination in the Finger Lakes where the beer is made on-site. That puts Wagner at the cutting edge of the now-booming small brewery business throughout the Finger Lakes. Bill Wagner, the late founder of the winery, branched into the beer business after seeing successful ventures on the West Coast.
“Having a winery, brewery and restaurant all in one place definitely makes Wagner’s a destination,” says Katie Roller, director of marketing and public relations for Wagner. “We’re able to provide an enjoyable experience for everyone. We hear from people all the time that they come here specifically because we offer both wine and beer.”
More wineries are starting to follow suit, especially with the growth of standalone brewpubs throughout the Rochester and Finger Lakes areas.
Building a reputation
Wagner brewmaster Brent Wojnowski started out as a home brewer in 2006 while a student at The College at Brockport. He then worked at Beers of the World in Henrietta and apprenticed at two California breweries.
He returned to the Finger Lakes as assistant brewmaster at Wagner and now is brewmaster there.
As a craft beer brewer, Wojnowski uses a method called decoction, which involves taking part of the batch out, heating it to boiling and then putting it back into the main batch to raise the temperature. At that point, a brewmaster can alter the flavor.
“The method pulls unique qualities out of the grains,” like caramel and a toasted finish, Wojnowski says.
Wagner, on the east side of Seneca Lake in Lodi, conducts tastings in much the same way as it does with wine. Tastings are in small glasses in an area that has a view of the brewing tanks.
If you like what you taste, you can enjoy it with a meal next door at the Ginny Lee Café.
One favorite, the winery says, is a glass of Wagner Valley Brewery ESB, Extra Special Bitter, paired with artichoke and spinach crostini with artichokes, spinach and a three-cheese blend on rustic bread.
Getting the guys
A decade after Wagner’s start, Three Brothers Wineries and Estates, southeast of Geneva on Seneca Lake, opened as a winery in 2007 and added beer tastings the next year.
“We were open less than six months, and I asked the women (visitors) where all the guys were,” says co-owner Dave Mansfield. “The women’s response was, ‘They like beer.’ ”
Research backed up the assertion, so in spring 2008, Mansfield and his wife and co-owner, Luanne, added beer under the label War Horse Brewing Co.
The first beer offered was made with Riesling juice. “It was my wife’s idea. It’s a lighter-tasting beer. While we were on vacation we tasted fruit beers and said, ‘Why not Riesling?’ ” Mansfield says. “As far as we know, it’s the only Riesling beer made.”
The Mansfields’ son, Jon, is the recipe master for the beer. He makes small batches at home.
“When he hits on something we like,” Mansfield said, they take it to CB Craft Brewers, formerly Custom Brew Crafters, in Honeoye Falls to produce in volume.
Three Brothers needs to contract out the brewing because of the large volume of waste water generated during beer production, Dave Mansfield says. The winery is on a septic system that can’t handle the runoff.
State regulations also mandate separate structures and licensing for beer and wine production, an obstacle for Three Brothers and other wineries.
There’s draft legislation now that would allow the manufacture of other products in one facility, according to Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.
Mansfield has applied for grants the last two years to help fund the construction of a wastewater treatment facility. If Mansfield can get the grant, it would go a long way toward making it possible to produce his craft beer on-site.
Meanwhile, “we’re introducing a lot of men to wine and women to beer.”
Rock Stream Vineyards, home of Rock Stream Brewery on Seneca Lake, has a similar story.
“We found that often the men would not taste wine,” says owner Mark Karasz. “We wanted to offer something different.”
Karasz spent three years in Germany with the U.S. military and came to enjoy Bavarian-style beer.
The Cortland Beer Co. produces Karasz’s recipe for a Helles Bavarian-style lager, as well as two other beers for tasting at Rock Stream.
Karasz is satisfied with creating his own wines, grappa and brandy, while outsourcing beer production.
Building a brewery on-site would be an immense undertaking, in terms of investing in equipment and buildings and hiring a brewmaster and extra staff, Karasz says.
On the west side of Seneca Lake, Miles Wine Cellars co-owner Suzy Hayes says son Evan Miles, who has a degree in winemaking and grape-growing but also has an affinity for beer, develops the recipes for the winery and then works alongside the brewers at Abandon Brewing Co. on Keuka Lake to make the beer.
Hayes and Doug Miles, husband and co-owner, plan to open their own brewery eventually, although they realize the large expense in equipment that will entail.
“I’m pretty excited with this partnership with Abandon,” Hayes says. “I find that people who like small wineries also like beers.”
At first, Hayes says, “I thought Evan and a few of his friends were the only ones running around with growlers (empty ½-gallon refillable beer jars) rolling around in their cars.
“As it turns out there are lots of people running around with growlers and howlers (half growlers) in their cars,” Hayes says.
Here’s a Seneca Lake itinerary for those with both beer and wine lovers in their group:
• Glass Factory Brew House at White Springs Winery, 4200 Route 14, Geneva, (315) 781-9463, whitespringswinery.com.
• Miles Craft Ales at Miles Wine Cellars, 168 Randall Crossing Road, Himrod, (607) 243-7742,
• Rock Stream Brewery at Rock Stream Vineyards, 162 Fir Tree Point Road, Rock Stream, (607) 243-5395, rockstreamvineyards.com.
• Wagner Brewing Co. at Wagner Vineyards,
9322 State Route 414, Lodi, (866) 924-6378,
• War Horse Brewing Co. at Three Brothers Wineries, 623 Lerch Road, Geneva, (315) 585-4432, 3brotherswinery.com.
Read or Share this story: http://press.sn/1rHTpKn