by Ryan Franklin firstname.lastname@example.org Auburnpub.com reporter
With a background as a biomedical researcher, Chris Colloca, founder of Colloca Estate Winery in Fair Haven, can hardly go a sentence without offering a sort of citation for what he's saying.
When it comes to the quality of his wines, there's plenty of exactly that kind of validation.
One of the winery's Rieslings was recently named the best late harvest wine of any variety at the New York Wine Classic, while the winery itself was named the New York Riesling Winery of the Year at the New York International Wine Competition, joining a slew of other awards from places as far as Australia that the estate has collected since first planting vines in 2010.
That's a testament, Colloca said, to the quality-first culture and focus he's worked to instill in the Little Sodus Bay winery he first started putting together in 2008.
"For me, as a scientist, anybody can make a claim, but independent, double-blinded validation is the evidence that says, 'Maybe they're on to something,'" he said.
An Oswego native, Colloca first gained an appreciation for fine wines after his brother introduced them to him. A chiropractor by trade, Colloca invented a medical device that he traveled the world to present in seminars and sell. That afforded him the opportunity to visit some of the world's most famous winemaking regions in Argentina, Italy, France, Australia and elsewhere.
One thing Colloca learned from the French is the concept of "terroir," the way that all aspects of the climate a grape is grown in — sun, wind, rain, soil, temperature and more — shapes the flavor of the wine. According to Colloca, the terroir of Little Sodus Bay is a blessing for wine. The biggest factor, he said, is the moderating effect Lake Ontario has on temperature.
In the summer, cooler air from the lake affects the concentration of sugars and acids in the grapes, helping impart flavors of Granny Smith apples in one variety of Riesling and lychee fruit in another.
In winter, relatively warm air from the lake blankets the vines, protecting the buds from injury and damage.
Besides the natural factors, there's also a lot of work that goes into growing the best possible grapes, Colloca said. Two big ways the winery accomplishes that, he said, is through grape and leaf dropping. Grape dropping, where some clusters of grapes are deliberately cut off the vine, focuses the energy and nutrients of the vine into the remaining clusters, resulting in fuller, better grapes.
Similarly, workers also cut certain leaves off the plants, usually ones that obscure the grape clusters from the sunlight, while keeping the leaves directly adjacent to the fruit and almost redirecting the products of photosynthesis to the grapes, Colloca said.
The wine, of course, is the focus of his vineyard, but Colloca said he also purposefully built the estate to be a destination for visitors.
"People can come for the wine and stay for the day," he said.
In addition to a tasting room, a commercial kitchen, a space for weddings and other events, and an outdoor bar with food, non-wine beverages, live music, and ice cream, Colloca said he's gone to great lengths to preserve the beauty of the land itself for visitors to enjoy.
For example, Colloca built his house in a tucked-away corner of the property in order to preserve the 900 feet of shoreline and the picturesque view that often serves as a background for wedding ceremonies. Guests are also welcome to just enjoy the vineyards, and can walk their dogs, have a picnic, watch leaves in the fall or just wander around.
"We try to be something for everybody," Colloca said.
For the future, Colloca is planning to build a more dedicated event center than can host indoor weddings or conferences. He also plans to double the plantings from the current number of 13,000 vines, and add cabernet franc and pinot gris varieties.