’tis the season

March 2nd, 2012

Trite, perhaps, but it’s true that the simple things are the real things to treasure.

Here at Keuka Lake, I am inland, and even though it is a lake, you can’t get commercial fish from it—it’s a law!

What’s a fellow to do who was raised in a coastal city, has southern Italian blood, and can’t do without simple seafood?

What I do is drive every Friday 60 miles, to Ithaca, New York, to get my fix at Wegmens grocery, where seafood and other fishes comes from all over: Portuguese sardines, bronzini, whiting, real wild salmon (in season), cockles, oysters.

Now, it is the season for one water-borne simple fish that does not come from the sea, which reminds me of a story.

Last year, when the season rolled in, I noticed that none of my favorite February/March delicacy could be had at Wegmans. When I asked the seafood department lady what gives, she said the store had stopped carrying it because it has to be super fresh and we are so far inland from the delivery point.

I felt truly bad about it, but I had to tell the woman that this particular delicacy comes from a large river fish with great teeth that spawns at this time of year upstream, beginning in the eastern portion of the Southern states and continuing north via East Coast rivers, and that includes the Hudson River, which is only 4 hours east of Ithaca by car.

I am talking about shad roe, that reddish-brown sack of shad eggs that, along with the Maryland blue crab should have been counted as one of the world’s wonders.

Here’s how to prepare it: light dusting of flour with some crushed pepper; then, sauté in olive oil with garlic and Meyer lemon (I used to use butter and a bacon strip, but since prostate cancer, I’ve been eating less saturated fats—that’s what the information says to do).

You don’t want to overcook shad roe or it will be dry and taste like the collar of a flight jacket. Inside that sack are eggs, after all. They need to be tender and bursting with river-fishy richness.

Which wine would I serve with shad roe?

After many years of experimenting, I have settled on Cabernet Franc—not the Bordeaux style, but the Loire style. Shad roe is super fatty, requiring an acidic bite in the wine; it is also quite rich in a gamey way, requiring red not white to stand up to it.

Speaking of wine: I have one more racking to go before I decide whether I will filter the Gewurztraminer and Riesling or let them clarify themselves before bottling. If I do that, the Gewurztraminer being relatively dry is not much risk, but with the Riesling measuring beyond 1% residual sugar, it is a risk not to filter, as it can ferment again when spring rolls in. Instead of filtering, I can add potassium sorbate to prevent fermentation, but I don’t like to add that stuff—or any stuff—to my wine. Besides, that stuff makes wine taste like lemon Life Savers.

What to do?

What would you do?

Oh well, not to worry. I have shad roe to keep me going for two or three more weeks before the fish move farther north. A filtering decision can wait.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2012. All rights reserved.

Final for 2011

December 20th, 2011

Here we are at December 20 and I still have a wine fermenting. That’s what I call a slow fermentation. The other day, I wrapped the carboy in a heating pad to warm it so that I could help the Riesling fermentation come to an end—it’s been more than five weeks!

For next year, if I do this again, I will have to remember that the cellar temperature in my home is not warm enough for a reasonable fermentation, cool or otherwise. I’ll have to take action to warm things up.

If my warming attempt doesn’t work this time, and I get a stuck fermentation, I’m afraid that I will have an alcohol level that is too low for my taste. Worse, however, is that I was counting on the Riesling to blend into the Gewurztraminer to adjust for acidity. I don’t want to add sweetness to the Gewurztraminer.
Woe is I…

Also, at this time of year I truly get excited because, after the winter solstice we start to see more daylight each day. From summer solstice to winter solstice daylight lingers about a minute less each day—the reverse takes place from winter solstice to summer solstice.

In our northeastern locale, it gets dark by 4:30 pm at this time of year, and it gets dark at almost 10 pm in June.

I love the longer daylight. Always been a daytime fellow. Therefore, I rejoice during the winter solstice, and I am almost certain that the change in daylight must have some biodynamic effect on my wines—make them better perhaps?

This year, we have lucked out thus far, having escaped major snowfall—hardly any of the white stuff at all. Today, I bought snow tires for my little four-wheel-drive Geo Tracker. That ought to solidify that we get no snow at all this winter, and if so, the money will have been well spent, for as much as I love daylight, I hate snow much more. The only good thing about snow is that I can use it to help cool down my wines for tartrate precipitation, which, in my cellar, may not be necessary, so to hell with snow—forever.

I know that a curmudgeon should never break this rule: but happy holiday to all my readers—every last five or six of you. This time next year, I might offer a toast with my own wine, if I don’t finish them off before then.

Oh, for those who have asked: I am deeply involved in researching and writing my next book, which is why my comments on blogs have been short and sweet, and fewer.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
December 2011. All rights reserved.

Year-end best

December 9th, 2011

And now, Vinofictions presents its ten best wines, ten best wine books, and ten best wine blogs of 2011:

Gimme a drum roll: paradiddle, paradiddle, paradiddle, paradiddle, paradiddle, ad-infinitum-diddle.




Get real. Did you seriously expect something more???

For the love of it

November 22nd, 2011

About two weeks ago, I racked the Gewürztraminer (took it off its fermentation lees and moved it into another storage vessel).

Three tests convinced me that the fermentation was going no where at that point, even though the tests showed that between ¼ and ½ percent residual sugar remained—that is the risk of a cool fermentation. I know that fermentations generally do not truly end with zero sugar, but I did want no higher than ¼ percent.

Perhaps, I could have avoided the problem by using some other yeast or maybe by warming the fermentation, but I wanted all the aromatics and fruit forwardness that a cool fermentation promises. In winemaking, as in life, having it all is not an option, but in winemaking, if we know what we are doing, we get a fantastic chance at taking what we are handed and balancing it, and so…

The Riesling percolates toward the end of its fermentation. This wine will be my balancing material. Its pH is so low, and its total acidity so high compared to the Gewürztraminer that before me is the opportunity to see if I know what I am doing. By managing a blend between the two wines, I will attempt to correct Gewürztraminer’s mouth feel while subduing the Riesling’s acidic nature.

This is fun. It’s also been enlightening, as I never evaluated how much I missed making wine since that last batch at my winery in 1993.

Sadly, had I been able to hold out financially a little longer I might have been able to ride the wave that swelled in the late 90s and into this century, producing an effervescence of new wineries in the Finger Lakes, like a hot fermentation foaming over the top of the tank.

Knowing that I had struggled with bouts of depression throughout my life, my wife worried greatly that closing the winery would send me into a downward spiral. She had seen some of my worst spirals (something to do with childhood trauma, although I always thought that growing up poor on the mean streets of Brooklyn was the next best thing to Nirvana!). But the depression did not come. In fact, I was relieved after closing the winery.

I worked so hard and so much through the eight years that I operated the winery, doing things that I loved, and for that I was grateful to have had the chance. I also, however, worked hard doing things that I hated, like having to listen to the inanities of the tourists that traipsed through the region, having to deal with retailers that demanded free wine in order for me to “sell” them a case of my wine, having to fill out myriad federal and state forms, and having to make so many decisions—every day, decisions.

It was a relief to get the business side of winemaking off my back. Nope, there was no depression. More important, there was no regret either. I had done what I set out to do. The fact that it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out was merely the consequence of bad planning and bad timing, and timing really is everything.

So, as low key and small as the effort is, I am back to making wine—and loving it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
November 2011. All rights reserved.

Winemaking 2011

October 22nd, 2011

Leave it to me to select a problematic vintage to decide to make wine again.

Up to August, the Finger Lakes region looked quite on track for a decent 2011 vintage. I had already decided that this would be my return year to dabbling with the nectar, and so I anticipated some fine Gewurztraminer and Riesling from my own hands.

September and October had different plans.

I had already placed my order with Fallbright Winemaker’s Shop before the rains came—and stayed. Being an honorable gent, I did not cancel, but I knew full well what was about to take place; the rain was not only torrential, it came down all too frequently, leaving room for only a few sunny days between rains.

The Gewurztraminer was scheduled for an October first harvest, and Fallbright just about stuck to that schedule, but the juice had to remain in cold storage for a while longer, as the proprietor of the business hurt himself while working the harvest. I picked up the juice on October fifth, not too late.

As suspected, the stats were not so good: 20 Brix; 3.55 pH; 5.55 grams total acidity per liter. The problem, as I saw it, is that the high pH and low acidity would require high alcohol in the finished wine, for both mouth-feel and stability. But you can’t get high alcohol from 20 Brix. Luckily, flavor was solid, as was the marvelous aroma of that grape variety, like a rose garden that had been sprayed with essence of ginger.

I went to work. Didn’t like doing it, but I brought the Brix up to 22 (potential for 12% alcohol); then, I added 1 gram per liter of tartaric acid. I figured that after fermentation, I’d take some readings—or maybe I’d just use my taste buds, to see how good I really am—and then either adjust with a little more acidity or not.

Last week, the Gewurztraminer was at 1% sugar—fermentation is getting close to shutting down. The aroma is yeasty, no H2S detected, and it also is flowery—the color is like popsicle.

Riesling was to be picked on October twenty-second. The rain that kept—keeps—coming down moved that schedule to October 14, and it was almost too late. Botrytis rot had set in, and the lack of sunshine to promote photosynthesis had halted sugar development at 18.5 Brix.

Once again, didn’t like to do it, but I added enough sugar to get the juice to 20 Brix, for a nice 11% potential alcohol. With a pH at 3.0 and total acidity at 7.8 grams per liter, I did nothing to the acid—I don’t at all like lowering acidity, as the methods available generally change the flavor profile too much for my liking, and this juice has great flavor—of lemons and tangerines, to be exact.

The way I start a fermentation is to draw off a volume of juice into which I make the sugar and/or acid adjustments. I bring that volume up to 18 degrees center grade and then add the selected yeast inoculant. Usually, the juice that’s left in the carboy starts to ferment from ambient yeast; I don’t mind that; the inoculant will take over. In both cases, I’ve inoculated with a yeast that withstands cool fermentation, which is normally a slow fermentation that highlights the variety’s flavor and aromatics.

Because of the Riesling stats, I have been thinking that instead of adding any more acid to the Gewurztraminer, it might be better for me to draw off about 10% of each wine later on and blend what I draw from the Gewurztraminer into the Riesling and vice versa. In fact, I will try that route—unless something happens along the way to change my mind.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
October 2011. All rights reserved.

Joe Dressner

September 20th, 2011

Joe Dressner and I met once and talked once more on the telephone. Each time, it did not turn out well.

Fact is, Joe and I didn’t much get along, and I am sorry for that, because I am certain that his crazy sense of humor and his impeccable taste in wine, not to mention his outspokenness, would have helped me to solidify a personal relationship with him. I am less certain that my personality would have done much to get him to that same point with me: Joe held a grudge as tenaciously as he held his passion for “real wine.”

Joe Dressner died on September 17, 2011 after almost three years living with brain cancer and all the injustices that the disease throws at those who have it. During that time, Joe was gallant, funny, morose, vicious, beautiful under fire, which is to say that he was not much different than he had been before the diagnosis.

The most telling thing, to me, about Joe and brain cancer was his passion to stand up to it. He was a passionate man to the end.

Now that I have been dealing with prostate cancer for almost a year, it’s time for me to admit that I looked forward to Joe’s entries on his blog, the Amazing Misadventures of Captain Tumor Man. When he addressed the cancer and not a member of his family, the blog was inspirational, not for any insights about the disease but insights about how to handle it. (There were times when I wanted to comment on his blog, but my IP was blocked.)

When faced with our own slow demise, many of us get religion. Not Joe Dressner. He was gruff, strident, and irreverent at times, but he was not a hypocrite. I particularly liked his attitude with those who wished him well—he objected when someone placed the weight of God on his shoulders, as he professed no belief in such things.

As I’ve said, I am sorry that Joe Dressner and I didn’t get along; I guess I figured that it was his loss, and I assume that he figured it was my loss.

What I know for certain, however, is that his death is the wine world’s loss.

It is for Joe’s taste in “real wine” that we wine drinkers are compelled to offer a farewell toast, and we should do it often.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
September 2011. All rights reserved.



The Definition of Insanity

September 6th, 2011

For the past two weekends I have been cleaning out the cellar, for two reasons: it badly needed to be cleaned and organized; I need space to make wine.

Yep; that’s right; you didn’t misread. After nearly 20 years away from it, I am planning to make wine this vintage.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not going to apply for a commercial winery license—never again for that. But I do miss the smell of fermentation, especially if that fermentation is the floral-spicy Gewurztraminer.

My plan is to produce Gewurztraminer and Riesling, about two cases of each. It isn’t much, but it will be enough to stimulate me, and if the wines turn out to be both potable and palatable, it will be a fine personal achievement.

Cellar cleaning ended last weekend, followed by cleaning a couple of old glass carboys to get them ready to receive the juice that I am buying from a supplier, Tom Mitchell, located directly across the lake from me and who was my supplier when I operated the commercial winery. Tom was a vineyard manager at Gold Seal and then at the Taylor Wine Company. He also has operated his own vineyards for decades, as well as, along with his wife, Marcy, a supply business for home winemakers named Fallbright Winemakers Shop.

While scrubbing the inside of a 6.5-gallon carboy, I had flashbacks of the old days at the winery. I particularly remember that 20 percent of winemaking is making wine; the other 80 percent is cleaning up.

I also remember my first crop of Aurora grapes that went into that first Finger Lakes wine (I had produced wine at home before moving to this location). That first batch was not commercial yet. I had secured my federal permit as bonded winery number 713, but was awaiting my license from Byzantium (the New York State Liquor Authority).

The Aurora vineyard was already in operation when I bought the homestead, but the Taylor Wine Company contract had been pulled out from under me, so I grew the grapes and sold half the crop to a small local winery and the other half to a small grape juice operation. Aurora is probably better for grape juice than for wine, but it was decent blending material, mainly as a stretcher at the winery.

For me, the small amount of Aurora grapes that lingered at the lower end of the vines, where the mostly volunteer family and friends enlisted as pickers either could not bend to or would not, became my crop for my first batch of Finger Lakes wine.

In preparation for the arrival of the state’s stamp of approval on what would inevitably become my errant venture into commercial winemaking, I bought some equipment, but no wine press. The press that I wanted (a bladder press) came too big for both my production level and my wallet. For the Aurora, I settled on borrowing a screwpress from a neighboring winery that recently had bought a bladder press. The screwpress contraption came with a number of slats with cloth stretched across each where grape juice was pushed through by the screw while the pulp and skins was held behind—had to clean those damned things every few minutes.

Luckily, I had a small crusher/destemmer that split the grapes and removed the stems, without which pressing would have been virtually impossible, unless I wanted to spend about a week pulling garbage out of the juice by hand and produce wine that tasted like putrid plant material.

My first “employee” was an accident-prone brother-in-law who has spent most of his 50-plus years in emergency rooms across the United States. While residing with us for a few months, he managed to fall off a horse, dent a truck—my truck—and slice a piece of his leg while cross cutting a two-by-four with a circular saw; these many years later, I still find it hard to understand how anyone but a contortionist could position his leg right at the end of the path of a circular saw, but he did it.

The worst of all of my brother-in-law’s accidents was when he dropped a 5-gallon carboy filled with fermented Aurora. No one was hurt, physically, but my mind played many tricks that day, all of which had to do with crime and punishment of some sort.

I did manage to produce enough Aurora wine so that there was upwards of ten gallons in storage that winter, and when the wine was ready for bottling, its major flaw was that it was just a little too sweet for my taste—I had not learned the necessity of doing stringent and regular tests throughout the process to determine the true nature and makeup of the finished product, and that was because I was still learning to make wine; I simply hadn’t thought of everything—yet.

This year, I will buy already pressed juice from the reputable “juicer” Tom Mitchell so that one situation will be handled well enough. I also plan to handle the rest of the process by applying what I have learned over the years—that gives me a reasonable shot at producing stable and tasty wine.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress. Gewurztraminer is due for pick up on October 1 and Riesling on October 22. Stay tuned, or at least stay in the feed…

Léon who?

August 31st, 2011

Keuka Lake Vineyards’ 2010 Estate Bottled Léon Millot (Finger Lakes) was voted Best Red Wine at the recent NY Wine and Food Classic Competition held in Watkins Glen, NY.

How do I know this?

Because it seems that everyone is talking about it in the Finger Lakes.

Why is everyone talking about it?

Because, well, as much as wine industry people like to tout the continuing revolution when it comes to the establishment of Old World grape varieties in this New World of ours, especially in the Northeastern part of our New World, there seems to still be room for inter-species hybrids, but only when they are evaluated in a blind tasting.

It shouldn’t be the case, but blind tastings always seem to shock us. When you have no idea what you are tasting you are apt to like things that you say you don’t like and the other way round. That’s because tasting wine is as infallible as we are, and I want to meet the person who isn’t fallible. With wine, even the pros among us can be fooled by our perceptions.

I was told by those who tasted the winning red wine that it tastes nothing like a Léon Millot should; suffice to say that what that likely means is that people refuse to believe that a wine can step out of the class that others have assigned to it: generally, red inter-species hybrid wines are not supposed to be so good.

Anyway, Léon Millot was created in Alsace, France, in 1911 by crossing a hybrid of two North American species (Vitis riparia and Vitis rupestris) with an Old World, German variety within the Vitis vinifera species. The resulting grape variety was named after a French winemaker and nurseryman. (The same crossing trials produced Marechal Foch, a grape named after an important French martial during the armistice negotiation of WWI.)

The variety is suitable for cold, moist climate cultivation as it ripens early and is supposedly highly resistant to fungal diseases, and this particular vineyard plot in the Finger Lakes was planted about 60 years ago by Charles Fournier, who was from Champagne and came to Gold Seal in the late 1940s to be managing winemaker.

Mr. Fournier not only knew what he was doing, he teamed with Konstantin Frank to produce the first successful commercial Vitis vinifera wines in the region, in 1962.

The official take on Léon Millot is that it gives off an aroma that some identify as “foxy,” a common descriptor for wines produced from North American species. For that reason, probably, the grape variety was initially banned for commercial winemaking in the European Union. That ban has been lifted for grape varieties that include a portion of vinifera pedigree, but very small amounts of Léon Millot are grown in Switzerland and in Alsace. Canada has plantings of the grape, too.

So, I sampled this recently voted Best Red Wine a few days ago.

The wine did not smell like a native grape to me. In fact, it had a subtle and sophisticated aroma, slightly milky, which might mean the malolactic fermentation is coming through loud and clear for my schnozz.

The wine’s color is deep and close to purple, like a bishop’s cloak.

The taste, well… Remember that I was not tasting blind, so my perception may have gotten in the way, but I found the subtlety in aroma did not follow through on the palate. In fact, the wine seemed to me too forward and edgy for a red, which is what I usually dislike about most red wines from inter-species hybrid grapes–they seem too rough and earthy.

While we are on the subject of awards, top honor in the New York Wine and Food Classic, the Governor’s Cup, was awarded to a Long Island winery, Martha Clara Vineyards, for its 2010 Riesling.

I understand that the wine was produced with Finger Lakes grapes, which proves once again that great wine is produced in the vineyard.

A Plan for the Future Online

August 20th, 2011

Over the past eight or so years, I’ve had occasion to write online for others. While one experience proved fruitful, after a fashion, the other experiences have left me cold to the so-called social media revolution.

In a few situations, my writing went directly to an existing or developing Web site, and while I was paid for my effort, credits did not come my way, which was ok with me. In fact, those experiences are not the ones that leave me cold to the potential of social media. It’s the blogs that give me a jaundiced view and, as in one case, providing snippet writing for one of those AOL “information” sites that are akin to fast food: the site editors demand adjectives and nouns as verbs (sugar and salt) to make everything go down pleasurably and to hide the minimal to no information (nutrition) inside; that gig lasted only briefly, and, thankfully, my name was not attached to the entries. I understand that after Arianna Huffington merged her site with AOL, the direction of that particular site was changed.

Blogging-for-hire gigs ran for me the gamut from useless to discouraging.

The first blogging I did for someone else was intended as a favor—until I discovered that the site owner was planning to use the free writing to help move his online career forward without so much as even a promise to take care of the “volunteers” later on.

The second blogging was for a new site that started out with a mission in which I played a role, and was paid for my part. Within just a few months, however, the mission had changed and my blog was moved out with the old mission.

The third blogging went on for almost a year albeit, chasing payment each month made it seem like two years. But over time, I noticed the site’s overall bent had changed and that all the bloggers that had started with me were gone (what would be next?).

When I started to write for a living, many of the present blog owners were still shitting in their diapers. I say this not to boast, certainly not to point out our age differences, but to point out that while so many of these start-up geniuses were being told in school that they are special and that they cannot lose, many of us were in the trenches having to prove our “specialness” and the battles that we lost built scar tissue as well as experience—we were forced to learn something.

In business, whether print or online magazines, ideas are cheap when they are not accompanied by due diligence and a good business plan. The many start-up and crashed-down online sites that I’ve seen over the years plainly illustrate that their owners and originators spent most of their time thinking about the idea without understanding how to implement it.

To bring this particular diatribe of mine to a wine analogy, starting an online business is no different from starting a winery. In either case, the first consideration of the business plan is to identify who will buy your product and why, and if you can’t illuminate others concerning your target market within a few concise paragraphs, you probably have a weak future before you.

Oh, sure, some people blindly stumble into horseshit, as we used to say in Brooklyn, referring to the notion that stepping in the dung would bring good luck. But trusting in the cosmic belief that “I am special, as is my idea” will work for only a small portion of us. The rest of us will go the way of a previous era’s advanced product, the Ford Edsel, or more closely related, television, which four generations ago made promises that it broke about three generations ago. That’s fine, except when our failure causes us to break promises and to treat others like commodities rather than as valuable, talented assets to help move our ideas forward.

To put this blog entry into concise perspective: it’s about time that the many people who presently apply hyperbole to social media grow up and come back with a real plan—and a market for it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
August 2011. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Shining light

July 14th, 2011

On June 30, 2011, the Finger Lakes wine and culinary community lost a bright star in our galaxy to a car accident on the New York State Thruway. The following is the unedited eulogy that I wrote for my weekly local newspaper column.

Normally, the joy of an event at Red Newt Cellars Winery and Bistro began at the door with a greeting from Dave and Deb Whiting. Sometimes, especially if you entered through the bistro, Deb greeted you with her radiant aura, wide smile, and open arms.

Deb was not at the winery and bistro event on July 5, 2011, but her spirit was there a thousand fold.

When the email from the Wine and Grape Foundation’s Jim Trezise arrived in my in box just before the July 4th weekend, I learned of a serious two-car accident that injured Dave Whiting and took Deb’s life.

Jim’s words, “Deb is gone,” hit hard. First came shock, then denial, anger, and mourning. Soon, however, came time for remembering, which is what the July 5th event was all about.

Based on what looked like about 1,000 people attending the memorial, the memory of Deb Whiting will be durable and strong, which is as it should be.

My memories of Deb began about 20 years ago when Dave brought his future bride to the monthly winemaker dinners that we used to hold at the Pleasant Valley Inn in Hammondsport. Smart, attractive, energetic and outgoing, Deb certainly held her own at a table filled with mostly male egos—she also had an infectious smile.

Looking at Dave and Deb seated together at table it was obvious that the two were in love. They seemed cut from a mold that made their union inevitable. At the time, she was a microbiologist working with bugs in immunology; he worked with microbiological bugs as a winemaker. Their intellects and interests were in harmony.

I don’t know how long it took Dave to fall in love with Deb, but for me it was love at first sight. At future winemaker dinners, I found myself willingly performing for her benefit, in an effort to make her laugh, which she so easily did.

Deb developed a passion for cooking, which first manifested itself to admirers like me through baking—cheesecakes, to be specific. Hers was the best New York style cheesecake that I have ever found outside of New York City.

Soon, Deb left immunology for baking; soon after that, she operated a catering business out of a small place in Burdett; soon after that, she and Dave (they had gotten married by then) talked about operating their own winery and restaurant.

Not long after the talk came a deal in the late 1990s that put the couple in the old Wickham family winery facility off Route 414.

The Whitings were off and running, with Deb seemingly setting the pace, if only because she exuded boundless active energy to Dave’s deliberative style. But Dave proved no slouch in the energy department. While building Red Newt Cellars Winery and Bistro, a process that takes monumental fortitude, Dave and Deb did crazy things like take evening ballroom dancing lessons after a hard day at Red Newt, and they raised a couple of kids, too!

If there was doubt about their future, it was put to rest by the middle of this century. Dave’s wines, as well as his collaboration with other winemakers in our region, established Red Newt as a serious player in the Finger Lakes wine industry. Deb’s success at the bistro was equally dynamic.

In addition to her dynamism in the Red Newt Bistro kitchen, Deb began to stretch her culinary influence in many directions: she led the call for promoting and serving locally farmed meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables; she helped to establish a Finger Lakes culinary movement; she traveled the state teaching others to cook; and she made special efforts to highlight the healthful and commercial benefits of pairing Finger Lakes wine with meals made up largely of Finger Lakes foods.

Just as anyone who knew her, I shall miss Deb Whiting tremendously, and my heart goes out to Dave and the Whiting family, as well as to the Red Newt Cellars Winery and Bistro family. When she started the bistro, I briefly became part of the family after I asked Deb if she would let me gain some extra experience for my wine and food writing by allowing me to work in her kitchen—for free.

I believe it was those two last words that got her to agree; after all, hers was a new business.
I worked the kitchen during July, my birthday month. One night, after all the dinners had been served, Deb and I talked about yet another upcoming birthday of mine; then, I recounted a story that she had not heard before.

On my 50th birthday, my wife, Anne, threw a surprise birthday party. Quite a crowd filled three rooms in our home that night. Knowing of my madness for Deb’s cheesecake, and also knowing that many from my family drove up from New York City for the party, Anne ordered a number of cheesecakes from Deb to serve as the birthday cake. Unfortunately, for me, by the time I had gotten around to getting my slice of cheesecake, our guests had gobbled up every last morsel.

On the next day that I was scheduled to work at the bistro, my birthday was only hours away. At the door of the kitchen to greet me, stood Deb with a dish in her hands, on which rested a slice of cheesecake with a lit candle stuck in its middle.

Today, that candle conjures a bright and energetic light in the firmament that exudes its warmth—it is the image of Deb Whiting.