Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Leattie Teague Raves About Silver Thread in the Wall Street Journal

Thimble-Size Tastes of Finger Lakes .

The Finger Lakes region is more than 200 miles north of the Union Square Greenmarket in New York. It's a place that very few New Yorkers have probably visited—or, for that matter, could likely find on a map. But greenmarket customers who stop by the Silver Thread Winery booth (next to the Roaming Acres Ostrich Farm's) will receive a quick lesson in upstate geography along with thimble-size tastes of six Finger Lakes wines.

The winery's proprietor, Shannon Brock, and her sister Kelly were on hand when I stopped by their booth this past Monday. It was around 11 a.m.; the crowds were sparse and the sky was overcast. There are rarely many customers early on Mondays, said Ms. Brock, though there is always an uptick between noon and 3 p.m. "That's our prime selling time," she said. "That's when chefs and sometimes wine directors of restaurants stop by and taste." That was, in fact, how the Brocks got their wines on the lists of restaurants including Gramercy Tavern and in stores such as Astor Wine & Spirits.

Under the greenmarket rules, Ms. Brock and her sister must have their tent up by 7 a.m., she said, but they almost never sell any wine at that hour. "People have funny rules about when it's acceptable to drink," Ms. Brock said. (I didn't tell her that I abided by those "funny" rules as well—I rarely drink right after sunrise.)

The Brocks—Shannon and her husband Paul—have lived in the Finger Lakes area since graduating from Cornell, she with a B.S. in 1999, he with an M.S. in 2007. (Her sister lives in Manhattan; she's an actor and theater director in real life). The Brocks bought their winery last year when its owner was retiring, and promptly doubled the winery's production. They currently make 1,500 cases of wine a year and aim to peak at 3,000 in five years.

The Brocks were determined to sell their wines in New York—even though a surprisingly large number of Finger Lakes producers do not. "Some of them have never even been to the city," confided Ms. Brock. One of the best ways they decided to get the word out was by selling their wines at greenmarkets. The New York Wine and Grape Foundation maintains rotating spots at various greenmarkets; the Brocks applied for a spot in May and finally got one starting last November.

Like most Finger Lakes winemakers, Paul Brock specializes in Riesling—both dry and off-dry versions. The dry Riesling ($18) is their best-seller by far, though the semi-sweet is particularly popular at the Union Square market. They also make a Chardonnay and a fruity white blend called Good Earth ($13), which is mostly Vidal (a hybrid grape), and two red wines: a Cabernet Franc blend named Blackbird and a Pinot Noir. I was particularly keen on their dry Riesling, which was clean and bright with attractive notes of mineral and pear.

Shannon Brock, right, and sister Kelly at Union Square Greenmarket.

While I was tasting, a woman visiting from Switzerland stopped by the booth and bought a bottle of Pinot Noir ($18) without even trying it. This isn't uncommon, Ms. Brock said: "Chardonnay and Pinot Noir pretty much sell themselves." How much wine does she sell? "Eight cases on a good day and two cases on a bad day" she replied. They only break even when they sell two cases. (There are 12 bottles in a case of wine.) But their presence helps to get the word out, and the Brocks sell a good bit of wine online, often to Manhattanites—something Ms. Brock attributes to the greenmarkets. They also sell their wines on a semi-regular basis at greenmarkets in Brooklyn and on 82nd Street at Manhattan's Upper East.

Photos by Noah Rabinowitz for The Wall Street Journal

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