Winemaking at Bright Leaf
Bright Leaf Vineyard is located near the shore of Cayuga Lake, halfway up the sunny east side. Our 14 acres of vines are planted on a south-west slope in close proximity to the lake, to provide both optimal sun exposure (which hastens the ripening process of the grapes), and strong prevailing breezes that encourage ventilation for the vines. Bright Leaf Vineyard is really two vineyards, including an upper and lower field, divided by a quarry of Tully limestone, which runs north-south through the farm. This creates two different soil types: Aurora loam (uphill from the quarry, with excellent drainage and higher acidity) and Cazenovia silt (downhill from the quarry, heavier, clay soils). We have planted our white varietals in the cooler uphill block (Hillside Vineyard) on the gravel/shale soils. The red varietals are planted closer to the lake (Lakeside Vineyard) on the heavier, richer clay soil.
Bright Leaf Vineyard was previously a livestock farm providing good, rich pasture for planting. We began preparation of the vineyard in 2013 with deep subsoil trenching along each row and drainage tile between each alternating row. Our first ten acres of vines were mechanically planted in spring of 2014 with an additional four acres of vines planted in 2015 and 2016.
Most of our vines are locally sourced and chosen from selected vinifera clones and hybrid rootstocks, with an emphasis on Riparia root stock for the red varietals. We planted at a spacing of one meter between the vines and 8 ‘ 8” spacing between the rows. Our trellis training is to VSP with aggressive fruit and leaf thinning. We use mechanical weed control and no irrigation. Our white varietals are Riesling and Chardonnay (Hillside Vineyard) and our red varietals are Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Lemberger (Lakeside Vineyard).
Co-owners Michael and Donna Wilson
Leaving a busy medical practice in Boston, Mike and his wife Donna moved to the Finger Lakes in 2012. Satisfying a long-time itch to start a vineyard and winery, the couple purchased a farm along the east shore of Cayuga Lake with appropriate soil and exposure to get things started.
Growing up in California (a long time ago) Michael toured the Napa and Sonoma areas in his VW van visiting small out-of-the-way wineries, meeting wine makers and dreaming of someday having his own winery. With some on-line education at Davis and years of home winemaking experience Michael decided that the dream had to finally move forward. Donna brings a passion for varietal wines from different areas (Côtes du Rhône, anyone?) and a degree in wine marketing to her role as partner.
In early 2013 the prep for the vineyard began with clearing, leveling and rock-removal from the two pastures that are now Bright Leaf Vineyard. The vision for the vineyard has been simple: use every available technique to establish the most favorable environment for happy, healthy vines. This includes deep subsoiling, extensive tile drainage, close vine spacing with careful clone selection and thoughtful matching of rootstocks.
Our effort in the vineyard is to limit yields and maximize ripening through standard practices of optimal shoot positioning with leaf and cluster thinning. Our weed management is by mechanical means and spraying is limited if weather permits. Our four legged friends are kept at bay by fencing and our winged friends are frustrated only by netting.
The winery operation is designed to provide a platform for the simple processing and development of our quality fruit. Most of our fermentation takes place in large stainless steel tanks and all of our aging takes place in French oak. We believe in limited handling of our white wines to ensure fresh fruit flavors; and liberal blending of our red wines to enhance flavor complexity.
Bright Leaf Vineyard seeks to create a small, welcoming environment dedicated to producing unique flavorful wines. For Michael and Donna Wilson the journey has been worthwhile.
Winemaker Colleen Lukas
Colleen joined the Bright Leaf team three years ago after working as an assistant winemaker at our neighbor winery King Ferry. Colleen can “do it all”, with extensive experience both in the winery and vineyard. A tireless and efficient worker, Colleen will often appear to have two or three identical twins at harvest or crush because of her endless energy.
Vineyard Manager Dan Thayer
Dan has a background in plant sciences and many years landscaping, planting and growing farm crops. Having helped plant the original vines at Bright Leaf, Dan has assumed the role of vineyard manager. He excels at vine health and training, and a day on the grape hoe is Dan’s idea of a dream vacation.