Every wine region has its leaders—winemakers and winery owners who help define their regions through experimentation, hard work and a constant need to push the qualitative envelope. When it comes to developing regions, those leaders are often in the distinct minority and are often fighting an uphill battle.
That’s why it’s a surprise when one of them moves on, because they're sorely needed. Sure, winemakers move around, that’s totally acceptable. But I was rather surprised to hear that Thomas Laszlo of Heron Hill winery on Keuka Lake, in New York’s upstate Finger Lakes wine region, abruptly left his position yesterday.
“It was a difficult situation for all of us. The timing isn’t perfect,” said Heron Hill owner John Ingle, alluding to the upcoming harvest that is now just about a month away. “But we’re excited about moving on and we’ve parted ways amicably.”
While Ingle has started a search for a new winemaker, he does have three people on his production team with five years experience at Heron Hill, so it’s not a complete red-alert situation.
Still, when I visited with Laszlo a few months ago, I was impressed with his hard-charging style and no-nonsense approach. He brought a level of outside experience (he was winemaker at Henry of Pelham and Château Pajzos before joining Heron Hill in 2002) that is still lacking in the Finger Lakes. He also had quality at Heron Hill on a noticeable upswing, with a debut Blaufränkisch in the 2007 vintage that shows a lot of promise for the grape in the region (the official review will be published soon), along with an outstanding Riesling Finger Lakes Late Harvest Ingle Vineyard 2006.
I've been around long enough to learn that no one is irreplaceable. Heron Hill will move on and hopefully find a winemaker who can continue the progress they’ve made. With a 20,000-case annual production, 28 acres under vine and an additional 8-plus acres that can be planted, Heron Hill is a well-situated winery capable of helping to carry the flag for the region. Still, the timing and suddenness of the move is eyebrow-raising.
When reached by phone, Laszlo had no comment on the situation.
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