Hermann J. Wiemer, a pioneering vintner who established an eponymous winery in Dundee, N.Y., on Lake Seneca in the Finger Lakes region, has turned over control and ownership of the winery to winemaker Fred Merwarth. Merwarth and Wiemer broke the news to their staff at a wine-and-cheese party on Aug. 7. Several sources in the area estimated the sale to be worth about $7 million, though the true price will not be public information for at least another few months.
Merwarth said the winery will continue under the Weimer name as well as follow the founder's principles. "Our core philosophy," said Merwarth, "will be his mantra: 'We work hard in the vineyard to make life easier in the winery.'" The winery produces both red and white wines, but is best known for its Rieslings, Gewürztraminer and its sparkling wines.
Wiemer, who founded the winery in 1979, will continue his association with the company, working on this year's harvest and blending. But Merwarth said his predecessor will now be free to travel, relax and step back from day-to-day operations.
"I'm happy I don't have to get up at five in the morning anymore," said Wiemer.
A member of a distinguished German winemaking family, Wiemer came to the United States in the early 1970s to make hybrid and native American wines for Walter Taylor at the Bully Hill winery on Keuka Lake. But Wiemer's tenure was short-lived. While spending the holidays with his family in Germany, he was fired on Christmas Day in 1981 via a telegram from Taylor. Taylor said at the time that he was disappointed that his protégé had begun a nursery and experimental winery to produce vinifera wines. Taylor felt Wiemer had no faith in hybrids, which was what Taylor grew almost exclusively at the time.
After severing ties with Taylor at Bully Hill, and swearing never again to make wine from hybrids, Wiemer quickly became known for his German-style vinifera wines. He proudly claims that he made the first dry Riesling in the United States, and said that many scoffed at him for making Riesling even though today it's the flagship wine grape variety of the region.
Merwarth has been making wine with Weimer for the past six years. A graduate in business administration from Cornell University, he is now working toward his Master of Wine degree. Merwarth became enamored with the wines of Germany when he spent a semester abroad there, and upon his return gradually shifted his studies to include enology. "I knew a desk job was not for me," said Merwarth.
"Fred Merwarth is the finest choice I could have made to carry on the traditions of our winery," said Wiemer. "He really can do the job in the vineyard, in the winery and in the nursery. And besides," he quipped, "Fred's a vinifera man, and he's allergic to hybrids."
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