The New York Cork Report likes to feature a great variety of interesting wine personalities throughout the state and with various roles and responsibilities in our “5 Questions With…” series. One of the younger personalities that captured our attention was Alexandra Doniger, Assistant Winemaker and Social Media & Events Marketing at Hector Wine Company. What Doniger may currently lack in experience, her passion for wine and eagerness to learn all aspects of the industry make up for in surplus.
Doniger from Newton, CT made her way to Finger Lakes via a degree in Literature and Writing and a short tenure as a bartender at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She moved from New York City to Ithaca based on the taste of a wine and a short weekend trip to the region without knowing anyone in the area or having a job waiting. While working in a local Ithaca restaurant Alexandra befriended a local wine merchant who put her in touch with Kim Engle of Bloomer Creek who gave Doniger her first taste of working in a vineyard, although just for a few days.
Doniger’s persistence of peppering the wine trail with resumes final paid off with a position in the tasting room at Thirsty Owl Wine Company on Cayuga Lake which quickly grew into Assistant Tasting Room Manager and then expanded to include social media & events. Her desire to learn led her to spending time in the Thirsty Owl cellar with winemaker Shawn Kine whenever she could and acquire whatever knowledge he was willing to share.
While at Thirsty Owl, a Friday morning ritual with her roommate of touring Finger Lakes wineries, led her to Hector Wine Company, only instead of tasting and moving on Doniger spent the rest of the day there and after eventually leaving even returned later that night for music. If Hector Wine Company was a band, Alexandra immediately became a groupie attending as many events there as she could. It was her loyal following that developed into friendships with owners Jason Hazlitt and Justin Boyette, and when Doniger learned the two would be in need of a new assistant winemaker it was again her persistence that convinced them she was the woman for the job.
For the last year and a half now Doniger has been working at Hector Wine Company learning everything she can from winemaker Justin Boyette and the HCW team while simultaneously managing their social media and events marketing. Alexandra has become part of the family culture that flourishes at the small but successful winery and hopes to continue growing along with them.
What was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking — and where did you have it and who were you with?
When I was quite young my parents decided that I was allowed to have a little wine at Passover seder. It might have been Manischewitz but more likely was a non-kosher dry red that they brought for themselves to drink. I loved it and my Aunt always topped off my glass when I asked.
The first actual wine I remember the name of was Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. I was a teenager and working at a restaurant in my hometown where we got to try a little wine every evening before dinner service so we knew how to sell it.
When did you know that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be involved, in some way, with wine or the wine industry but I think the light bulb flicked on during my last semester of college. I was thinking about what to do next, whether it was go to grad school, start something new, or follow my passion for wine and get out there and see what part of the industry was for me. I also wanted to be in New York City at that time, so I interviewed and got the job as a bartender at the Petrie Court Café and Wine Bar at the Met, thinking that it would introduce me to some new opportunities. Well, it definitely did. While I was there we poured Hermann Weimer’s Dry Riesling and that was the first Finger Lakes wine I had ever had. I liked it so much that I came up to visit the region for a weekend and basically, as cliché as it sounds, fell absolutely in love with the Finger Lakes. Then I really knew where I belonged.
What do you wish were different about the New York wine community and industry?
Honestly, I love the community we have in the Finger Lakes. Everyone is so willing to help each other out and everyone is also going through the same ups and downs together. Because of how grateful I am to be a part of such an amazing and talented community of wine professionals, I have a desire for there to be more respect for New York wines. There are so many misconceptions about what we do and what we make and I feel as though its our duty to educate consumers. Some of the ways I’ve seen that happen is through better staff training. We can help turn those misconceptions around through comprehensive training for tasting room staff, our first line of defense. One of my favorite things about working for Hector Wine Company is that everyone does a little bit of everything. Our tasting room manager helps sort grapes on her days off; that kind of thing goes a long way.
When you’re not drinking your own wines, what are you drinking?
I’m constantly exploring. Since I had no experience with Finger Lakes wines when I moved here, I spent the better part of the first two years getting out there and tasting everyone’s wines. Some of my favorite Finger Lakes producers are Bloomer Creek, Ravines, Damiani, Billsboro, and so many more. I’m also fortunate in that being a part of the Forge Cellars team I get exposure to some great French wines. My coworkers and I do a lot of research and development, so we are always searching for new wines to share with each other. This summer I drank a lot of dry rose from Chateau de Montfaucon and also couldn’t get enough of their Comtesse Madeleine, a white Cote du Rhone. Their wines fall in with a philosophy we try to uphold in our own cellar; one of minimal intervention so the wines really have great expression. I’ve also learned the importance of finding a trustworthy wine merchant. I always go to Dewi Rainey at Red Feet Wine Market for recommendations of new wines to try.
If you could only pick one grape/wine/producer to live out your days with on a deserted island, what would it be?
Bubbles. Definitely bubbles. I hate to constrain myself to ONE type but I know that if I could drink Champagne, or Cava, or Prosecco or some great Finger Lakes Sparkling wines for the rest of my days, I’d be a happy girl.