For most New York Cork Report readers the name Ian Barry probably isn’t a new one. Barry, most recently winemaker at Villa Bellangelo has also held winemaking positions in the Finger Lakes at Keuka Lake Vineyards, Swedish Hill Winery and Heron Hill Winery and thus has made a number of appearances across these pages.
Many may not know however that Barry started out at a small vineyard in the Hudson Valley near SUNY New Paltz where he was pursuing a teaching degree and where he also worked on the retail side of the wine industry as a wine shop manager and buyer. He then spent a year in Oregon working harvest and the following year in Washington State as a cellar master before feeling the need to return home to New York.
Barry is now on a new road, preparing to launch his own label Barry Family Cellars. With labels currently pending approval from the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), Barry Family Cellars is hoping to begin selling its first wines in late June or July. Barry however is, at least initially, foregoing the conventional tasting room route and will instead focus on direct to consumer sales via the Internet and direct distribution.
What was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking — and where did you have it and who were you with?
I remember being barely 21 and trying to impress my girlfriend at the time by not just cooking her dinner, but also pairing that dinner with a nice bottle of wine. That gourmet meal and bottle of wine was actually burritos and French Colombard from California. I had no frame of reference for what wine was supposed to taste like, but I remember enjoying it and thoroughly impressing my girlfriend. Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen French Colombard labeled as a varietal. Does such a thing still exist?
When did you know that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
I started working at a winery in the Hudson Valley when I was about halfway through college at SUNY New Paltz. I had no idea what went into making wine and growing grapes, but as soon as I started it was like a whole new world and subculture opened up, one where I felt like I belonged and I wanted to learn as much as I could. When I found myself reading “Vineyard and Winery Management” magazines while my fellow education majors were reading teaching journals, I knew I had found my passion. I decided when I graduated that I would give winemaking four years, just like I had given college. If I couldn’t make any progress in four years, or if I wasn’t enjoying it, I would go back to grad school and become a teacher.
What do you wish were different about the New York wine community and industry?
I’ve been in the Finger Lakes since 2003 and I’ve seen hugely encouraging things since then. Our wines, especially our Rieslings, are being taken more seriously by consumers, sommeliers, critics, writers, distributors, and retailers. That said, we haven’t won everyone over. Our reds in particular still tend to be a tough sell to people who are used to soft, ripe wines from warm climates rather than nuanced Burgundy or Cabernet Franc from the Loire, but I don’t know if that’s ever going to change, or if it even really needs to change. My worry is complacency: a tendency to want to make “safe” wine with a formula and a standard profile. I love to see experimentation and the pushing of the envelope, even though it sometimes results in mistakes. I’ve seen a group mentality that’s been dictating wine styles a bit lately and I’d like to see more people going their own way, making unique wines.
When you’re not drinking your own wines, what are you drinking?
I’ve been doing a lot of physical work lately, renovating the building and restoring equipment for Barry Family Cellars, and there’s nothing like a beer at the end of the day when you’re thinking about getting dinner started. Ithaca Beer’s Green Trail has been hitting the spot lately. It’s an IPA, but it’s super light. A great summer beer.
I’ve also been fascinated with some of the “New California Wine” lately. I had a chance to try Petrichor’s 2009 Les Trois Syrah and was amazed by the way it evolved in the glass throughout the evening. I’ve also really been enjoying Bellwether’s Riesling Pet Nat lately. It’s a little cloudy and rustic, but is very nuanced and changes a little every time you take another sip. To me, that’s what makes a great wine.
If you could only pick one grape/wine/producer to live out your days with on a deserted island, what would it be?
I would have to say Burgundy from a good producer. Its evolution both in the glass and the bottle is fascinating to me. I think it would be impossible to get bored on a deserted island if I had a good Burgundy in my glass to sniff all day.