By Lenn Thompson, Long Island Editor and Editor-in-Chief

This week's Q&A is with Derek Wilber, president and winemaker at White Springs Winery on Seneca Lake.

Derek is a native of the Finger Lakes and has been in the grape and wine business since his dad dragged him in kicking and screaming as a teenager. 

A graduate of Cornell University with a degree in Fruit Science, he became a commercial winemaker in 1984 and since then has worked for a large winery, a start-up winery and wineries in between. Since February, 2006 he has been president and winemaker of White Springs Farm Estate Winery in Geneva, New York. 

He lives in the house he grew up in with his wife, Donna and their two boys, Dana and Baird.

And now, our standard set of questions:

What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember

When I was a young teen, my father closed his small clothing store in Penn Yan and began managing a grape farm owned by a friend of his. I began working there after school and became intrigued with grape growing. 

My first bottle of wine or samples were the wines produced from the grapes produced by this traditional Finger Lakes farm in the 1970s. Wines made by the Taylor Wine Company in Hammondsport. That was our primary purchaser, native grapes mostly. I worked for my dad full time for a year out of high school and my fondest memory at the time is of the two of us coming home in the winter after being outside pruning all day and having a glass of sherry by the fire before dinner. The warmth of both the sherry and the fire after being out in the cold was a great way to end the day.

What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the
wine industry?

I had decided after a year in Florida that I wanted to be a vineyardist and enrolled at Cornell to study agriculture. The bottle of wine that piqued my interest in vinifera-based wines was a inexpensive French white that I can’t recall where it was from or who produced it. It was something I could afford to drink regularly and I knew that that style of wine was something I wanted to help make. This was 1975 when I was being taught that such wines were risky and marginal at best in the Finger Lakes.

Which of your current wines is your favorite and why? 

My favorite current wine is our 2007 Gewurztraminer. First because 2007 was a nice vintage for the variety and second because it really goes well with the fresh herbs coming out of our kitchen garden at the moment.

What has surprised you most about being a member of the Finger Lakes wine

A lot of things don’t surprise me about the Finger Lakes wine community — its sense of camaraderie, resilience and enthusiasm. What does surprise me is its growth over the last few years where you now really have to work to get to know everyone.

Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills
your glass?

I am not a drinker of wine on its own. The great majority of the wine I drink is directly with a meal. I’ll have a beer just as I am starting dinner to quench my thirst. I will have the beer while I am slicing and dicing but once I begin to cook I switch to the wine of the night. 

Is there a 'classic'
wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself

The pairing I can’t enjoy is anything with curry. I know that at the right level it can be a great match with riesling but I will drink the wine and let my wife have the curry.

Wine enjoyment is about more than just the wine itself. Describe
the combination of wine, locations, food, company, etc. that would make (or has
made) for the ultimate wine-drinking experience.

It is as much about the time and place as the wine a lot of the time. Just before Labor Day in 2004 (I think) I had just bottled our 2002 dry reds at Swedish Hill and brought a couple of bottles to a neighbor’s house for an evening picnic. The wine had been bottled that day and hadn’t had time to get bottle shock yet. 

We sat at the picnic table on a breezy star-filled night had dinner and then began arguing about politics and culture. Our kids fell asleep on the ground as we drank the wines and talked late into the night. I don’t know or care whether the wines showed well or not but the combination of the wine, the night, the company and the realization that it was the last social event before harvest began made it a memorable night.