For those that know Robin Ross, co-owner of Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, it may be difficult to believe that when she met her husband Duncan she wasn’t even a wine drinker. Ross has come a long way since then. She now dedicates herself day and night to the 7-acre vineyard in New York’s Niagara Escarpment, with much of that time in between the vines.
If asked 10 years ago if she thought she would be a winery owner working full-time in the wine business, my guess is that she probably would not have said yes. Winemaking was her husband Duncan’s passion, one that continued to grow throughout their entire relationship.
When Duncan’s talk of starting a winery grew frequent, Robin saw it as more of an opportunity to leave the city of Niagara Falls and return to the rural roots she was accustomed, rather than a commitment to wine. Before Ross would agree to take the leap into the wine business she required proof from her husband that he was capable of making wine that could be appreciated by more than just friends and family. Shortly thereafter, Duncan won a National Amateur Wine Champion trophy for having the overall best wines in the Indy International Wine Competition, exactly the validation Robin was seeking.
Since then, Robin has jumped head first into wine, building and growing Arrowhead Spring with Duncan to where it is today. A bookworm of sorts, Robin read her way through the process exploring books on everything from viticulture and wine biochemistry to wine marketing and amassing a library any vintner or librarian would be proud of.
The New York Cork Report spoke with Robin Ross to get her take in this week’s 5 Questions With… feature.
What was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking — and where did you have it and who were you with?
The first bottle of wine I remember drinking was a currant wine that my dad made when I was a child. He was so proud of the wine – the color and flavor were just perfect. He let each of my sisters and I have some. He had only made a gallon or so, and after the first bottle the others were supposed to be saved until Christmas, but were all gone before the holidays.
When did you know that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
Although we licensed in 2005 and opened for business in 2008, I really did not “want” to be in the wine industry until 2010. That is when it all clicked for me. By 2010 I felt comfortable with growing vinifera and selling wine, and really started to enjoy the whole process. 2009 had been a tough growing year for me, and I was really stressed out by the end of harvest, wondering if this whole thing was a huge mistake. Then somehow, I caught my stride in 2010. Everything just clicked – from pruning right through to harvest. We had great weather throughout the growing season, the tasting room caught its stride, but more importantly I came to the realization that this industry is full of wonderfully helpful people. I have thoroughly enjoyed the wine industry, ever since.
What do you wish were different about the New York wine community and industry?
I wish that New York wines got the recognition they deserve – we have a great state for producing wine, from West to East. Each viticulture area has strengths. We are able to produce some awesome red wines on the Escarpment, and we frequently hear comments like “Wow, I didn’t think New York could do red wine.” Well, I am happy to say, “Yes we can!!”
When you’re not drinking your own wines, what are you drinking?
I am a big fan of cool climate viticulture and tend to drink cool climate wines. I like that at lower alcohol values, the varietal characteristics shine. One of the best things about being in the wine industry is that we frequently trade with other wineries on a bottle-by-bottle basis, which allows us to drink a diversity of wines.
If you could only pick one grape/wine/producer to live out your days with on a deserted island, what would it be?
For starters, my deserted island had better be in a Northern location, with four seasons – no equatorial tropics for me! I would be living out my days with cabernet franc, and if my island had the right conditions, growing it as well. It has become my favorite of the varieties that we grow because it consistently gives us a great crop and produces a delicious dry red, with very few problems in the vineyard.