Former Villa Bellangelo winemaker Ian Barry.
Former Villa Bellangelo winemaker Ian Barry.

Villa Bellangelo has decided to end its employment of winemaker Ian Barry, and the winery is launching a search for a new winemaker immediately.

Barry was hired by Bellangelo in 2011 when the Missick family arrived from California to set in motion a dramatic change at the Seneca Lake facility. Known for a quirky Italian theme and a lineup of sweeter wines, the Missicks purchased Bellangelo with the intention of joining the regional elite. Barry, an award-winning winemaker with experience at several Finger Lakes producers, was hired to improve the wines.

“Ian Barry assisted Bellangelo during an important transition,” said Chris Missick in a statement. “Most of the wines he built into the Bellangelo portfolio are beautiful and will age nicely. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Barry also released a statement, and as is often the case in matters of employment termination, there are questions between the lines.

“In the last few months, it was becoming more and more apparent that Bellangelo’s vision and my own were incongruous,” Barry said. “With the prospect of Barry Family Cellars launching its first wines this spring, I now have the opportunity to give my own project the focus that it deserves.”

Interestingly, Missick addressed the growth in popularity in smaller, private labels in his statement.

“To address any speculation, our winery supports every project in the Finger Lakes that seeks to produce world-class wines from our region,” the statement read. “As a matter of philosophy, we do not have a problem with a winemaker engaging in his or her own private pursuits or wine labels, since we are cognizant that many of the greatest winemakers want to have the chance to produce wines under their own name. We are open to such pursuits, seeking only openness and honesty.”

Barry has served as the winemaker for Swedish Hill on Cayuga Lake and Keuka Lake Vineyards on Keuka Lake. He now shifts his attention to his private label.

The Missick family will focus on finding a permanent winemakers. “Our standards are high, which can be both challenging and rewarding,” Missick said. “We demand meticulous sanitation practices and accurate record keeping, integration into the life of the winery, a passion for wine and winemaking, a strong sense of leadership and responsibility, and a desire to share a prominent position as a representative for the winery.”

Bellangelo will consider candidates from within the region. “We are confident that the next head winemaker at Bellangelo will be well traveled, widely experienced, broadly tasted… our search will span the globe, but will no doubt include candidates in or near the Finger Lakes.” In the interim, Bellangelo’s assistant winemaker Dan Bissell will run the bottling operation.

For Barry, it’s an opportunity to make his own decisions. “Barry Family Cellars will specialize in limited quantities of fine wines that reflect the characteristics of individual vintages and their relationship to varieties, applying appropriate, sometimes experimental, techniques to achieve these goals.”

For Bellangelo, the focus remains on site-specific wines, with riesling at the forefront. Missick stressed that his family came to the region with a willingness to spend money to raise quality, and they’re prepared to do so in the search for a winemaker: “We have proven and will continue to prove our commitment to the Finger Lakes through our extensive financial and emotional commitment to the winery.”