The Finger Lakes lost one of its most prominent grape growers on Sunday night when Sam Argetsinger died at his home. Argetsinger is the owner of his eponymous vineyard, which rises high above the southeast side of Seneca Lake.
“We’re still in shock,” said Morten Hallgren, co-owner of Ravines Wine Cellars, which uses Argetsinger Vineyard fruit to make some of the finest wines in the region. “Sam was a loyal friend, a passionate grape grower, and an Iroquois translator who was so in touch with his environment that you could see it in his fiery blue eyes. A friend like that leaves a vacuum that can not be filled. I will miss him every day.”
Argetsinger, 62, spoke often of the land, and he used Iroquois aphorisms as a regular part of his speech. Argetsinger described himself as a friend of the traditional Iroquois Long House people, and over the years he made regular presentations about Iroquois culture to area schools. “He was great,” said Jim Hazlitt, the grower whom Argetsinger referred to as a mentor. “He put on a real show for the kids. They loved it.”
In 1996, Argetsinger purchased some of the vineyards that used to be part of his family’s land from Hazlitt. It was a return to family roots, but for Argetsinger, there was a learning curve. He had been a logger, an ardent student of literature and Bonapartism — but not a viticulturist.
“He was not a good student,” Jim Hazlitt recalled with a laugh. “A little stubborn, but he was a wonderful man and he was sincere.” Argetsinger employed his vision for the land and combined it with a little help from the Finger Lakes growing community. The result was the kind of fruit that winemakers deeply desire.
“Sam was so intensely positive,” said Tina Hazlitt, co-owner of neighboring Sawmill Creek Vineyard. “He always left me with a smile because he had such nice things to say to everyone he came across.”
No matter who takes over the management of Argetsinger Vineyard, it must remain devoted to grape growing. That’s because in January 2014, the Finger Lakes Land Trust purchased what is known as a “conservation easement” on the property, meaning that while the land can remain privately owned. The easement, which was drawn up with the guidance of the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, also established environmental protections for the land.
Halogen said that he’s “confident” that a solid management plan will unfold for the vineyard. There is room to expand on the 16 acres under vine. Those conversations will take place in the weeks to come, but for now, the focus is on making sure Sam Argetsinger’s memory is honored.
“It had been a rough year,” Jim Hazlitt said. “He had suffered a stroke, and at times he couldn’t speak clearly and think clearly. I know he had felt depressed about that.” Hazlitt indicated that there is comfort for Sam’s friends that whatever he was suffering from, that suffering has ended. “He was such a good guy, and an awful lot of people are sad right now. But we’ll remember Sam as a great friend.”