by Tracy Schuhmacher, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
Meet 10 risk takers in the Finger Lakes who evoke the spirit of the garagistes — small-scale winemakers from France's Bordeaux region who often did not adhere to traditional approaches.
Mark T. Wiltberger Cellars
When Mark Wiltberger was young, his family started Keuka Spring Vineyards. As a teen, he helped his family clear the land, plant the vines and care for the vines. He would also help out on college breaks.
His studies and a career in science and technology took him away from the world of wine, but he returned to Keuka Spring in the spring of 2007. He learned winemaking from his father and other winemakers in the region before deciding to strike out on his own.
“I wanted to expand my horizons beyond learning winemaking in the family winery,” he said. He worked in wineries in the Rheinhessen region of Germany as well as New Zealand.
“It was very educational,” he said. “It was very experiential education.”
He returned to the Finger Lakes to work on his own wines. In 2014, he made two Rieslings, Gruner Veltliner and Chardonnay. He sells the wines primarily through direct marketing, using social media, emails and his website to tell his story.
In 2016 he purchased property near family on Keuka Lake, complete with a pole barn suitable for making wine and land suitable for growing grapes. He pieced together used equipment for making wines. He currently holds a full-time job in addition to making and selling his wines.
“It’s kind of a crazy leap,” he said of buying land and starting a winery. “I’m relearning the lessons my parents learned.”