First things first about Red Newt Cellars in Hector, Schuyler County: The winery doesn’t have a pet red newt.
But it does have a lively tasting room pouring varietal and blended wines and a highly regarded sit-down restaurant.
Red Newt owner Dave Whiting got his start in the wine business two decades ago, after wandering around “aimlessly” – as he puts it – out West.
While living in California, the Finger Lakes native discovered wine as a tourist, visiting the Napa Valley and other wine regions in the state.
In the late ’80s, Whiting returned to the Finger Lakes to enter the wine industry, first as a vineyard laborer and then as a cellar assistant.
“At that point in time, the Finger Lakes was really just getting one of its first booms,” he says. “The Farm Winery Act was in the late ’70s, and there were a number of wineries that started (here) in the early or mid-80s.”
In 1998, Whiting and his wife, Debra, opened Red Newt on a parcel high above Seneca Lake. Named after the Eastern Red Spotted Newt that scurries through woodlands in the Finger Lakes, the winery produced a modest 3,500 gallons in its first year.
Red Newt’s restaurant opened the same year, with Deb as the executive chef. Long before it was in vogue in Upstate New York for restaurants to source local ingredients, Deb began forging relationships with area farmers and featuring a range of their products – from cheese to locally raised fowl – at the restaurant. After her death in 2011, Brud Holland took over as executive chef.
Red Newt’s connection with local farmers has also carried over to its wine production, which relies exclusively on purchased grapes to make roughly 35,000 gallons annually.
“We’re working closely with several growers in the area and having them plant acreages of grapes specifically for us,” he says. “So (we) kind of work with them on a very custom basis.”
The tasting room at Red Newt Cellars, 3675 Tichenor Road in Hector, Schuyler County, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Phone: (607) 546-4100. Web: www.rednewt.com. Tasting fee: $2 or $3 (depending on supply) for five samples of wine; $5 to sample the winery’s reserve line, which typically includes five or six selections.
The restaurant serves lunch from noon to 4 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, May through October. Dining service during November and December starts on Thursday at dinner and runs through Sunday lunch. The tasting room and restaurant are wheelchair-accessible.
Sheila Livadas, for www.fingerlakeswine.com.
Courtesy of Red Newt Cellars
Red Newt Cellars sports a bistro and gallery with its winery and tasting room.