In 1974, when New York state had only 19 wineries, Gov. Hugh Carey’s office tapped Jim Doolittle to study the potential of farm wineries. Doolittle, then a state Agriculture Department staffer, found that sales restrictions and onerous reporting requirements were stunting wineries’ growth.
Spurred by the findings, Gov. Carey signed the Farm Winery Act in 1976, which ended up paving the way for the state’s wine industry to blossom. By 1978, Doolittle caught the grape-growing bug himself and opened Frontenac Point Vineyard in Trumansburg, Tompkins County, with his wife, Carol, who also had worked on the farm winery issue as a state Agriculture Department staffer.
In 20 acres of vineyards along Cayuga Lake, Frontenac Point grows Chardonnay, Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles, Pinot Noir, Chambourcin, Marechal Foch and Chelois. The holdings were once 24 acres, but ravenous deer, turkeys and raccoons “‘encouraged’ us to abandon the lower four acres,” Carol Doolittle says.
Red options in the tasting room include the 1998 Pinot Noir, the 2007 Chambourcin and the 2003 Proprietor’s Reserve, a blend of Pinot Noir, Chambourcin and Chelois that Carol pairs with pasta, sushi or grilled tuna.
White options include the 2006 Riesling, the 2007 Chardonnay and Stay Sail White, a blend of Vidal Blanc, Vignoles and Chardonnay named after the 10-foot-tall metal kinetic sound sculpture on the winery’s deck.
With under-ripe fruit from the cool and wet summer of 2009, Jim is now working on four sparkling wines. The process is time-consuming adding roughly five minutes of labor per bottle compared to typical still wine production but well worth the effort, he says.
Longtime visitors to Frontenac Point will notice an addition to the winery’s deck this year, with the arrival of Brainstorm, a 5-foot-tall swirled metal sculpture by world-renowned Canadian artist Don Dickson, also the creator of Stay Sail. Collages by Jim’s cousin, Cayuga County-based artist Candy Doolittle Lucas, provide color and flair inside the tasting room.
“We just happen to enjoy…art and music and good wine and good food,” says Carol, a former journalist.
The Doolittles are equally passionate about bringing wine to grocery stores across New York state. As the number of liquor stores in the state declines and the number of wineries rises, shelf space will become even tighter unless the law changes, Carol says.
“Wine is food,” Jim adds. “It belongs in a grocery store.”
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, in May, June and November. 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, July through October.
Tasting fee: $2 for five samples. $5 for a flight of four premium reds.
Accessibility: A small rise at the tasting room’s front door.
© Juliet Turback Photography
Frontenac Point Vineyard and Winery owners Jim and Carol Doolittle established the vineyard in 1978, built the winery in 1982, and opened the tasting room in 1991.