“Wine is a story, and there are endless fascinating tales to discover,” says wine writer Evan Dawson. And one unique wine story that not everyone may know is right here in Skaneateles: Anyela’s Vineyards.
Anyela’s, the only vineyard on Skaneateles Lake, opened only three years ago, and yet already owners Jim and Patti Nocek have amassed a large collection of awards, including four gold medals in two recent international competitions.
“There is no shortage of wine in the world, so you have to be unique,” said owner Jim Nocek. “We did not want to be one of 30 wineries on a trail. We are a destination winery, and so we do things a little differently.”
Anyela’s may have opened in 2008, but winemaking has been in the Nocek family for generations, back to Jim’s grandparents in Eastern Europe. In fact, Anyela’s is named after his grandmother, whose picture hangs in the tasting room, surrounded by the numerous medals her namesake has delivered.
The Nocek family has vineyards in Fredonia, but in 1995 Jim and Patti came out to the Finger Lakes region and bought their hilltop lands off West Lake Road. As any winemaker will tell you, the proper land for a vineyard – what the French call terroir – is one of the most important aspects of wine making.
In Fredonia, the soil is sandy and the vineyards on a lower elevation, while in Skaneateles the ground is composed more of shale and limestone, which offers better drainage, is on a hillside that catches not just the sun, but also the breezes off Skaneateles Lake. These breezes help keep the grapes cool in summer and warm in winter.
The Finger Lakes region produces grapes that make crisp, clean white wines, particularly Riesling, and delicate, subtle, more drinkable reds, such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. In the three years that Nocek has been producing wines, one of the most important lessons he has learned is to be true to your region. For this reason he has eschewed the better known warm-weather grapes such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and instead planted his vineyards with more “winter hardy” grapes such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc that can endure the harsh seasons and higher elevation of the Finger Lakes.
So far, the combination of the land, the grapes, and Nocek’s focus on quality over quantity in his winemaking has won more than two-dozen medals at wine competitions, including the Chairman’s Award (unanimous gold) at the Riverside, Calif., International Wine Competition for Anyela’s medium-dry 2009 Riesling, and gold medals at the Tasters Guild International Wine Competition in Michigan for Anyela’s 2007 Cabernet Franc and 2008 Noiret.
Anyela’s wines can be found in most every restaurant in Skaneateles, and in the local wine store, the Village Bottle Shop, Anyela’s wines are popular with locals and tourists alike. “Anyela’s sells extremely well,” said owner John Pidhimy. “I always tell people that with only one vineyard on the lake I’m glad they make a really good wine. It’s very easy to sell.”
It’s actually Anyela’s red and white blends, Overlay and Avail, that sell best, said Village Bottle Shop sommelier Michael Pidhimy. “They do an excellent job with blends as opposed to single-grape wines such as Cab or Merlot. They’re really ahead of the curve for New York wines in this regard,” he said.
The Avail is Anyela’s classic white blend, made of Riesling, Cayuga White, and either Pinot Gris or Chardonnay. “You can buy Riesling anywhere,” Nocek said. “We wanted to craft something here that was unique.”
The tasting room inside the winery’s main building is just as impressive as the wines: a gorgeous dark-wood structure with vaulted ceilings, spacious rooms, and a comfortable tasting bar that costs only $2 for five wines. Out the back doors is a stone path to an outdoor patio with metal bistro-style tables that overlook Skaneateles Lake. The intention was to make Anyela’s upscale, simplistic yet elegant, said Nocek,
He also wants to give back to the community that has been so supportive. In addition to wine tastings, Anyela’s also offers weddings, live local music on weekends, and in summer weekend lunch specials created by the winery chef from vegetables grown in Anyela’s two-acre garden. On July 30, the winery will host its first wine and music festival featuring local musicians and catered food.
“Skaneateles has been great,” Nocek said. “They are very supportive of us and that is what’s most important. I’d rather a well-known regional winery than anything else.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.