HISTORY OF SIX MILE CREEK WINERY AND DISTILLERY: A FAMILY ODYSSEY
The story of Six Mile Creek Vineyards originates in the mid-1970s when Roger Battistella, then a Cornell professor of health policy and management, returned from a sabbatical year in England and subsequent travels to France and Italy where people consider wine an everyday essential. Prior to this experience overseas, his only association with wine evoked remorseful memories of youthful overindulgence of mass marketed frizzy stuff less noted for quality than for being inexpensive. At that time, the U.S wine industry was still in its relative infancy. Unsurprisingly, wine was not high on Roger's list of preferred beverages. Soon after his time abroad, however, wine began to play a more important role in his life.
With the encouragement of a home-winemaker friend, Roger began making wine in his basement. The first results were pretty awful, but his wine's quality gradually improved as he produced increasingly larger amounts of wine. By the early 1980s Roger began winning awards in serious competitions. This success led him to join the American Wine Society, a national organization founded in Ithaca by a group of Cornell professors and local professionals. The group consisted of serious students of wine - many of them excellent winemakers. Roger learned a great deal about wine from such knowledgeable company and thoroughly enjoyed the frequent evenings sampling wines from around the world.
What happened next was pure fate!
When 24 acres of abandoned farmland adjoining Roger’s home went up for sale in 1981, Roger jumped at the opportunity to preserve a spectacular view of Six Mile Creek Valley, sparing the land from development while putting it to some productive agricultural use. Given his passion for winemaking, he aspired to cultivate the land with wine grapes and convert a derelict post-and-beam dairy barn to a winery and sales room. This was something easier said than done, however, as a number of formidable obstacles stood in the way.
First was the challenge of convincing his good wife, Nancy, to go along with the plan. Ultimately, she agreed. She felt it would be a terrific way to foster family solidarity by involving their two preteen children in a family-bonding adventure. Moreover, it would help to instill in them an appreciation for the value of hard work.
Second was the feasibility of growing grapes on the property. Would it be foolhardy to ignore expert advice from the Cornell Cooperative Extension agents? They argued that neither the microclimate nor the soil types were conducive to growing wine grapes and urged him to plant blueberries instead. Because of the proximity of the property to Roger’s Cornell office and the less-than-desirable distance to recommended sites on Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, Roger decided to plunge ahead regardless.
The third obstacle concerned the barn. How could he - and, more importantly, should he - salvage the old barn given that local town authorities believed it to be a public health hazard and urged that it be torn down? Roger’s resolve to relocate the barn on a new foundation and restore it was met with disbelief. Roger persisted despite the many difficulties involved.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, was the challenge of overcoming a lack of knowledge about agricultural mechanics and viticulture on the one hand and small business finance and marketing on the other. All of Roger’s previous work and experience revolved around academics and health policy. Nancy similarly lacked the necessary expertise; she spent years teaching children with disabilities and had recently been promoted to an administrative position.
Powered by a dream and tireless energy, Roger began the vineyard in 1983. Aided by son Matthew and some close friends, Roger pushed on despite the lack of know-how and technical assistance. It was a painful period of trial and error in the "School of Hard Knocks," but it was worth it!
Six Mile Creek Today
The vineyard has grown to a total of 6 acres planted in several white varietals: Chardonnay, Riesling, Cayuga White, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blance and Vignoles. While Chardonnay struggles, the others do reasonably well in this unlikely location—Vignoles and Seyval best of all. The winery grows no red varietals in its vineyard due to the fact that winter temperatures at Six Mile are more extreme than those of vineyards situated closer to the lakes. Consequently, the winery relies considerably on other growers along the shores of Cayuga and Seneca lakes for all of its red grapes and for supplementing white varieties when necessary.
In his winemaking, Roger aims to achieve a balance between technical and subjective methods. He favors a minimalist approach, believing that frequent tampering with a wine’s natural development detracts from optimal flavors and taste. He also advocates fine tuning through creative blending.
The winery opened its doors in 1987 with a modest production of 100 cases. Gradually, it evolved to its current output of nearly 5,000 cases per year. The barn’s basement housed the original tasting room, which remained below until the restoration of the upper floors some ten years later. In 2005, the winery expanded the production area and tasting room in size and capacity by adding approximately 700 square feet to the barn's existing structure. Throughout the construction and resoration of the winery, the Battistellas maintained the charm of the late 19th century Dutch style post-and-beam structure. With the lovely gardens framed by a fountain pond, the 6 acres of vineyards and panoramic views of the Danby hills above Six Mile Creek Valley, Six Mile Creek Vineyard features one of the most attractive tasting rooms in the Finger Lakes. Understandably, the site has become an attractive venue for weddings and special receptions.
For much of the winery’s 25+ years, the business evolved slowly but steadily. In the past several years since Roger and Nancy retired from their respective occupations and could focus on the winery full-time, activity at Six Mile picked up significantly. The recent acquisition of a copper alembic still and subsequent introduction of a line of spirits inspired by Roger’s Italian heritage - "Spirits by Battistella" - further accelerated operations at the winery. Made entirely from grapes, the "Spirits by Battistella" lineup includes: Limoncella, Orangecello, Vodka, Gin, Grappa, and an amaretto named, "Amoré."
Though the past quarter century presented innumerable trials and tribulations, Roger and Nancy reflect with great satisfaction all that’s been achieved and recall with gratitude the support received from dear friends and staff. The story of Six Mile Creek Winery and Distillery represents a dream that transformed a hobby into a business. It engendered a wonderful lifestyle that embraces a deep appreciation for nature, the rewards of hard labor, and adventures in wine and food travel, together with the company of fascinating people.
Many thanks for visiting us.
Winemaker / Owner