For Decades of Support, Melissa Heath Earns the New York Grape & Wine Foundation’s Consumer Award

When Melissa Heath heads to B.E.V. NY 2024 in early March to accept the New York Wine & Grape Foundation Unity Awards’ Consumer Award, her son Nicholas will accompany her. While she’s in the Canandaigua region, where the event is held, Melissa will take him to some of the wineries and introduce the recently 21-year-old to a pastime that she and her husband Joe enjoy together—visiting wineries in the Finger Lakes region. 

Melissa, an administrative specialist at the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, was nominated for the award by one of her friends who wanted to see her decades of commitment to local wineries recognized.

“I’ve never won anything before,” says Melissa, who—along with Joe—visited her first New York winery in 1993.

“We went out to visit a friend that lived in Horseheads, New York, and his parents brought us to Lakewood Vineyards,” she recalls. “The winery was so small and we loved it. We always laugh because they had a baby bouncing in a bouncy seat.”

After Melissa and Joe married in 1995, they decided to try the Seneca Lake Wine Trail’s Deck the Halls. The holiday-themed self-guided tour of participating wineries is now an annual event for the couple, along with other events in the region throughout the year.

Changes in New York Wineries Over the Years

When the Heaths first started visiting in the early 1990s, there were fewer than 125 wineries in the state. Now, there are well over 400 wineries. But it’s not just the number of wineries that have increased. Melissa has seen the individual growth at some of her most frequented wineries, and she is very pleased with their successes. 

She and Joe live near Saratoga, and their region of choice has most often been Seneca Lake. Over the past 30 years, they have seen big changes in the region.

“It’s really neat when we go out now. Lakewood Vineyards was one building when we first visited but it’s grown so much. Every time we go there, it seems like they’ve added more on,” she says.

(And that baby that was bouncing in the doorway on their first visit 30 years ago now has a degree in enology from Cornell. A couple of years ago, he poured the Heaths wine on a visit to Lakewood’s tasting room.)

Another winery they frequent that they’ve witnessed blossom over the years is Three Brothers Wineries & Estates.

“When we first started going there they were just a tiny little building in a field,” she recalls. “Now they have three wineries and a brewery.” Her husband particularly appreciates the diversity in drinks and enjoys trying special beers when they visit. 

“We like to see the wineries grow. We like to see them prosper,” she says.” 

A Car Full of Wine

Overall, Melissa estimates she’s visited about 40 of the state’s wineries over the years, the majority of them in the Finger Lakes. Her tastes lean toward red wines when she visits. She enjoys Cabernet Franc and is also fond of red blends. Lakewood’s Long Stem Red, a blend of six red grapes, is a favorite.

“We usually end up with two or three cases from various wineries when we’re on Deck the Halls trail,” she says. “We know which ones we like now. They always have specials. That’s one of the nice things about the trail.”

They also buy Christmas presents while they’re at the wineries. 

In a state like New York where there are so many wonderful ways to spend your precious free time, Melissa and her husband make winery visits a priority as part of their lifestyle. They’re also introducing their son to the wineries. Come holidays, they send New York wines to their wine-loving friends.

Melissa’s 30+ years supporting New York’s wineries makes her just the type of wine lover the Consumer Award—which recognizes enthusiastic support of the New York wine industry and exemplifies the use of wine as part of a happy, healthy lifestyle—was created for. 

Picture of Kathleen Willcox and Robin Shreeves

Kathleen Willcox and Robin Shreeves

Kathleen Willcox and Robin Shreeves' work frequently appears in Wine Enthusiast, Wine Searcher, Wine Industry Advisor, and many other publications. They co-founded Thinking Outside the Bottle, which provides communications services to the drinks industry.