Today, tourists flock to the Finger Lakes to visit the 140+ wineries along the shores of Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes. The region’s development has been steady over several decades, but it wasn’t so long ago that there were very few established vineyards associated with wineries that welcomed visitors clamoring for FLX wine.
Those who were there when the region’s wine scene began to explode have stories to tell about how it grew into what it is now. Cameron Hosmer is one of those people.
“This is my 50th year in the grape growing business,” says the owner of Hosmer Estate Winery in Ovid. “I planted my first grapes with my father back in 1972 on the family farm that had been in our family for almost 100 years.”
At the time, they weren’t farming the land. His father was in the textile business and Cameron was just getting out of high school. They were encouraged to plant grapes on a site that was favorable for grape growing. Taylor Wine Company was actively pursuing people to plant French-American hybrids, specifically—Dechaunac and Seyval Blanc—for them.
When the time came to sell their grapes to the Taylor, (whose ownership has changed hands several times since), the company wanted only half of what the Hosmers grew. They wanted only half of what other vineyard owners grew for them, too. Consumer tastes had changed quickly, and the public wanted Rhine-inspired, semi-dry white blends.
“There were quite a few of us in the industry here in the Finger Lakes that said, ‘Heck, we’re just going to have to make our wine,’” he says. “It was part of what is now a very flourishing farm winery industry here in the Finger Lakes.”
Hosmer Estate Vineyards was established in 1985 when they bottled and sold the first vintage of their own wine. The original vineyard planted in 1972 on the West Side of Cayuga Lake—Patrician Verona Vineyards—now has nearly 70 acres of grapes planted, supplying Hosmer Estate and several others in the Finger Lakes.
The family is widely recognized by growers and vintners alike for their contributions, and Cameron and his son Timothy Hosmer received a New York Wine & Grapes Foundation 2022 Unity Award for those contributions. They won the Grower Award, honoring individuals demonstrating exceptional dedication and contributions to the New York grape industry.
In addition to growing grapes that supply their own winery as well as others, they have a side business. They do custom grape harvesting. On Cayuga Lake, they pick grapes for their neighbors with their equipment and a team. But, regionally, they do more than simply pick grapes for others. They also do custom vineyard planting. The business stems from an experience Cameron had about 20 years ago when he was introduced to a laser-guided German-made grapevine planting machine at a neighboring vineyard.
“I saw that, and I was immediately hooked,” he says. “I’d never seen anything like that before. I planted a lot of grapes the old way, and they came out pretty good, as straight as a tractor person could drive. This device took all the variation out of it and planted vines perfectly.”
He immediately embraced the technology and started planting vineyards for others. That side business, Benchmark Custom Vineyard Planting, is now run by Timothy who got his start in the business with his dad over 20 years ago.
“The lion’s share of any new vineyards in the last 20 years planted here in the Finger Lakes have been planted by our company,” he says.
The Grower Award is specific to the New York grape growing industry, but what the Hosmers started in New York now benefits wineries up and down the East Coast. They’ve planted vineyards from Southern Virginia up to Vermont. (On the day Cameron was interviewed for this piece, Timothy was down in Virginia, planting a vineyard.)
“I have developed relationships with folks all over the East Coast,” says Cameron. “We call. We talk shop. It’s what we do.”
Those relationships, fostered in part by the services that Cameron and Timothy provide, are one of the reasons they are apt recipients of a Unity award, and they are humbled by the recognition.
“My colleagues have all congratulated me. It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized by the industry,” Cameron says. “Sure, we put a lot of hard work into it, but it’s what we do. My colleagues do that also so to be singled out for that is a tremendous honor.”
About the Unity Awards
The Unity Awards were created in 1990 as a way to recognize, encourage, and celebrate cooperation among grape growers, wineries (and their staff), researchers, retailers and others to advance the entire industry. The winery and grower community in New York state has a rich history of working and succeeding together despite facing a variety of challenges through the years. Recognizing the longstanding and bold spirit of our community members and their numerous achievements, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation is proud to continue honoring industry leaders & champions of New York wine for more than 30 years.