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Kelby James Russell
Rock Stream, New York — Kelby James Russell, longtime winemaker of Red Newt Cellars and Empire Estate, has announced the creation of his own winery, Apollo’s Praise. Named in honor of an iconic song he performed with the Harvard Glee Club as an undergraduate, the winery brings full circle his love of music, wine, and the Finger Lakes region he grew up in.
The winery will kick off with the upcoming 2023 vintage and will produce a set of estate wines from Lahoma Vineyards fruit. Rieslings, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Rosé, Cabernet Franc, and a few surprises are in the works; all in the textural and long-aging style that inspires, and has defined, Russell’s winemaking.
“This project is a dream come true for me,” Russell said. “After 11 fantastic years at Red Newt, it is time for me to write my own story with Julia, from vineyard to bottle.”
Joining in this journey will be his spouse, Julia Rose Hoyle, the dynamic winemaker at Hosmer Winery. “I’m not going anywhere,” said Hoyle in regards to Hosmer Winery, “but I informed Kelby right away that he is still stuck with me as his co-conspirator.”
Russell and Hoyle purchased Lahoma Vineyard together from grower Ken Fulkerson this past April, with Ken remaining on this year as the main advisor — Russell calls him the “keystone.” Fulkerson adds “it’s been obvious how much this farm has meant to Kelby, and how much he has meant to establishing the reputation of this farm. I keep telling him I can’t wait to come back in years to come and see where they’ve taken it.”
With an “unprecedented” frost event already under their belts, 2023 will be the first step for Apollo’s Praise. Russell, Hoyle, and Fulkerson are all ready.
“We wish there were more grapes,” says Russell, “but we’re going to make people sit up and notice with the wines we do get to make.”
About Kelby James Russell
Kelby James Russell is a native of the Finger Lakes of New York, where he was convinced he would never return following graduating from Harvard with a focus on Orchestra Management. Winemaking brought him home, however. He has been a key part of the local community, and a boundary-pushing winemaker, since 2009.
From 2012 to 2023 he served as winemaker of Red Newt Cellars, where he established Red Newt’s reputation for world class, powerful Rieslings; crunchy, joyful red wines; and an experimental wine program that stretches from Sekts to Sherries. Embracing spontaneous fermentations, lees contact, cold soaking, and basket pressing, the wines are designed to open up in bottle for years to come.
Russell has been honored as a Wine Enthusiast “40 Under 40 Tastemaker,” has received numerous record-setting reviews for Finger Lakes wines, and in 2023 was honored by his peers in the New York Wine and Grape Foundation with the “Phyllis Feder Unity Award.” The proudest moment of his career comes in co-chairing the “FLXcursion” International Riesling Conferences, which have showcased this region to the world in 2019, 2021, and now in June 2023. More dubiously, Kelby also helped organize — and was a model for — the fundraising pin-up calendar of Finger Lakes winemakers “FLXposure 2021.” He has also been described as the “Willy Wonka of the Finger Lakes,” an honorific to which he can only hope to aspire.