New York Wine & Grape Foundation Presents 2020 Unity Awards

Unity Awards Celebration Luncheon
February 26th, 2020 at 12:30pm

The Unity Awards were created 30 years ago 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. Nominated by peers throughout our industry, we are excited to announce the following 2020 award recipients!

Update: Photos from the event can be found on our Facebook Page here. More photos from this years BEV NY Conference can be found here.The Jim Trezise Lifetime Achievement Award: This award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to the New York wine and grape industry and made impactful contributions that advanced the industry.

Winner: John Brahm III, Arbor Hill Winery

John Brahm’s family first planted grapes near Canandaigua Lake in the early 1900s and he grew up picking grapes on the family farm about five miles from the location of Arbor Hill. He graduated from Cornell University with a degree in pomology in 1964, and he and Katie married that same year. The Brahm family planted their own vineyards beginning in the 1970s while Brahm worked for Widmer Wine Cellars. When he left Widmer’s in 1987 to open Arbor Hill, he was the vice president responsible for production of the company’s 850 acres of vineyards in New York and California. 

When the Brahms opened the winery, they produced not only wine, but a line of grape-based gourmet products, including jellies, preserves, sauces and syrups. The gourmet food business has grown to include more than 50 products, the winery now produces 5,000 cases each year, and a restaurant, Brew and Brats, is open Friday through Sunday. 

The winery is best known for its Traminette wine, produced from grapes that Brahm planted in the late 1980s before the grape breeders at Cornell University had named the variety, then known as “the Gewürztraminer hybrid.” Cornell’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva often goes to the local wine industry for experimental plantings and tasting trials and Brahm attended one of those tastings for variety that was to become Traminette. 

He told Ray Pompilio, “When I first tasted it, I said ‘wow, I really like this.’ It was flowery and fruity and I believed it could do as well as Riesling in the Finger Lakes climate.” (see “Traminette Goes Commercial,” Wines & Vines, February, 2018, for a full description of Brahm’s protocols for growing and producing Traminette wines.) 

Brahm planted cuttings from the new variety both at Widmer’s and at Arbor Hill. After harvesting and fermenting the first fruit from those vines in 1990-1991, he made a proprietary blend of the grapes with Vidal Blanc and Cayuga White. His first commercial Traminette was produced in 1995, the year before Cornell named the variety. 

According to his son-in-law, John French, Brahm was involved with the process of winemaking from growing the seedlings to pouring wine in the tasting room and that he preferred the more comprehensive term “winemaster” to the simpler “winemaker.” 

The Phyllis Feder Unity Award: This award recognizes individuals who have volunteered their time, shown exceptional leadership, and achieved recognized results in building industry cooperation and unity.

Winner: Linda Pierro, Hudson Valley Wine Magazine  

Linda Pierro is co-founder and managing editor of Hudson Valley Wine Magazine and a co-founder of the Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition. For more than a decade, Linda has been an innovative and collaborative champion of New York State’s wine industry, focused on raising awareness of the Hudson Valley’s wine community through successful consumer initiatives. Her work with the Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition focuses on establishing the grape as the Hudson Valley’s signature varietal through brand development, consumer promotion, and creation of the first annual Barrel Tasting event last year. Since founding the Hudson Valley Wine Magazine brand in 2008—and unveiling its new content-rich online platform in 2019—as well as launching its sister publications to highlight specific sectors within the region, Linda has been a ground-breaking thought leader and advocate for the industry. Working with local tourism agencies, Linda created the Hudson Valley’s official wine and craft beverage map to promote wine tourism; as design director and co-publisher of Flint Mine Press, she produced works on the local wine industry, including The Story of Brotherhood, America’s Oldest Winery, and Grapes of the Hudson Valley.  

The Jim Finkle Industry Award: This award is intentionally broad in scope in order to recognize outstanding achievements in aspects of the industry not directly covered by the Unity and other awards.

Winner:Peter Bell, Fox Run Vineyards

Peter Bell attended his first wine tasting at age 19 in Cambridge, England. It took another half decade before he figured he wanted to make the stuff rather than just taste it. After working a harvest in Bordeaux in 1983, he and his wife and young son moved to Australia where he was enrolled in a wine science degree program. 

Four years later, with another kid in tow, he and his wife moved to the South Island of New Zealand, where he had secured a job as assistant winemaker. Life in New Zealand was not what they had hoped, however, and so everyone picked up and moved to the Finger Lakes, a region Peter had only scant knowledge of, so he could become head winemaker at Dr Frank’s winery.  

In 1995, Peter heard from Scott Osborn, who had recently purchased Fox Run Vineyards. He has been winemaker at Fox Run ever since, sharing Scott’s philosophy that the Finger Lakes will only thrive as a wine region if we foster a spirit of collaboration and cooperation. 

Peter was an adjunct lecturer at Cornell University for 15 years, and also found time to serve as visiting winemaker at the University of Adelaide in 2004. He has also lectured and consulted in Hungary, France, Spain, Serbia, China and throughout the USA 

Grower Award: This award recognizes an individual for dedication and contributions to the New York grape industry.

Winner: Donna Rudolph, Bedell Cellars

Donna worked at Ressler Vineyards for 13 years. She had no formal training but worked my way up from crew chief to Assistant Manager. In 1996 she was offered the Assistant Manager job by Kip Bedell at Bedell Cellars. Donna worked with Dave Thompson, the vineyard manager, until his retirement in 2016 and then became the vineyard manager after his retirement. 

Donna is a trailblazer. She not only was the first woman in vineyard management on Long Island but she is also one of the longest tenured vineyard managers. Donna is valued for her work ethic and her attention to detail. The vineyards at Bedell Cellars serve as a model for the rest of the industry. Donna understands and balances the need for a clean, healthy canopy along with the goal of sustainability. She is an expert pruner. Donna willingly accommodates any research or extension requests. A long list of research projects have been implemented in her vineyards over the years. One of the things I admire the most about Donna is her appreciation of her hard working vineyard crew. There is almost no turnover because Donna is such a good boss. She is fair, supportive and genuinely cares about her crew. This award is well-deserved. Thank you to the Foundation for bestowing this honor upon Donna.

Winery Award: This award recognizes a winery that has made major contributions in advancing the image and reputation of the New York wine industry.

Winner: Boundary Breaks

Bruce Murray and Diana Lyttle are the co-owners of Boundary Breaks. In 2008, followinga career in publishing, Bruce Murray purchased 120 acres of undeveloped farmland on the east side of Seneca Lake, in Lodi, NY. In 2009, Murray planted Riesling vines. The first Boundary Breaks wines were released in New York City 2013. Today, Murray, his wife, Diana Lyttle, and the team at Boundary Breaks manage 40 acres of vines, which include Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Franc. Boundary Breaks currently sells its wines in 22 states and four countries outside the US. Both Murray and Lyttle are 1974 graduates of Nottingham High School in Syracuse, NY.

The focus at Boundary Breaks Vineyard is on producing high-quality ripe fruit in a challenging cool climate region. As is the case in every winemaking region, the combination of vineyard location and viticultural practices determines the quality of the wine. Boundary Breaks is located close to the water on a slope on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. The lake is 700 feet deep does not freeze during even the coldest winter. This keeps the temperatures along its shore 6-8 degrees warmer than temperatures at higher elevations. Additionally, the western facing aspect of the site benefits from extended sun exposure during the growing season. The viticultural practices employed at Boundary Breaks include extensive underground drainage to keep the vineyard dry; a trellising system and canopy management techniques that provide maximum sun exposure for the fruit.

Researcher Award: This award recognizes major contributions in the area of grape growing processing, and wine research.

Winner: Hans Walter-Peterson, Cornell CALS

Hans Walter-Peterson is the Viticulture Extension Specialist for Cornell’s Finger Lakes Grape Program. He conducts research and advises the region’s grape growers on a wide range of topics such as pest management, vine health and productivity, vineyard floor management, vineyard mechanization, and just about anything else that the region’s grape growers want to throw at him. Prior to joining the Finger Lakes Grape Program in 2007, he was the viticulture extension specialist for the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program in Fredonia NY for six years. 

Hans received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN in 1990, and his Masters degree in Viticulture from the University of California – Davis in 2001. He is currently working on his Ph.D. in viticulture at Cornell University. 

Sustainability Award: This award recognizes an organization or winery that has exemplified sustainable practices.

Winner: Hunt Country Vineyards

As 7th generation farmers we’ve always had stewardship of our land in our DNA.  Hunt Contry Vineyards has been making wine commercially for nearly 40 years and want to be able to keep growing grapes and making wines for generations to come. When the goal is to capture the unique essence of your terroir in each bottle, putting your primary focus on sustainability is common sense. You can’t make gorgeous wines without clean air, clean water, healthy soils, and a stable climate system. To reduce our use of fossil fuel, we’ve installed 350 solar panels, a geothermal heating and cooling system for all of the large buildings, a small demonstration windmill, and we are continually improving the efficiency of our lighting and various other systems. We’re supporting our customers who are making the shift to electric vehicles by providing free charging for their electric vehicles with five level-two charging stations. To improve the health of our soil, we use manure instead of synthetic fertilizers, we make and apply about 100 tons of compost each year, control weeds with mulch and mechanical removal, and have certified portions of the farm organic. We’ll be releasing a wine in 2020 made exclusively from our certified organic grapes. We also treat the whole farm as an ecosystem as opposed to component parts. We’ve created habitat for raptors, bees (honey bees and native bees), bats and other wildlife.  We support a whole range of community organizations through fundraisers, volunteer work and wine donations. Art Hunt and Jon Hunt are volunteer firefighters, and Matt Kelly is a volunteer EMT and firefighter.  We have also been active in the work to implement smart climate policy in NY and to protect the Finger Lakes wine region from extractive industries that promised short-term financial gain to a few and risked long-term harm to the whole region. Sustainability is always a work in progress so we welcome input and collaboration.

Ron Reals Distributor Award: This award recognizes achievement in distributing and promoting New York wines.

Winner: Karen Aumick, Empire Merchants North

Karen grew up on a dairy farm in Granville Summit, Pennsylvania. While in college had waitress and bartending jobs. In 2004 she started working at Lighthouse Liqors & Wines in Elmira, NY (Kit Gooshaw was one of the people that taught her so much about wine) After a year or so she was the manager of the store. she loved her job dealing with sales reps, wineries and customer service.  She met so many people.  Karen felt the need to try something new in 2014, so she started working for Empire Merchants North as a salesperson which is where she is today. She says, “I love the different suppliers, customers (bars, restaurants & stores).  The day to day grind being different everyday. It keeps this job so interesting.”

Restaurant Award: This award recognizes excellence in promoting New York wines in a fine dining experience.

Winner: Brown Hound Downtown, Trish Aser

Brown Hound Bistro came to the MAG in 2016, bringing a decade of experience and expanded our offerings to include our bakery & coffeehouse, the Hound Lounge and catering services, along with our local, seasonal bistro fare. As a co-owner, executive chef, and self-proclaimed sugar-pusher at Brown Hound, Trish Aser is responsible for overseeing the daily operations, creating delectable baked goods & desserts, and mediating the inevitable employee dramas. She is also involved with marketing, catering sales and bookkeeping as her primary goal is to have a deep array of skills that keep her growing and her business profitable. She’s been honored with a number of awards for her commitment to local sourcing and her mom will pull out a stack of magazines and news articles to prove it, given the chance!

Trish brings over 30 years of experience, ranging from sports bars to bagel bakeries, ice cream parlors to pizza parlors, mom & pop’s to national chains. As a result of this background, her approach to her own restaurants is to keep thinhgs fresh and bring a high level of passion & creativity to the work, along with a sense of humor and long list of self-help materials.

Outside of Brown Hound, you’ll find Trish with her boyfriend and co-owner, Joe Scardilla, their two dogs and two cats snuggled up in their cabin in the woods… hiking, biking, skiing, boating and enjoying everything the Finger Lakes has to offer.

Retailer Award: This award is presented to wine stores which do an exceptional job in educating consumers about the quality and variety of New York wines.

Winner: Grapevine Farms Wine Cellar

Located in Cobleskill, Grapevine Farms Wine Cellar carries 100% New York State wine. Owners Tim and Tracy Purcell decided to grow their unique destination which includes a Farmhouse Bistro and boutique by adding the Wine Cellar in 2009. At the time, there were only 200 NY wineries–today that number has doubled and the Purcells continue to bring in wines from across the state. As a way to educate consumers, Grapevine Farms Wine Cellar offers daily complimentary tastings at their rustic and welcoming tasting bar, and the list changes monthly. The current list includes wines from across the state–Chateau Lafayette Reneau, Pindar, Heron Hill, Liquid Attitude and Fox Run. Next month they are hosting a wine dinner featuring Adirondack Winery. The Purcells have a reputation for being great partners and are appreciative of the support they receive from wineries.

What makes the Purcells unique is choice–NY wines are an obvious choice for a retailer in wine country. But with Tim and Tracy, they made a deliberate choice to choose local wines for their business and have shown it can be successful. They have provided consumer outreach and equity-building for NYS wineries in an area not near the wineries.

The Wine Cellar sees both regular local visitors and tourists. Tastings and sales create awareness for the wines and the wine regions of the state, encouraging wine tourism as well. Grapevine Farms Wine Cellar would feel like an insider’s secret except the secret is out–it’s a bustling business that is helping to grow our industry.

Consumer Award: This award recognizes enthusiastic support of the New York wine industry and for exemplifying the use of wine as part of a happy, healthy lifestyle.

Winner: Greg and Jeanne Gardner

Gregory A. Gardner, PhD 
Professor of Business Administration 
SUNY Potsdam 

A professor of international business and strategy at SUNY Potsdam for the past 16 years, Professor Gardner is a retired military officer with considerable experience in corporate management as well as higher education and regional economic development.  With a life-long passion for wine, he has organized student trips to Austria, Hungary, Spain, and Portugal to explore wine and wine-tourism businesses.   He heads an international group of scholars doing research into the effects of climate change on wine tourism globally.   

A member of the American Wine Society, the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, and a consumer member of the New York Wing and Grape Foundation, Professor Gardner is active in the promotion of wine and education as part of a healthy lifestyle.  He has judged New York State commercial and amateur wines for 17 years and works with regional agricultural and economic developers to promote and encourage the emerging wineries of New York State’s North Country region. 

Jeanne M. Gardner 
Chef de Cuisine 
Jefferson Community College 

An Air Force veteran, an experienced office manager in healthcare and rehabilitative offices, and a trained chef, Jeanne M. Gardner is dedicated to exploring the relationship between food, wine, and health.  She earned a degree in Culinary Studies from Jefferson Community College and has continued to explore international cuisines and wines, with an eye toward cooking for diabetics.  Determined to avoid boring food and wine, she has a personal policy of cooking one new recipe a week for her family. 

She has traveled extensively in the US and Europe, training in regional cooking in Budapest, Lyon, and Vienna where she learned to make local dishes that pair with local wines.  She volunteers as a trained event organizer for the New York State Amateur wine competition every year and is an avid student at wine and food courses in the New York Kitchen. 

We would like to thank all of our award winners for their tireless advocacy and support of the New York wine and grape community. They have our tremendous gratitude for all they do every day to raise the awareness of the world class products being made right here in New York.

Highlights of this year’s B.E.V. NY conference include:

  • Morning Panel on the recent State of the Wine Industry Report
  • Keynote Speaker Ray Isle, Food & Wine Magazine
  • NEW! Concurrent Sessions on Management and Marketing
  • NEW! Afternoon Networking Reception
  • Unity Award Luncheon Included in the Business Day agenda
  • Access to seminar recordings for Members Only
  • 10% OFF Business Day Registration for Members Only

Conference Sponsor:

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New York Wine & Grape Foundation

New York Wine & Grape Foundation

The mission of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation is to promote the world-class image of New York grapes and wines from our diverse regions to responsibly benefit farmers, producers and consumers through innovative marketing, research, communication, and advocacy.