hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires

 

Arts & Culture September 2019

 

A bouquet of bustle

In its first decade, winery evolves into all-day destination

 

Sarah, Adrian and Michelle Diebold relax on the outdoor deck at Saratoga Winery while vacationing in the area in late August. The winery, which started 10 years ago by offering tastings in an old roadside farm stand, has expanded into an all-day destination for meals, wine and special events. Joan K. Lentini photo

 

Sarah, Adrian and Michelle Diebold relax on the outdoor deck at Saratoga Winery while vacationing in the area in late August. The winery, which started 10 years ago by offering tastings in an old roadside farm stand, has expanded into an all-day destination for meals, wine and special events. Joan K. Lentini photo

 

By STACEY MORRIS
Contributing writer

MILTON, N.Y.


On a cloudless Saturday at 10 a.m., Saratoga Winery assistant manager Brady Schumacher was toiling away on the back patio, already preparing for the crowd that would later fill the restaurant’s seating to near capacity.


Soon the stillness of the August morning was punctuated by the intermittent thud of Schumacher’s ax as he split firewood for the nearby pizza oven. Behind Schumacher, a crowd of more than 30 fitness aficionados, plus a few able-bodied goats, had gathered for a goat yoga class.


Come 11 a.m., the first wine-tasters of the day would trickle in, marking the start of a busy summer day that would culminate in live music, dinner under the stars on the patio, and perhaps a wedding.


Saratoga Winery’s transformation into an all-day destination for visitors is a far cry from its quiet beginnings a decade ago with a small tasting room and eight varieties of wine. But owners Rich and Tara Nemmo are hardly complaining.


The winery, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in October, sits four miles west of downtown Saratoga Springs, at 462 Route 29 in the town of Milton.


The venture began with a little encouragement from the couple’s friends. With a family recipe, Rich had been crafting wine in the basement of his home for years, and friends who tasted the results began suggesting that Rich open his own winery.


After a cancer diagnosis and a successful battle to remission, Nemmo decided that being cancer-free was the occasion to take a risk and put his dream into motion.


He knew of a dormant farm stand down the road from his house. The property was for sale. When Rich and Tara bought the land, they kept the rustic-looking farm stand and used it as their tasting room.


“Back then, it was just one room with about five tables,” said Amy Greth, the winery’s private events coordinator. “They served a few basic reds and whites with tasting crackers.”


But word began to spread, slowly at first, about the flavor and uniqueness of the wines, and Saratoga Winery started to evolve. The changes started with the tasting room morphing into the barrel room so that more aging barrels could be added to meet demand. The barrel room also began doubling as a private event space for weddings and other parties.


When more space was required to keep pace with the flow of visitors, the Nemmos had an Adirondack-style deck built on the back of the winery. The sprawling space, with twinkling garden lights, features a fire pit ringed with Adirondack chairs, a bar, and tables for outdoor dining. The star attraction in this new space: the wood-burning pizza oven, which augments the tapas-inspired menu, much of it locally sourced. Chef James Frese estimates the oven goes through a half-cord of wood each weekend.


Now the winery encourages visitors to linger. Its home page of its website suggests: “Come for a tasting, hang for the day.”

 

Assistant manager Brady Schumacher checks the seating arrangements in the new wine barn at Saratoga Winery in advance of an evening trivia contest. Joan K. Lentini photo

 

Keeping pace with crowds
With the barrel room accommodating parties of 50 or fewer, the Nemmos knew a larger event space was needed.


“We’ve always done private events, but we were restricted seasonally,” Greth said. “We also outgrew the barrel room and needed a bigger event space.”


Last month, the business completed its new 2,400-foot wine barn, which is connected to the original building.


“This gives us the space we needed for larger events, and it also frees up the barrel room for our regular guests who like to come on the weekends and enjoy live music and food when the weather is not so great,” Greth said.


The rustic-styled structure features a loft area, with access via a spiral staircase, a bar patio, and high, vaulted ceilings. Greth said the wine barn has the capacity to seat 125 plus a dance floor for weddings. If the dance floor isn’t needed for an event, the wine barn can seat an additional 50, with more seating on the patio.


Tara Nemmo said that apart from weddings, the wine barn might host fund-raisers, business conferences, indoor farmers markets, and Sunday brunches.


“The possibilities are endless,” she said. “From the day that we opened, it was obvious that we needed to expand. Over the last 10 years, we have expanded several times. I think our favorite space is our outdoor area.”


Greth said the new barn is also perfect for public events such as the upcoming Hillbilly Bash on Sept. 28, at which more than 400 visitors are expected.


“We purposely connected the wine barn with the rest of the structure so for events like this, visitors can wander through the whole facility,” she said.


Frese heads an onsite catering staff that accommodates the winery’s dinner menu as well as private events. The menu features foods such as salads, dips, and tapas-type items ranging from wings to tacos, in addition to the pizza menu.


“When we first started, we just offered tasting crackers,” Greth recalled. “Later it was cheeseboards, and then food trucks on the weekends. When it became clear that food was as important as wine to our customers, we added a dinner menu four years ago.”


As the crowds grew, so did the bar menu. The winery now has eight local craft beers on tap and is the official tasting room for Saratoga Courage Distillery, which produces such offerings as Pick Six Vodka, Apple Pie Moonshine and Strawberry Jam Moonshine.


A natural part of the expansion included the relocation of the winemaking room, which originally was in what is now the barrel room. In 2015, a 2,500-square-foot production building was added out back, complete with 10 fermentation tanks and 60 barrels for aging.


“We still have working barrels in the barrel room,” Greth said. “The wine barn also has working barrels. Demand is such that we have to use every inch we can for barrels.”

 

More wine, more varieties
What began with a few traditional whites and reds has given way to 15 varieties of wine, all made with New York grapes. With names such as Saratoga Red and Whitney’s White that reference the region’s history and fame, the varieties range from dry to semi-sweet.


“Most of our grapes are from the Finger Lakes region, though some are from Long Island vineyards,” Greth said. “People sometimes think that all New York wines are sweet, but that’s not true.”


Prices at Saratoga Winery range from $7 to $8 per glass and $16 to $20 per bottle.
In addition to the five white wines and six reds, Saratoga Winery offers a selection of its signature melomels -- sweeter wines made with 12 percent local honey and aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels.


“The barrels give the melomels a smoky flavor, and the honey gives a hint of sweetness,” Greth said. “It makes a good dessert wine. We have customers who don’t like wine tell us they enjoy our melomels, and it’s the only wine they drink.”


Tara Nemmo makes no bones about her love of melomels.
“My favorite way to enjoy our wine is pouring the Blackberry Reserve over vanilla ice cream,” she said.


Greth said the melomels, based on a Nemmo family recipe, contain no sulfates or preservatives. The four varieties include Blackberry, Bloodroot, Blackberry Reserve, and the potent Hillbilly Mountain Mash, made with grape remnants from the bottom of the aging barrel. Melomels range in price from $20 to $35 per bottle.
Saratoga Winery’s wines are sold at Sa

ratoga-area farmers markets and at various wine and liquor stores around the Capital District. Shipping is available throughout New York state.


To round out the local theme of the wines, Saratoga Winery commissioned local artist Frankie Flores, the owner of Flores Fine Art Gallery at 454 Broadway, to add his painterly touch to some of the wine labels. So the pinot noir features a portrait of Sam “The Bugler” Grossman, trumpeting out “Call to the Post” at the Saratoga Race Course, while the cabernet franc label depicts the famed racehorse Rachel Alexandra running the Woodward Stakes.
“I showed Rich and Tara a few designs in the beginning, and they kept adding more,” Flores said of his wine labels. “I love them all, but my favorite is probably the Spirit of Life statue in Congress Park on their chardonnay.”


Flores says he’s a fan of the winery.
“I’ve been going there since it opened,” he said. “It’s amazing how they’ve grown. Every time I visit, there’s something new. I love their honey wine, and the food is amazing.”
Greth said the enthusiasm of customers has fueled the evolution.


“People love spending time here, both in the outdoor and indoor spaces,” she said. “We have a nice mix of tourists and locals stopping by regularly. The fall is our biggest wine-tasting season, and we’ll also be offering specially themed events.”


Upcoming events include the Sept. 28th Hillbilly Bash, featuring fiddle bands, a pig roast, and a contest for the “best-dressed redneck.” There will also be a Halloween-themed wine party in October and visits with Santa and live Christmas music in December.


“Fridays through Sundays are our busiest days, with our live music,” Greth said. “And every Thursday is Trivia Night, and we usually get more than 100 people for that. There’s definitely a loyal following for the winery.”


What began with the Nemmos dividing the winemaking and tasting-room duties has blossomed into an operation with 20 employees at peak times and seven full-time, year-round employees.
“I don’t think Rich and Tara ever thought their winery would become quite this big,” Greth said. “But we’re all glad it did.”

 

For more information on Saratoga Winery and its upcoming events, visit www.thesaratogawinery.com or call (518) 584-9463.