Written by Karey Solomon, photo by Tim Gera
The name “port” itself brings to mind warmth, deep color, rich flavors—all the snug-harbor feelings one wants when the weather is cold. Originally from Oporto, Portugal, the fortified, grape-based beverage has a growing New World following, though it is often called something else to avoid a potential conflict with European Union labels for wines originating in that region.
Classical port is made by interrupting the fermentation of a red wine by adding pure alcohol, often before the red grapes have been pressed. This kills the yeast, so the resulting port can age and mellow with a lot of fruit-forward grape character, and most of the grape sugars remain. Some claim 18th century British wine-shippers invented port when they topped off wine barrels with brandy to preserve them through long sea-voyages. This method retains the qualities of a dry red wine while nearly doubling its alcohol content; cane sugar is then added to sweeten it. Both methods—and at least one more—are currently in use in the Finger Lakes. Typically, red ports are oak-aged, appealing to red-wine drinkers as well as those with sweeter tastes.
Among the traditionalists are Frédéric Bouché, owner and winemaker of Ports of New York in Ithaca, a scion of La Maison Bouché, founded nearly a century ago in Normandy. With a style grounded in the classic fortified wines of France, Bouché said his ports are neither as sweet nor as high in alcohol as many others. “I base everything on the traditional port method,” he said. “I started my winery about 10 years ago, but I’ve only been open about four years. If you don’t age them, they’re not going to be as interesting. I age mine a minimum of four years—that’s a crucial element of the port I make.” Most of Bouché’s fortified wine begins with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Muscat Ottonel grapes grown on Seneca Lake, “But I use others,” he said, “depending on what I want to achieve.” Most of his ports are 17 percent alcohol, with 8 percent residual sugar. He recommends the reds with meats and strong cheeses; while he notes the white sets off patés and foie gras. “They can be used as an aperitif,” Bouché said, “but typically we consume them with toast, cheese, meat, fish. You could start a meal with the white port. In France, we tend to drink not ports but brandies after dinner.” … Bouché thinks of ports as more versatile than dessert wines, though most would be considered sweet at 12 percent residual sugar. “You can have them after dinner, but I hate to slot them in,” he said. “I don’t like sweet wines with sweet food; I prefer them with a savory food. Aged cheddar with tawny port is way more fun than cake with tawny port.”… Whatever the name, while port may begin like wine, it’s generally considered a different category of beverage, Bouché said. And while ports are a relatively new Finger Lakes product, as increasing numbers of wineries make them, it’s likely they’ll evolve into a style as unique as Finger Lakes wines
Written by Don Cazentre, photo by Stephen D. Cannerelli
In Ithaca, a french winemaker takes time to age and blend unique wines.
Frédéric Bouché started building his winery in Ithaca nine years ago. He started his production process four years ago. He started selling his product 2 1/2 years ago. He's just getting started.
If you're a winemaker who specializes in fortified wines – as Bouché's Ports of New York does – you need to learn and practice patience. "Wine making is a state of mind", he said. "Making fortified wine takes time and care. It's what I specialize in."
Wine becomes "fortified" when a distilled spirit – like brandy – is added. That stops the fermentation process, leaving a sweeter drink, and boosts the alcohol content a bit.
These are rich, warming drinks, perfect for winter or holiday entertaining. Famous fortified wines from Europe include Port, Sherry, Madeira, Malaga and Marsala.
Several New York wineries make a sherry or a port or a similar product as a bonus to their line of wines, but Ports of New York is the only one of the state's 300-plus wineries to produce only fortified wines. "I don't know of any other wineries exclusively devoted to fortified wines, so this is truly unique,: said Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. "And I think he (Bouché) is doing a very good job producing quality products."
Bouché currently makes just two products: one white and one red. They are sold under the brand name Meleau. Aside from the color, what's the difference? "The red is bold," Bouché said. "The white is elegant". Though he uses the traditional method associated with the production of Port, he tweaks that a bit, producing fortified wines that are lighter in alcohol (17 percent versus about 19 or 20 percent for most ports) and drier (containing less residual sugar than Port). They are also lighter in body.
And while his company is called Ports of New York, Bouché doesn't use the word "Port" in the product name due to international agreements that limit its use to the wine made from grapes grown in the Douro region of Portugal. Bouché also had to wrestle with the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau over other labeling issues. He can't, for example, use the word "fortified wine" according to TTB rules , and settled on "specialty wine" instead. For the brand name, he came up with Meleau. It starts with the Latin root "mel" for honey, which he chose because he begins the yeast for his wine fermentation in a honey solution. And he uses "eau," which is French for water, but more importantly (to Bouché) stands for "eau de vie" or water of life, which is a name for unaged brandy. "We had to come up with a fanciful name," Bouché said. "And it's a mellow drink, of course."
Bouché grew up in a wine-making family in the Normandy region of France. Some of his ancestors owned vineyards in Bordeaux, and his great grandfather founded a business in Lisieux, not far from the World War II Normandy beaches, that produced wine made from grapes from across France. He came to Ithaca because his wife, who was born in Brooklyn, teaches French at Cornell University.
Ports of New York is in a purpose-built winery-and-tasting room at 815 Taber St., in an industrial area off of Route 79.
"My family had an urban winery in France", he said, "and that's what we have here, in Ithaca". Since he has no vineyard of his own, Bouché has to buy his grapes. His current source is Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, on Route 414 north of Watkins Glen (which reciprocates by selling his products in its tasting room). He also buys his oak barrels for aging his wine from Lamoreaux. Meleau red is made from 80 percent Cabernet Franc grapes and 20 percent Merlot. The white is 100 percent Muscat Ottonel.
"I had to experiment with about 50 varieties and blends before I found what I want," Bouché said. He supervises both the harvesting and crushing of the grapes he buys, and then brings the juice (and the skins for the red) to his winery in Ithaca. He doesn't have his own still, so he buys his spirits from one of the local distilleries, like Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdettt or Myer Fram Distilling in Ovid.
After that, the art of blending and aging the wine and spirit to make the fortified wine is all down to Bouche. He has to know when to add the spirit to stop the wine's fermentation for instance. And then he uses a somewhat complicated system called the "Solera" method to age and further blend his products. In essence, that means he removes a portion of the wine aging in his oldest barrels and replaces it with younger wine from a newer barrel. He continues that year after year, and in the end has sold no product in which the "youngest" wine in the barrel was less than four years old. That's one reason he had to be patient in getting his winery off the ground.
Later, he'll probably make a "reserve" product out of what's left of the oldest wines.
Port and similar drinks are typically thought of as before-or after-dinner sipping drinks, or dessert wines, but Bouché thinks his products also go well with savory foods. He recommends serving the red at room temperature, and as accompaniment to red meat, strong cheese like Stilton or chocolate. The white, he says, can be chilled to about 45 degrees, or served with one cube of ice. It is good with pâtés or hard cheeses as a before-dinner aperitif, he said.
"These wines take time to make, and they are made to be savored," Bouché said. "Take time to appreciate them".
Written by Amelia Sauter co-0wner of Felicia's Atomic Lounge, photo by Heather Ainsworth
Frédéric Bouché is a fourth generation winemaker from France whose ancestors made wine in Bordeaux and Normandy. In May of 2011, he opened Ports of New York, where he makes and sells fortified wine. He traveled 600 miles on his bicycle last year hand-delivering his wine to local restaurants and shops.
EFL: What’s your earliest memory of being in your grandfather’s winery?
Frédéric Bouché: Being among barrels as a small child and watching spiders spin webs between the casks. My first work-related memory is sitting on a little stool and filling bottles. There was one hose that split into two faucets so you had to watch it very carefully. I was around 10 years old, too young to sip a bit off if a bottle got overfilled.
EFL: What does Port of New York retain of your family traditions?
Frédéric Bouché: The pace of being patient and waiting until the wine is ready, and the use of older tools. I use my great grandfather 's copper and brass still to extract and measure alcohol content and residual sugar. I also have a small museum of french old winemaking equipment at the winery.
EFL: How do you describe your wine without calling it port?
Frédéric Bouché: It’s fortified wine, which means a spirit is added to it to stop the fermentation in order to retain some of the sweetness of the grapes themselves. You can call it the ‘port method.’ Some people find ports to be syrupy, too sweet, and too high in alcohol. Mine are none of these.
EFL: Yet you use the word ‘port’ on your bottle?
Frédéric Bouché: One law says I can’t have the word ‘port’ on my front label [because it wasn’t made in Portugal]. Another law says I must have the name of the company on the front of the bottle. But no law says the word ‘port’ can’t be a part of the name of the company.
EFL: You call your fortified wine ‘Meleau.’ What does this word mean?
Frédéric Bouché: It’s a fanciful word that I made up. Mel is the Latin root of the word honey, and eau refers to spirit as in eau de vie. I developed a way of growing the yeast in honey – a natural preservative - a few weeks before starting the fermentation with the grapes. It’s very close to my childhood because my grandfather was also a beekeeper and made mead.
EFL: What is the solera system that you use to age your wine?
Frédéric Bouché: My solera system will have four tiers of casks when it’s done. The lowest level contains all the oldest wines, which are now five years old. This is the mature wine that I draw to bottle, a maximum of 20%, and the gap is refilled by the younger wine in the row above. And that one is being refilled by the row above it, and the top row will contain the wine made this year.
EFL: Most people are familiar with red port, but you make a white fortified wine, too.
Frédéric Bouché: The white is a lot less surprising in Europe. Ports of New York white is made with a very fragrant grape, Muscat Ottonel. It’s high in acidity meaning it’s always fresh on the tongue even in summer when it’s very hot. It’s 18 % alcohol with 9 % residual sugar which is low for a port.
Our red is a lot bolder, much more typical of what people think a good port should be. It has a fair amount of black pepper because I use a Cabernet Franc and a little bit of Merlot to thicken the body. All of our grapes are grown in the Finger Lakes.
EFL: How did you choose your grape varietals?
Frédéric Bouché: I did 57 fermentations with different types of grapes in the past 15 years. In the end what’s most important is that you have to like it. Taste is the ultimate judge.
Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice President, The James Beard Foundation.
Written by Annemarie Morse,
MPS in Enology, Cornell University,
Certified Wine Judge, American Wine Society,
Chairman of the Finger Lakes Chapter of the American Wine Society
"… Another wonderful place to visit is Ports of New York right here in Ithaca, where we found the atmosphere and the proprietor Frédéric Bouché to be were warm and welcoming. Here I had the chance to pair some very nice spirited wines produced from traditional Port vinification methods. His red Meleau paired nicely with Lucienne's Brownie Bar and dark chocolate frogs. The white Meleau paired very nicely with the following chocolates from Lucienne: hazelnut praline, dark milk chocolate, milk chocolate sesame bark, and dark chocolate with dried cherries and toasted almonds. …"
Frédéric is the proprietor and sole employee of Meleau Specialty Wines.
Photo Ed Dittenhoefer
In its formative and evolving processes of collection and assemblage, Ports of New York, a small but exquisite urban winery that opened its doors for business in May of this year, provokes in the visitor the sensation of historical transference. The exterior itself looks like a portal to this past, and indeed, founder and owner Frederic Bouché, comes from a long line of French urban winemakers, has brought wonderful elements of his cultural heritage to benefit and live on in Ithaca.
La Maison Bouché winery was established in Normandy in 1919 by "my great-grandfather whose father then grew grapes in Bordeau" Bouché said. Bombed during World War II and sold about 14 year ago, the winery has now relinquished its objects, its insides, its ornaments and its trappings, to Ports of New York, a new winemaking studio on Taber Street that doubles as a small but thoughtful collection of 20th century winemaking tools and ephemera.
"There is a huge difference between a winemaker and a grape-grower," Bouché said. "I wanted to have an urban winery in the City of Ithaca."
Bouché makes fortified wine, well-known in Europe but not widely distributed in the US.
Bouché's product is not technically port. Similar to champagne and Bordeaux, port refers to only grapes grown in the Douro region of Portugal.
Instead, what Bouché makes is known as fortified wine. He's named his particular wine "Meleau Specialty Wines;" his web site says "mel" is latin for honey and "eau" is French for water, used in reference to the distillation of spirit (the "eau de vie").
"Fortified wines are all over Europe," Bouché said. "They're not exported at all, their style is not available on the market here. They are much dryer than port, not nearly as sweet. You can drink them while eating. They are good for sipping and drinking. Port you can only sip."
Bouché showed me a large gnarled hunk of a preserved grapevine trimmed from La Maison Bouché, whose grapes were brought in from Bordeaux. Bouché buys his grapes from Lameareaux Landing and his finishing brandy from Finger Lakes Distillery.
"They crush them right in front of me," he said. "The difference between white wine and red wine is in the skin. In white wine, the grapes have been fermented with no skin, and with red wine, the grapes are fermented with the skin, which adds tannins and other elements to the mix."
We sat in the loft, above the barrels and staging area where Bouché uses the solera technique, during which the barrels are stacked, to make wine. The oldest liquid is at the bottom of the pile and as it ages, more liquid is poured from the top. The downward cascade provides for a constant blending to happen, Bouché said, and because this technique takes several years to properly execute, the yield will be specific and finite. When Bouché sells out, as his first two batches have, he has to make adjustments in order to extract more wine to sell, while still maintaining the balance of the winemaking process.
It takes about two weeks to grow the yeast in honey that Bouché will add to the juice. "There's no taste of honey in the wine," he said, "as the sugar turns to alcohol."
The final step is to stop fermentation, Bouché said, and the most elegant way is to use brandy, which Finger Lakes Distilling produces exclusively for these wines.
When the yeast goes down and settles, the thick soupy material is extracted and the liquid is poured into casks to sit for about 2 and a half months. "Then it starts to reveal its character," Bouché said.
Made from muscat and cabernet franc grapes, Meleau specialty wines are 18% alcohol. Neither sweet nor dry, they belong to a unique category of fortified wines. Bold in flavor but delicate in texture, richly colored, the white version looks thick and golden, like olive oil, while the red one is between a deep ruby-colored and a tawny.
In contrast, "Port is thicker and sweeter," Bouché said.
Meleau specialty wines are not refrigerated and are served well at room temperature. They are can keep for 3 to 4 months recorked in the bottle. The bottles themselves can age as well, Bouché said, and can be kept for 25 to 35 years and perhaps even more.
Describing the red, Bouch said, "it's very bold. Quite spicy. Very nice body, almost peppery."
The white is good with smoked fish, pate, porch salmon, salad, Bouché said, and the red pairs well with smoked meat, fish, cheese, and dark chocolate.
Alongside fabulous photograph albums of La Maison Bouché and vintage wine labels, the Ports of New York web site offers information how to pair Meleau specialty wines with appetizers, bread, brunch, lunch, cheese, chocolate, terrine, and less sweet desserts.
Bouché has no employees and he said the process to make fortified wines is both labor intensive and expensive, but that he wanted to do something rigorous and high-end to make a high quality product.
"Impeccable" is the word I would choose to describe both wines.
"I have to like it," Bouché said, referring to the product. "My wife too. We both have to like it. If I go out of my way to do this, I have to have something to drink as a result."
The building, which he has built nearly from scratch over the last 7 years, was crafted from materials he found at Significant Elements. "I've been collecting pieces, not knowing what shape the façade would take," he said.
The aesthetic that emerged is appropriately 20th century vineyard, and there's a very "back to basics" feeling about Ports of New York. Bouché's practice seems simple but rigorous and precise. He has a bicycle to bring up to twelve bottles at a time to Fedex ; he said he rode about 600 miles with it this season and saved a ton in gas money. A clothesline runs from the main barn area and attaches to a backyard shed; towels were hung out to dry. The making and tasting room are beautifully minimalist, with steel and light oak the dominating colors.
Bouché spelled out words as he spoke; I appreciated this effort to be precise and accurate. As we talked, an Amazon package arrived bearing a stuffed Pink Panther doll. "For my daughter," he said, Kimily, who is 6 ½ years old.
Meleau specialty wines are sold in $40 500 ml bottles and $6 50 ml bottles. He offers free tastings and can have group tours of up to 12 people. He will be open year round, he said.
Bouché was born in Normandy and went to school in Paris. His Brooklyn-born wife, Joanna, would become a Cornell schoolteacher, bringing him to Ithaca, where he's lived for the last 18 years doing odd jobs and saving up to launch a business.
Business, he said, has been very brisk since he opened in May. "It's been quite busy, incredible," he said. "I've been really surprised and excited."
This treasure is a valuable addition to the Ithaca landscape, an authentic piece of French history brought over and resettled on Taber Street. It is well-worth a long visit; besides doing a tasting, be sure to leave time to see the family wine labels, family photos, vintage street signs, winemaking tools, old bottles, and other wine-related artifacts upstairs.
Dave Pohl, MA '79,
is a wine buyer at Northside Wine & Spirits in Ithaca.
A new addition to the Finger Lakes wine scene is Ithaca's very own Ports of New York. Singlehanded!y built and operated by Frédéric Bouché, this micro-winery is located in downtown Ithaca's industrial zone. Bouché, a native of France, built the winery from the ground up, using salvaged materials for much of the building's façade. He has received the City of Ithaca/Rotary Club Pride of Owrnership Award and Historic Ithaca's Preservation Award.
Bouché had long dreamed of making fortified wines, having grown up in a family business specializing in their production. He began to build the winery in 2005 and construction was completed five years later. The first wines went on sale in spring 2011: 500 bottles each of Bouché's red and white fortified wine, made from grapes grown and crushed at Seneca Lake's Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars. The juice was transported to the Ithaca winery, where honey was added to it as it fermented to provide more sugar for conversion to alcohol. The fermentation was stopped with the addition of brandy, leaving unfermented grape sugar in the finished wines.
Due to a trade agreement with the European Union, these wines cannot be called "port." Bouché calls them "Meleau," from the Latin mel (honey) and the French eau (water). The white is especially lovely; made from Muscat grapes, it is invitingly aromatic, with an apple-y flavor made more complex by hints of pepper, vanilla, and honey. The wine's sweetness is beautifully balanced by its acidity and alcohol.
Many think of sweet wines only as dessert wines, but Bouché recommends Meleau as an aperitif as weIl as an accompaniment to richly flavored first courses, braised meats, and cheeses as well as dessert. Both wines may be ordered from www.portsofnewyork.com
Owner Frédéric Bouché to offer limited bottle run in spring.
Photo by Aaron Munzer.
Frédéric Bouché still remembers the parts of his childhood he spent climbing on the massive wooden aging barrels of La Maison Bouché, the winery his greatgrandparents founded in 1919 in the Bordeaux region of France.
"As a kid I would hang out at the winery all the time, I had no plans at taking over or anything, the barrels and so on were my toys, I helped around all the time," he says, in his upstairs office that is adorned with his family's ancient brewing equipment. "I never fully was hired, but I would make my own wine with honey from my grandfather's bees."
Now Bouché is striking out on his own in the Finger Lakes with a new winery called Ports of New York, located in downtown Ithaca, that seeks to reinvigorate the once-vibrant culture of the fortified wines known as ports, using techniques and equipment from wine makers like his greatgrandfather a century earlier. He says ports have developed a poor reputation because winemakers add brandy to their weakest vintage to mask off flavors.
"Due to prohibition, port in the U.S. got a bad name, because basically it was an excuse to blend anything with spirits and get wasted, it also made a very cheap and high alcohol wine", he says. "[Ports] have a novel side that's very much alive in Europe, but that hasn't happened in the U.S. yet. I thought making port would be interesting to try."
Commited to the Old Ways:
He's so committed to some—but not all—of the old ways that he keeps an antique mini-distilling setup on his desk to test the alcohol content of his wines, and uses an old metal barrel-tightener on his casks. He's excited to have his winery on Taber Street on the Cayuga Lake Inlet, simply because there's a huge market in Ithaca for local wine, and it's an entrance to Finger Lakes Wine Country.
Plus, "I like walking to work," he says.
Bouché's wines get their start on the east side of Seneca Lake where Mark Wagner of Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars grows the grapes. He uses a blend of vinifera grapes for his red port, with Cabernet Franc composing most of the blend. For his white offering, he uses a blend highlighted by the white variety Muscat Ottonel, which he presses himself at the winery. He gets his brandy locally as well, at the nearby Finger Lakes Distilling.
Wganer says he's been consistently impressed by Bouché's enthusiasm for wine making.
"Frédéric is a craftsman, he does absolutely beautiful work" Wagner says. "He's not only doing a big quantity starting small, but he's really excited about it, and I can't wait to try his ports. He's got a good handle on what he's doing, and knowing Frédéric, he'll do it right."
Then the grape juice comes into his striking winery, an old residence that he completely gutted and rebuilt, largely by himself, as a skilled tradesman. The front features a mahogany facade with arched, painted lettering over small windows displaying the winery name, and a wide rooftop that gives the building a whimsical look. After a five-year construction period, Bouché won a City of Ithaca Pride of Ownership award last fall for the work he's done on the building, which included using local and salvage materials.
A Reflection of the Product:
" I wanted the facade to be a reflection of the product," he says. "It's old-world, with a certain quality to it, and there's no time constraint on how long it takes to build it."
Inside, however, is a modern winery, with stainless steel fermentation tanks next to stacks of barrels filled with aging wine.
In addition to the years of physical construction, it took him more than a year to close on the property—the only one available within the city that was zoned for use as a winery—because the owner could not be located. When he finally contacted the owner, he made a deal on the spot and started work soon after.
Bouché says a limited run of 500 of his Meleau fortified wines will be available starting in the spring at local liquor stores and online. He doesn't plan to have a tasting room, but he will offer tours and retail sales, and invites guests to peruse his small museum of antique wine-making equipment, much of which has been in his family for generations.
"I'm trying to preserve my heritage as much as possible," he says, noting that he still uses some of the equipment. "There's no reason not to use these things when they work beautifully," he says.
Honey Instead of Sugar:
Bouché's style of wine making differs from many Finger Lakes wine makers in that he plans to use honey instead of sugar to chaptalize his wines, which he believes helps the wine age into a better product. He recalls that when his family drank wine as a child, all of it was well aged and "exceptional," in part because of the honey, he says.
"Some of these wines were made between the two wars and have, to this day, aged magnificently," he says. "Because most of the wines in the region here need added sugar, it's corn sugar typically, but I do not like the idea of using corn sugar."
In addition to his own wine making venture, Bouché has partnered with wine consultant Harvey Reissig to produce New York Wine Samplers, a business that will sell small, 50 ml bottles of the best wines of each year across the region so customer can efficiently and affordably try a wide variety of wines at home.
"We would like to lead wine lovers through the vast array of New York products so that they can choose wines that appeal to their personal tastes," says Reissig, in a staement on their web site. "Consumers [can] simultaneously taste and compare flights of carefully selected hight quality wines from different wineries at a fraction of the cost of purchasing entire bottles."
Through the whole, multi-year process of getting approval and wading through the paperwork required to build a winery from the building up, Bouché says he feels a deep gratitude to folks all over Ithaca and the Finger Lakes Region, who have given him advice, helped him complete projects, and supported him with their words.
"Ithaca has been a wonderful community to actually make this happen, and I met a lot of people who were excited and helped me out," he says. "It would be completely impossible to do a project like this in a community where you don't know anyone. I have a lot of people to thank."
Frédéric Bouché is making limited amounts of port wine at his downtown location.
Photo by Ted Crane.
Ithaca’s new, highly specialized winery, Ports of New York, is proof that good things come in small packages. The winery is located in a tiny building at 815 Taber St., just around the corner from the old “Octopus” intersection. Frédéric Bouché, owner and winemaker, took five years to painstakingly rebuild one of the last remaining houses in the industrial park. He was given a Pride of Ownership Award from the city for his efforts.
“I like to build stuff,” says Bouché. “I was a professional artist for 16 years, building installations all over the world.” The artist-turned winemaker explains that he learned a lot about building and materials by constructing large, three-dimensional sculptures. He designed environmentally-specific art installations in San Francisco, Europe and China. After completing the design, he would go on site and erect the installations, often in only a few days. “We renovated an old Victorian house when we first moved to Ithaca and actually got a Pride of Ownership Award without knowing it,” Bouché says. “They contacted me two days before giving me the prize. We were brand new in town. It was an amazing feeling. I grew up in a small village, so I have the feeling of a community, but I’d totally forgotten about it because I’d been living in big urban areas. Now I’m very involved in the community.”
Bouché’s eye for detail is evident in every aspect of the winery and in his winemaking. He is taking a very focused approach. Ports of New York products will be developed slowly, over time. Only two varieties of Meleau, his specialty port, will be made: a white (based on Muscat Ottonel grapes) and a red (based on Cabernet Franc). Currently, six barrels of each are aging, but only one barrel of each will be sold during this first year.
“A lot of people make wine, but very few people make port,” says Bouché. “This is a fourstage blending process,” he explains. “We use brandy from Finger Lakes Distilling on Seneca Lake and age it in a bourbon cask. Then we add the juice. Mark Wagner, from Lamoreaux Landing, has been very helpful.”
“Another interesting thing about this product is that I’m using honey,” says Bouché. Legally, because honey is an agricultural product, his wines must list this on the label. Bouché is happy to do so because it’s a sign of his commitment to quality well into the future. “Adding honey is a huge plus for the wine, although a big negative for the price of the wine,” he says. “But, it’s a natural preservative so it makes the wine last longer.”
Bouché’s winemaking roots run deep. La Maison Bouché was run by his family in Bordeaux and Normandy, France between 1919 and the 1980s. A hefty, well-polished piece of grapevine from Bordeaux hangs over the Victorian couch in the Ports of New York meeting room/office/museum, upstairs from the production area.
La Maison Bouché specialized in sweeter wines. Bouché has kept a few bottles of 60-70-year-old calvados from his grandfather’s winery, one of which may be opened this spring during the release of the first Ports of New York wines.
“I’ve been making wine my whole life for myself. A few years back, when this idea for a winery first started to bloom, I brought some bottles to a blind tasting,” Bouché says. “I got very good feedback and thought, ‘Maybe.’ Then New York State made it legal to sell retail directly through the Internet. That was a big change for me, because I don’t want to deal with a tasting room.”
Bouché envisions a new marketing system for Ports of New York. Rather than stand behind a tasting bar, he will collaborate with other facilities, such as the new Finger Lakes Wine Center near the Commons. Samples of Meleau wines will be available in small bottles, but Bouché is hanging his dreams on the Internet.
“I’m hoping to do most of the retails sales directly from the website,” he says. “I’m not interested in having a huge production. The maximum will be 60 barrels. What I really want to do is to be able to survive, even if it’s just a lifestyle. I want to make a product that I like to drink. That’s the most important thing.”
As a marketing tool, Bouché has created a New York Wine Sampler, presenting a boxed “wine flight to go.” In collaboration with Harvey Reissig, a Cornell professor, wine educator and wine judge, the sampler offers tastes of each year’s Finger Lakes wines in various categories.
“[Reissig] is going to judge which are the best four, say, of Riesling, and bottle them,” Bouché says. “So far, we’ve been having a fantastic response from the winery owners. People can buy four samples for the fraction of the price of one bottle and do their own tastings at home. And the wineries can send this to restaurants and stores very inexpensively.”
While Bouché expects to sell his products online, he hopes that people will visit his small shop on Taber Street. There they may talk with this engaging winemaker, see his “museum” of antique and historic French winemaking equipment and sample Ithaca’s own port. “The thing about coming here, the community was amazing,” says Bouché. “Everybody has been helping me one way or another. I think this area has a lot of potential.”
Frédéric Bouché stands in front of his new winery,Ports of New York, on Taber Street near the inlet.
He recently won a Pride of Ownership award for the distinctive building.
Photo by Aaron Munzer.
ITHACA -- It has taken Frédéric Bouché five years to build his dream Ports of New York winery from the shell of an abandoned house, but the ports he brews inside will make it worth it, he said.
The building, which juts off of Taber Street along the Cayuga Inlet, was built and remodeled largely by Bouché himself, and features a modern winery interior and an old-world style mahogany wood facade with painted lettering that is striking to passersby. Bouché recently won a City of Ithaca Pride of Ownership award for the work he's done on the building, which included using local and salvaged materials.
"I wanted the facade to be a reflection of the product," Bouché said. "It's old-world, with a certain quality to it, and there's no time constraint on how long it takes to make it. It's illogical how long it took to build it."
In addition to the years of physical construction, it took him more than a year to close on the property -- the only one available within the city that was zoned for use as a winery -- because the owner could not be located. When he finally reached the owner, he made a deal on the spot and started work soon after.
Bouché said a limited run of 500 of his fortified wines will be available starting in the spring at local liquor stores and online. He doesn't plan to have a tasting room, but he will offer tours and retail sales.
Guests will be allowed to peruse his small museum of antique wine-making equipment, much of which has been in his family for generations, since they started making ports in the Bordeaux and Normandy regions of France in the early 1900s.
"I'm trying to preserve my heritage as much as possible," he said.
And Bouché is true to his word, using antique distilling equipment to test the alcohol contents of his ports, and using old barrel tighteners on the wooden casks he ages his ports in giant pyramids next to the stainless steel fermenting vats.
"There's no reason not to use these things when they work so beautifully," he said.
He's also tried to make his operation as local as possible, buying grapes from Seneca Lake vineyards and juicing them himself, and purchasing the brandy he adds to the port to fortify it from Finger Lakes Distilling.
2010 PRIDE OF OWNERSHIP AWARD
Along quiet, hidden Tabor Street near the inlet, Frédéric Bouché has created an original business in an original building. From an abandoned house he has painstakingly built a small singular jewel, sheathed in salvaged architectural materials, which belies the clean modern interior that houses his winery, Ports of New York. Coming from a family with a long history of wine making in Bordeaux and Normandy, Frédéric has brought those skills to Ithaca and will be offering his first product of fortified wines in the spring of 2011. He has not only single-handedly crafted his product, but designed and constructed his space, bringing forth a new form both fitting its function and advertising its purpose. The winery, along with its small storage twin behind it, appears like a structure from another time, playfully referencing in its design the precedents of canal buildings and small town American shops and workspaces. The result is a picturesque flight of the imagination that befits its industrial and water setting as well as hints lightheartedly at the festive contents within.
Drawing by John Barradas