Man makes wine in the hills

Man makes wine in the hills

Winery and vineyard opens in northern Saratoga

By ALYSSA JUNG
junga@spotlightnews.com

What started as something of an experiment turned into a hobby, then a passion and finally a full-time job for Gary Akrop when he opened Ledge Rock Hill Winery in the Town of Corinth in May.

“I did a sampling toward the end of last year but the winery wasn’t complete,” said Akrop.

What makes Akrop’s winery unique is that he actually has a small vineyard where he grows some of his own grapes. While still fairly small, he has plans to steadily grow it.

“The vineyard is small at this time, I planned a block on a hillside overlooking the mountains to see if the vines can handle the cold weather and they have, so this is the first year I’ll be getting the full yield,” said Akrop.

The grapes he grows are a hybrid, a French-American variety, and he uses them to produce a Marquette exclusive to his winery.

“I partnered with a vineyard in the Finger Lakes that grew these grapes and was able to get an early start on making wine from them and at that point I realized the future potential of this grape as well as other hybrids,”
said Akrop.

Akrop’s approach to winemaking is a mix of innate skill, curiosity and science.

“My background is in chemistry and I’ve held various technical and management positions within the industry,” said Akrop. “Wine started as a hobby to an interest in chemical analysis of the wine itself and it progressed from there.”

Before permanently settling in northern Saratoga County, Akrop and his wife spent the better part of 20 years making wine at an amateur level in the Hudson Valley. Akrop has sourced grapes from all over California throughout the years and when he started winning awards and medals, the thought of turning his obviously  successful amateur stint into something more.

“I was perfecting the level of my winemaking skills to enhance the grapes that I received,” said Akrop.

Winemakers have been in his family for years, said Akrop, which might account for his ambitious interest.

“My philosophy is that it’s a heritage in winemaking. My grandfather, my wife’s all made wine at some point and things were handed down that needed to be taken to the next level,” said Akrop.

Wine making is comparable to cooking, said Akrop.

“Anyone can buy a cookbook but not everybody can be a chef. It’s the same in winemaking; anybody can make wine but not everybody can make wine well,” said Akrop.

The winery is broken up into a tasting room in the front area that has a rustic feel and a wine production and barrel storage area in the rear of the building.

Akrop said he takes special care when choosing the barrels wine will age in and doesn’t rush the process, just to get it to market.

“Mine takes upwards of two years at least,” said Akrop. “I specialize in red wines and all of my reds are barrel aged a minimum of 10 months.”

His time frame means that right now, 2009 vintages are available to purchase and 2010 will be released toward the latter part of next summer.

“I’m not concerned about the quantity of wine I produce, I’m more concerned about the quality of the wine itself. I’m very specific in the aging process and the type of oak I use in the barrel,” said Akrop.

There are only six varieties available at Ledge Rock Hill Winery. There’s a Chardonnay, an old time Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Marquette and a sweeter wine he calls his Mountain Lakes variety.

He might offer popular varieties but Akrop said his wine stands apart from many others because of the grapes and the care that goes into producing it.

“What makes it unique is the quality of the grapes. I work closely with partner vineyards that are very selective in how they grow their grapes and treat their grapes along the way,” said Akrop. “I hand pick the grapes, they’re not machine harvested, and they’re hand sorted before they go in the crusher.”

Akrop said when receiving grape shipments from California, the crushing and stemming is done on site in Corinth. The fermentation step is temperature controlled and the pressing of the grapes is “light, not harsh
or heavy” so as not to interfere with the taste of the wine.

When he fi rst put his winery plan into action, Akrop said he debated making a higher volume of wine or sticking to what he specialized in. Showcasing his talent won.

“I specialize in making the type of wines that I’ve become known [around the country] for making and that’s more of a complex wine,” said Akrop. “It takes more time, more effort and ultimately doesn’t lead to more volume but it leads to attracting attention of the more refined wine consumer.”

Akrop also flip flopped between selling his wine to restaurants or to the general public.

“I originally proposed the winery up here to be a winery that provided premium quality wine to premium quality restaurants within New York State,” said Akrop.

The tasting room was originally going to be a destination for chefs to sample new wine releases.

“What happened through my test opening last year is that the response was pretty over whelming. People liked the fact that it was a winery in a somewhat remote location and appreciated the fact that I would be using my own grapes at times,” said Akrop.

So it was catering to the public fi rst and restaurants second, said Akrop.

“I’m still going to keep my focus on quality over volume but the interest … from restaurants inside and outside the area has been increasing,” said Akrop.

The winer y is open Fridays from 6 to 9 p.m. and wine tastings are held on the weekends from noon to 7 p.m. and by  appointment. Tours will be given sometime next year and Akrop is more than happy to talk to anyone
about the winemaking process, he said.

Ledge Rock Hill Winery is located at 41 Stewart Dam Road in Corinth. For more information about visit www.lrhwinery.com or call 654-5467.