Wendy Oakes Wilson was pleasantly surprised when she learned late last week that a bottle of her Orleans County wineries ice wines would be part of a friendly wager between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his California counterpart Gov. Jerry Brown.
The bet between the two state leaders was made over the Stanley Cup Final, pitting the Los Angeles Kings against the New York Rangers.
“It’s the strangest experience,” said Wilson, president of Leonard Oakes Estate Winery. “I know the governor has tasted ice wine before, but I had no idea we’d be part of this. I hope the Rangers win, but at the same time I hope we get some New York wine out to California.”
Should the Rangers lose, Cuomo’s gift basket would include a bottle of Leonard Oakes’ 2011 Vidal Blanc ice wine, one of two ice wines in the package, the other from a Schuyler County vineyard. Cuomo also is putting up a hockey cup commemorating a “hat trick” of three on-time budgets in a row.
Wilson’s ice wine that would be included in Brown’s prize is a “labor of love,” she explained. The wine follows set standards by the Vintners Quality Alliance and must be a maximum of 14 degrees Fahrenheit and frozen on the vine for a minimum of four hours. In that amount of time the sugars in each grape are concentrated into minimal juice.
“We picked this vintage on Jan. 3, 2012 starting at 4:30 a.m., which was the coldest part of the day,” Wilson recalled. She added the grapes had shrunken in the cold so much so that they were “almost raisins.”
Western New York is one of only a handful of regions worldwide that can produce ice wine. “It’s truly an extraordinary product and is very rare, and that must be why it’s included because you can’t make a wine like this in California,” Wilson noted.
Being included in the governor’s gamble is “pretty humbling” but also is a nice feather in the region’s cap, Wilson said.
“This is something good about living in cold climate,” she stated. “We can celebrate our region, because sometimes we forget what a wonderful breadbasket we live in here...other areas of the country may be jealous of what we can grow.”
She added how nice it was to be included as part of a package with other “cool products” including another regional favorite: Anchor Bar Buffalo Wing Sauce. Also in the basket, Long Island-harvested oysters, Clinton County maple syrup and hot Italian sausage from Onondaga County.
“It’s really humbling to get that respect from someone so high up, especially since we’ve only been producing wine since 2006,” Wilson said.
Brown’s wager wasn’t quite as appetizing as Cuomo’s. Brown offered up a California history book and a pack of lightly salted brown rice cakes.