Local Couple Named Winery Co-Owners
Waking up to see frost on the grass this week made most people grab their heavier coats. But the abrupt change in temperatures made Kathleen and Albert Zafonte, Jr. of Garden City grab for their phone.
"We had a frost warning on Long Island this week, but upstate they were bracing for a possible freeze," explained Kathleen. "I called my sister and she reassured me that everything was OK."
The weather upstate is of particular concern to the Zafontes because they recently became co-owners of Fox Run Vineyards, located between Penn Yann and Geneva, New York on the west side of Seneca Lake. The winery was owned by Kathleen's sister Ruth and her husband Scott Osborn, along with another partner. Kathleen and Albert decided to invest when the partner decided to sell his interest in the business, and they officially became co-owners on January 9.
"Now it is a real family-run business," Kathleen said proudly during a telephone interview this week with The Garden City News.
The Zafontes moved to Garden City in 1995 and Albert works as an attorney with a private practice in Uniondale. They have two daughters, Alexandria, 21, and Gabrielle, 17. Kathleen, a stayat home mom, has taken an active role in marketing the vineyard's wines locally and in the metropolitan area.
Kathleen and her sister attend several food and wine shows every year, and most recently had a display at the Chocolate World Expo held at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. They are awaiting approval to participate in the Farmer's Market, which is held on Tuesdays beginning in June through November at 101 County Seat Drive on the Garden City/Mineola border.
Kathleen said she and Albert learned much about wine over the years as they frequently visited her sister and family. Her daughter Gabrielle developed such an affinity for the area that she plans to attend Hobart and William Smith Colleges, which is located not far from the winery in Geneva, in the fall.
Kathleen and her husband take day trips to the wineries located on the eastern end of Long Island. They have also taken trips to California to visit vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Their love of wine has taken the couple as far as the Tuscan region of Italy.
However, Kathleen says their appreciation of finer wines was really cemented during a tour they took one year of the Finger Lakes wineries. There are more than 60 wineries located on Seneca Lake alone. Kathleen lists several reasons why their winery stands above the competition: since the winery has been in business more than 20 years (it was owned by Scott Osborn prior to his marriage to Ruth), it has become one of the most well-known in the Finger Lakes region. She also notes the exceptional wine quality and variety offered. Another interesting note: along with head winemaker Peter Bell, the winery employs Tricia Renshaw as assistant winemaker. Kathleen says it is uncommon to have a female in that position.
Currently the wine can only be pur- chased on Long Island at Empire State Cellars in Riverhead (the list of sellers on the Web site is currently being revised). Garden City residents may soon be able to enjoy their wine at local restaurants as Kathleen has been introducing their product to local restaurateurs. She said many restaurants in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn include Fox Run Vineyards bottles on their wine lists.
Even though the Zafontes live 300 miles and more than five hours away from the winery, Kathleen is in frequent contact with Ruth. Weather is always one of the topics discussed, as extreme temperatures can damage or ruin the vines on their 55 acres of plants. This week's cold snap could have proven disastrous for their crop as some vines had started to bud due to the early spring, but luckily no damage was incurred.
The Zafontes have grown to appreciate how much is involved in owning a winery. "It is a lot of work," Kathleen says. "It is like being a farmer. You have a field of crops that you have to cultivate and harvest." She says her brother-in-law starts his day at 5 a.m. and the winery is open seven days a week and closed only on a few holidays.
The Zafontes take several trips to the vineyard during the year, and make sure they are there on the first full weekend in August when the vineyard hosts its largest event, the Glorious Garlic Festival. The 20th annual festival will be held this year on August 4- 5. Even though the weather was rainy at the 2011 festival, more than 10,000 people attended.
For more information, visit www.foxrunvineyards.com.