In 1865, the year Cornell was founded, a winery that would become an iconic force in the Finger Lakes opened for business. Located on Keuka Lake, Urbana Wine Company rapidly became known for its sparkling wines made from native grapes such as Catawba.
With the onset of Prohibition in 1920, the winery continued as a producer of sacramental wine. After the law was repealed, Urbana hired French winemaker Charles Fournier. He became president of the company in 1951, and in 1953 he met a man who would forever alter the history of Finger Lakes wines: Dr. Konstantin Frank. Frank had been in charge of replanting a 2,000-acre vineyard in Ukraine to vinifera grape varieties prior to coming to the U.S. in 1951. Soon after his arrival, he took a job as a field worker at Cornell’s Agricultural Experiment Station in nearby Geneva.
Frank’s English was limited. He was able to explain to Fournier, in French, his background as a viticulturist. He insisted that if vinifera grapes such as Riesling could thrive in Ukraine, they surely could flourish in the Finger Lakes. The two joined forces to create an experimental planting. In 1960, the renamed Gold Seal Winery released its first vinifera wines. Fournier would remain with the winery, which was eventually purchased by Seagram, until his death in 1983; it closed the following year.
Frank founded his own Vinifera Wine Cellars on Keuka Lake in 1962, only producing wines made from vinifera grapes. In the future, many would follow in his footsteps—including his son, Willy, who in the early Eighties created Chateau Frank, dedicated to the production of sparkling wines.
Konstantin’s grandson, Fred Frank ’79, now runs both operations. Assisted by his daughter Meaghan Frank ’11, Fred has taken the sparkling wines of Chateau Frank to new heights. His 2008 Blanc de Noirs is a beautifully balanced wine with a lovely texture, its complex fruit flavors underscored by an intriguing toasty note.
This year, it is appropriate to reflect on the impact our Cornell experience has had on our lives. With a glass of Chateau Frank in hand, drink a toast to the past, present, and future of a great university.
Dave Pohl, MA ’79, is a wine buyer at Northside Wine & Spirits in Ithaca.