by Wayne M. Schutz
While enjoying a fantastic view overlooking Cayuga valley, I sat down with Nancy Tisch and Kit Kalfs to talk about the history of Bet The Farm Winery. “I wanted to run a retail shop that sold local wine and food, and in order to do that in New York we had to make wine or beer” said Nancy. Kit knew Lou Damiani of Damiani Wine Cellars, so Nancy went to do a tasting there in 2006 and asked Lou if they could use his facilities to make wine. Prior to opening in the Fall of 2006, Nancy had reservations, but Kit said: “Don’t worry, I’ll help you. You can bet the farm on it!”
Nancy was born in New York and at an early age moved to Rhode Island. There she went to college and received a degree in Medical Technology. After college, Nancy worked as a medical technician at a local hospital. In the 1980’s, she went on to get advanced degrees in the biosciences, culminating with a Ph. D. in Marine Biology. During the late nineties, she worked as a visiting assistant professor at Cornell, trying to get a permanent position there. Looking for a change which would bring stability to her career, Nancy took a job in 2004 at the Aurora Inn working as a front desk clerk. “ At the time, I was thinking of buying some property and opening a bed and breakfast. But after opening the E.B. Morgan house for them, I wasn’t convinced that was the right thing for me either.”
Kit grew up in southern Ohio and received a M.F.A. in Film from Ohio University. He worked in various laboratories doing film and photography work until the 1990’s. Kit was taking vacations for about six years in the Finger Lakes and in 2000 he decided he need a change of career. “I was looking for something new and decided I wanted to try and get into the wine business. I worked as a vineyard hand at Standing Stone and the McGregor harvest of 2000, then went to Sheldrake Point as a tasting room associate. I was the tasting room manager there for 12 years, from 2001 until I left in 2012.”
Nancy and Kit met via an online dating service. “We both worked in the tourism industry, and we traded notes about Finger Lakes attractions with each other” recalled Kit. “We both had a lot in common, like food!” said Nancy. “I wanted to do a retail store that sold both food and wine, and the easiest way to do that in New York state is to be a winery” she said. So in 2006 they had their first vintage: about 100 cases of Village White (a Cayuga White and Vidal Blanc blend), Franc Blanc (a white Cabernet Franc) and Pinot Gris. “We conceived of Bet The Farm as a place to fill a little shop that was available in Aurora”. That space would become the home of Bet The Farm for the next twelve years.
Until the end of 2018, they operated out of that store front, selling their wine, along with other NY wines, local cheeses, breads and other farm goods. Because they lived in Interlaken, they became aware of an opportunity to buy an empty cornfield between Trumansburg and Ithaca. “We had the site checked by an expert in vineyard site selection from Cornell, and found it was an optimal soil for growing grapes” said Kit. Kit and Nancy spent most of 2018 getting building permits, having their combination tasting room and production facility built, and planting two acres of grapes (one of Lemberger and one of Cab Franc). On Oct 13th, 2018, the ribbon cutting for the Big Blue Barn took place. For about three months, they operated out of both Trumansburg and Aurora, but they closed the Aurora location at the end of 2018. “It was bittersweet to leave the Aurora store, it was perfect for what we wanted to do. We met a lot of nice people an made a lot of good friends” Nancy told me.
At the Big Blue Barn. the tasting menu includes Cayuga White, Traminette, Pinot Gris, a Dry Rosé, Cabernet Franc and Dornfelder. Also available are a Chardonnay, a Blanc De Blancs, a Riesling, Que Sera, Sera (66% Dornfelder & 34% Cabernet Sauvignon), a Dornfelder and a Twice Noir (a Pinot and Gamay Noir blend). “We’re currently, producing about 1000 or more cases” according to Nancy.
Bet The Farm has two wine clubs: “FLX Sampler” and “The Farm Exclusive”. The FLX Sampler includes curated wines from other Finger Lakes Wineries in addition to Bet The Farm selections. “Our wine clubs are great deals for everyone, our members get some wonerful wines at great price, free tastings for up to six people and access to our member only events, and we get great feedback from our members on new blends and varietals” said Nancy.
“We are planting another two acres of Gamay Noir this year. Gamay is our favorite grape” Kit said. Gamay Noir, a relative of Pinot Noir, is used in the “Twice Noir”. The vineyard is known as the “Jacob Thomas Vineyard” in honor of Kit’s father, who ran a lumberyard and hardware store. The plan is to have some estate reds beginning in 2020.
Soon, local cheeses, crackers, nuts and chocolates will be for sale at the tasting room along with a cheese plate. According to Kit: “Well be setting up a nice area outside, with a walkway and patio. It’s a really great area for having a glass of wine and a cheese plate and enjoying the view”
In addition, now that they have the space, they will be offering a series of classes taught by Kit and Nancy (as of this writing, the next class is Sensory Perception of Wine on April 7th, check their website for additional classes).
Bet The Farm is located halfway between Trumansburg and Ithaca on 4204 Krum’s Corners Road in Trumansburg, 607-387-6548. There website is https://betthefarmny.com/