“We are proud to be one of only a handful of vineyards on Skaneateles Lake,” Christopher Bodell (who goes by Chris) tells my wife Alice and me about Lot 10 Vineyard as we taste wine his wine with him and his partner Alicia Tsai.
The vineyard’s name is a nod to the tracts of land granted as commissions to the soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. Chris can trace the ownership of his property back to Colonel Nicholas Fish, an officer who served under George Washington and who first “drew” this lot back in 1791. “For us, naming the vineyard Lot 10 ties it to the history of the region and the actual parcel of land on which the vineyard was planted. We also like how the word “Lot” has a connotation to wine, and the number “10” to excellence.”
In 2013, Chris and Alicia purchased the 18½ acre property located on the east side of Skaneateles Lake (which includes their beautiful private residence). In 2015, they planted the vineyard, and in 2018 had their first harvest. According to Chris, the site has certain attributes that make it ideal for growing premium vinifera grapes including its soil, slope, proximity to the lake, north-south row orientation, and latitude.
Out of the 18½ acres on the property, just over seven are under vine. That includes about 3½ acres of Riesling (the same clone but in two different blocks, one at the highest altitude on the property, and the other at the lowest), 2½ acres of Pinot Noir, ½ acre of Cabernet Franc, and ½ acre of Grüner Veltliner. Since both Chris and Alicia have full-time jobs, they subcontract out the lion’s share of vineyard management work.
“One of our most gratifying moments since breaking ground on the vineyard occurred when Susan and Tom Higgins (of Heart and Hands Winery on Cayuga Lake) surprised us with a single vineyard designation bottle of their Pinot Noir made from Lot 10’s grapes,” recalls Chris. The Higgins, who Chris and Alicia say offered invaluable advice early on, took a chance on Lot 10 by purchasing its Pinot Noir in 2018. “It was a magical moment for Alicia and me, finally seeing the literal fruits of our labor manifested into a finished wine.”
After that and based on other feedback they received on their grapes, Chris and Alicia decided to hold back some Riesling and bottle it under their own label—Smallholdings. “The name is a British term for a small farm that produces primarily for self-subsistence,” says Chris. “We wanted it to exemplify the same scale and small batch production as our single vineyard wine.” Working under a custom-crush arrangement, first with Tom Higgins and subsequently Peter Weis (of Weis Vineyards), in 2019 they produced just 43 cases of Dry Riesling followed by 140 cases of Semi-Dry and Dry Riesling in 2020. In addition to the 84 cases of Riesling produced from the 2021 vintage, they pleaded with Peter to make a small batch of Cabernet Franc from a limited harvest that year which they expect to release in 2023.
“Holding that first bottle of our 2019 Smallholdings Riesling was a singular moment,” says Chris. “I’ve spent most of my life working in finance where the work-product and deliverables are intangible, so to actually be able to touch, smell, and taste something that took years, really a lifetime, to make a reality was a dream come true for me.”
Chris was born and raised in Southern California and studied Economics at USC before attending graduate school for Accounting & Finance at the London School of Economics. He claims to have experienced a “quarter-life crisis” a few years later resulting in a sabbatical which included enrolling in the “professional wine studies program” at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa, California. “I had recently turned 30 and was wondering how I might fuse my finance background with my passion for wine.” He then moved to New York City where he met Alicia, his next-door neighbor.
Alicia is from Taiwan. “I came to the United States to attend school and spent two years in Boston before moving to New York to explore a different path,” Alicia tells us. She eventually pursued her interest in fragrance, returning to school to study Cosmetics and Fragrance at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City where she earned a Bachelor of Science. After working six years in the industry, she founded Aerangis, a company that specializes in personalized fragrances,including through scented candles.
“After more than a decade in New York City, we decided we needed space and started exploring options outside of the City. When we landed on a lake, in a wine region, with land that had the potential for a vineyard, we said ‘this is it’ and put a stake in the ground,” said Chris. “We immediately fell in love with the bucolic countryside and myriad artisans that populate this region, especially those specializing in wine, cider, beer, distilled spirits, cheese,and virtually any other agricultural product. We wanted to be a part of it all given our own passions and thus Artisans and Curators [the parent company] was born.”
Like many in the wine industry here in the Finger Lakes, Chris and Alicia relish the area because of the sense of camaraderie: the feeling that everyone, especially those in agriculture, is in it together and helps each other out. “We love the community here, being in the countryside surrounded by dairy farms, pumpkin patches, corn fields, apple orchards, vineyards, etc.,” says Alicia. “We just attended the local fire department’s pancake breakfast this morning and were reminded once again how appreciative we are to be a part of this community.”
Recently, Chris and Alicia’s 2020 Smallholdings Dry and Semi-Dry Rieslings were awarded silver and gold medals from both the New York Wine Classic and New York International Wine Competition. Their wine bottle also took first place in Wine Business Monthly’s annual package design competition. “We went with a minimalist design to be eco-friendly yet elegant, eliminating the need for foil or excess paper stock while emphasizing the small batch nature and quality of the contents,” says Chris.
Chris and Alicia admit that Lot 10 and Smallholdings are very much works in progress; that they have had more challenges than they ever expected to; and that, in many ways, they are over their heads. But they say they are having fun, learning more and more with each vintage,and are excited to see where this adventure continues to take them.