Six miles south of Geneva along State Route 14, where the beauty of Seneca Lake is at its closest points adjacent to the highway, steep hills climb to the west, remnants of a land scarred and remade by the long march of geological time and unrelenting glaciers. As you traverse the Finger Lakes, there are certain locations where you feel the weight of history intertwine with the land. In these locations, you physically sense that geology, culture, tribes, and families have become permanently embedded with the story of this land. The Kashong Conservation Area, with Kashong Creek and Kashong Glen and a small surrounding area, is one of these locations that speaks to the observant soul.
Kashong was named by the Seneca Tribe of Native Americans, the earliest known inhabitants of the area. Kashong, as translated from the Seneca language, refers to a creek of two branches. The stream, glen, and surrounding lands were sources of many species of trees needed for building shelter, transportation, and tools. Herbs and nut trees provided food and medicinal resources, and game and fish were also abundant.
EvEven as European settlers entered the area and displaced the Native Americans, Kashong Glen offered immense natural resources. For a short time, Kashong Creek was renamed Sawmill Creek, as its powerful flow in rainy seasons assured a constant course of energy to operate many mills. By 1802, at least three sawmills and a grist mill were operating within one mile of Kashong Glen, using the waterfalls of Kashong Creek to power the burgeoning business of development in the frontier of the Finger Lakes region.
In a poem written in 1892 by August T. Barnes, one of the heirs of the original European pioneer settlers intimately tied to the Kashong, Mr. Barnes paid homage to Kashong Glen, thus:
All over these rocks wherever we clime,
Is plainly engraved the footprints of Time.
Science hath gathered a bountiful store,
A harvest rich, and varied, of unwritten lore,
Reaching beyond keen human ken,
And ages beyond the Historians pen.
For Kashong Glen Vineyards, a beautiful 5-acre Riesling and Cabernet Franc vineyard owned and managed by the father and son team of Jim and Mike Colizzi, their story and path to grape growing begins with a fig tree. Today Kashong is the home of one of Bellangelo’s newest suppliers of superlative fruit.
“Some of my earliest memories,’ Mike recounts, ‘are of visiting my great-grandfather, and looking at his garden. He lived in Geneva, and was probably the only person in town to ever successfully grow figs.” Figs are not an especially cold-hardy fruit tree, particularly in a place like Geneva, where temperatures can easily reach -10° F in the winter.
According to Mike, “Each year, he [Great-grandfather] would head down to my dad’s furniture store to gather up all the plastic sheeting and furniture blankets he could find. He’d wrap the tree to insulate it for the winter.” The insulation shielded the tree from the harsh winter allowing it to produce fruit the following year. This attention to detail, this passion for plants, seems to run in the genes of this family with its rich Italian heritage, including some who still farm lemons and olives in Italy.
Mike has worked for the Cornell Cooperative Extension in several capacities. In his employment in the field with the Finger Lakes Grape Program, he served six counties in the Finger Lakes, spanning the area between the Lake Ontario shoreline and the Pennsylvania border. On any given day, he travelled many miles, seeing growers and visiting vineyards, developing a sense of the entire region. He’s had the opportunity to see many different ways of doing things, to evaluate what works well on certain sites and what doesn’t. Mike currently works for Cornell University in the Grapevine Breeding and Genetics Program. Achieving this success was a long road, however, and one that begins where so many great stories about the Finger Lakes begin: a meeting with Scott Osborn and a job at Fox Run Vineyards.
At only 14 years old, Mike had been offered the opportunity to spend the summer months around the winery and vineyards, working wherever an extra hand was needed. He had begun the year determined to work hard in high school and then head off to college to study civil engineering, but before long he was consumed by a passion for the vineyard, and determined to become a grape grower.
By the time Mike was a senior in high school in 2005 he wanted to establish his own vineyard. He and his father decided to establish the vineyard on their beautiful east-facing slope. When it came to choosing varietals and planting the vineyard, Scott again proved instrumental by helping to choose the best clones for the site, the best rootstock for the soils, and sourcing the vines from the Herman J. Wiemer nursery.
After graduating high school and determined for a career in grape growing, Mike set out for SUNY Cobleskill, where he would study plant science and earn a degree. His tenure at SUNY Cobleskill led him to a six-month internship with Windsor Oaks Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma, California. Windsor Oaks is known for its ultra-premium vineyards, which are the source of fruit for 36 high-end California wineries. The vineyards are all hand-worked, with no machines ever entering the vineyard.
Upon his return Mike worked for one year at Herman J. Wiemer, assisting with vineyard maintenance and growing the fruit used to make some of the region’s best wines. Mike’s practical vineyard experience with legendary vineyards from two very distinct regions led to his steady hand in the vineyard and his creation of a style of grape growing unique to Kashong Glen. As Mike puts it, “My philosophy of grape growing is less intervention, letting the vines naturally balance themselves. I think of a vine, and it has a box in its row. It has its own little space and you want to manage it so that it doesn’t want to grow larger than the box you have created for it. You can manage this through bud counts, and weed or grass competition for water and nutrients. I rarely hedge, drop fruit, or take shoots off. I don’t have to do that because they grow in their own box and max out their growth by themselves naturally.” This philosophy leads to other natural approaches, including a self-imposed prohibition on spraying herbicides, and the use of sheep in the springtime to control the grasses and naturally fertilize the vineyard.
Ultimately, it is the combination of the hard work that Jim and Mike put into the vineyard, and the absolutely unique terroir of the site that yield such exciting wines. The Native Americans in the area used to have a camp along the Kashong Ravine that they favored because throughout the winter the gully would draw the cold air out of the area, and in the summer it would bring cool air in along Kashong Creek. The unique airflow of the site contributes to an additional moderating effect.
The soils consist of shallow limestone glacial till resting atop a bedrock of Middle Devonian shale. The average depth of the soils at the site is 12-18 inches, but in some places can be as shallow as six inches. According to Mike, one of the problems with grape growing in the Finger Lakes is that many sites have deep fertile soils. This is fine for cultivating row crops, but may result in grapevines being too vigorous. Grape vines must suffer a little, after all. Less productive sites, with shallow soils, are excellent for growing mineral-driven, dense Riesling. In a sense, it is another element to Mike’s box theory, as the grower will end up with smaller vines that naturally require less intervention