Wineries from all over the world enter their wines in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition each year, but the Finger Lakes wineries have a special place in the hearts of those at Camp Good Days with their never-ending support. David Peterson, the President and Co-Owner of Swedish Hill, Goose Watch, and Penguin Bay Wineries in the Finger Lakes region, has been entering wines since the first year of the competition.
“I grew up working in my family’s vineyard, which is now the site of Swedish Hill,” David said. “At that time, there was no vision of a winery; my dad just loved the grape growing part. I was interested in plants in general, which led to me majoring in Plant Science at Cornell University. This led me to get more interested in the science of growing and led to getting a MS and a Ph.D. in Plant Physiology, specializing in grapes while getting my Ph.D. I got involved in a graduate student and faculty wine tasting group during that time. This was in the early 1980’s when the small farm winery movement was just getting started in the Finger Lakes. I talked my Mom and Dad into starting a winery while I was in graduate school, although I moved out of the area to work in grape and wine research and extension in Missouri and later came back to New York in a similar role for Cornell in the Finger Lakes. In 1996, I joined the family winery, Swedish Hill, and helped to open our second winery, Goose Watch, in 1997.”
What is your history with the FLIWC?
We have entered the FLIWC since its inception. FLIWC is a nice competition for us to enter as it is local, yet international in scope. Being local, it also gets a lot of recognition and press in the Rochester market. As soon as the results are released, we see a bump in sales in Rochester stores of any of our wines that win gold medals. It also supports a great local cause.
What is your role at Swedish Hill, Goose Watch, and Penguin Bay?
My wife Jean and I now own and operate the 3 wineries, so we wear many hats. My area is oversight of the winegrowing and winemaking, although we have very good employees who are involved in managing those areas. I am very involved in decisions regarding planting of new varieties, ideas for new products, and I also do all of our grape contracting with about 15 different growers. This involves visiting each of these contract growers multiple times each year and I work with the winemakers on making harvest timing decisions. In addition, I oversee our sales away from our tasting rooms, in other words, the arrangements with our distributors and ultimately wine shops and restaurants. My wife more directly runs our office and oversees the tastings room, although there is always overlap. At times, we are involved in every aspect of the business.
What do you like about working with wine?
To me, wine is more interesting than many products as it’s not so much a commodity as most things that people produce. There are so many factors that go into producing it—soil, grape variety, weather, human interaction in both the vineyard and the winery—these factors have such a profound influence on the final product. Wine is also something that brings so much enjoyment and entertainment to people.
Do you have a special memory from a past FLIWC?
Well, we have won a number of awards over the years. I think the very first year we were the only double gold medal winner for Riesling, which is a big deal considering the quality of the local Rieslings.
The Finger Lakes International Wine Competition continues to grow each year, and so far this year, about 10% of the wineries that have entered are new wineries! The support of both new wineries, and long-time supporters like Swedish Hill, Goose Watch, and Penguin Bay help to ensure the success of the competition, and the longevity of Camp Good Days.