Owner, Knapp Winery
In 2015, the Finger Lakes Region was named by Wine Enthusiast Magazine as one of the “Top 10 Wine Travel Destinations in the World.” Similar accolades have been bestowed by the New York Times, Wine Spectator magazine, Yahoo Travel and many others. Local wineries have built solid reputations from international wine competitions and consistently receive top awards. By every account, the Finger Lakes is a premier winemaking region -- just like the industry’s founders envisioned.
Gene Pierce remembers when the area once proudly called itself the “Black Raspberry Capital of the World.” As a young boy working on his family’s farm, Gene learned valuable lessons and proper techniques to sustain the delicious cool-climate crop. By the 1960’s, farmers like the Pierce’s began growing grapes at the behest of a handful of the region’s biggest (and only) wine companies. Grapes became the preferred cash crop for small farmers looking to supply the seemingly endless juice needs of the wine giants. Eventually, the black raspberry market disappeared.
After graduating from Cornell, Gene found work at a large fruit farm and was given the opportunity to showcase his skills and expertise. His contributions and innovations positioned the farm for tremendous growth and peers began to take notice of his pioneering ways.
By the mid-1970s, consumer tastes and corporate changes took a toll on the region’s big wineries. They began to drastically cut back on their grape orders to local suppliers – forcing growers like Gene and others to create new markets for their product in order to salvage their investments. With passage of the New York Farm Winery Act of 1976, grape growers could now establish wineries of their own and sell direct to the public.
Looking to seize the opportunity, Gene and a handful of partners founded Glenora Wine Cellars in 1977. It was the first winery to open on Seneca Lake. Together with Dr. Konstantin Frank (Keuka Lake), Bill Wagner (Seneca Lake) and others, Gene is part of a collection of individuals commonly referred to as the ‘Pioneers of the Finger Lakes Wine Industry.’
Their efforts helped pave the way for the industry’s extraordinary growth and development. “If I looked back to 1977, I would have never envisioned the growth of the wineries,” Gene offers. “I get a kick out of the fact that the waterfalls, lakes and natural scenery have been here for centuries but the wine industry is really what created awareness for our region.”
Most visitors to the area have probably experienced Gene’s influence on the local wine industry even if they aren’t fully aware that they have. It is almost impossible to find someone connected to a winery that isn’t linked to one of Gene’s winemaking operations. Gene also owns Chateau LaFayette Reneau (Seneca Lake) and Knapp Winery (Cayuga Lake). Knapp is the first winery to plant and produce the Cabernet Franc grape. It was also the first winery restaurant on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail.
“I believe that in the future, as the local wine industry continues to mature, the Finger Lakes will be widely recognized for the significant contributions it has made to the world’s viticulture.”