Willy K Frank, a Finger Lakes vintner whose wines were often rated among New York State’s best, died on Tuesday at the age of 80.

Frank died in his sleep in Naples, Florida, while on a business trip whose purpose was to increase sales of wines produced in his facililty on the Rhine-like heights above Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes wine region.

While a leading and frequent prize-winning winemaker in his own right, Frank was the son of Dr. Konstantin Frank, a World War II refugee from the Ukraine who was largely responsible for revolutionising winegrowing in the eastern United States.

Konstantin demonstrated that classical European vinifera grapes could be successfully grown despite harsh winters in the Finger Lakes region, in west-central New York.

Until Konstantin proved his point by growing his own grapes, conventional wisdom held that only native-American labrusca grapes like Concord, Niagara and Delaware and French hybrids like Seyval Blanc and Maréchal Foch could succeed in the lakes area.

The still wines carry the label Dr Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, which was founded by Willy Frank’s father in 1962 near Hammondsport NY. Willy Frank also founded Chateau Frank, a separate label and facility that specialised in sparkling wines.

Willy Frank continued his father’s work in growing vinifera experimentally and making the wines. The business will be carried forward by Frederick Frank, Willy’s son and president of the Vinifera Wine Cellars.

It’s 80 acres, producing 40,000 cases annually, are well-known for such cool-climate grapes as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Rkatsiteli, a major Russian vinifera, and Pinot Noir. The wines are carried in 30 American states, Frederick Frank said.

As gauged by its more than 220 wineries, New York is the fourth most important winegrowing state in America. Most of the wineries grow vinifera because of the legacies of Konstantin and Willy Frank.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York