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Finger Lakes pioneer Bill Wagner dies

Stanley A (Bill) Wagner, a major pioneering Finger Lakes vintner, died on 26 June aged 83.

Wagner founded Wagner Vineyards, on Seneca Lake, in 1979, three years after seminal state legislation provided incentives for creating New York’s modern wine industry.

The estate’s 250 acres contain every category of grape that traces New York’s long wine history, starting with winter-hardy native fruit, transitioning through laboratory crossings and culminating in the so-called vinifera revolution.

The 50,000-case production comes from native grapes like Delaware and Niagara; hybrids like melody and Cayuga white, developed at nearby Cornell University; other crossings like Seyval Blanc, Vignoles and Vidal; and such vinifera as Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Catering mainly to New York’s upstate population, Bill Wagner produced more than 30 types of food-oriented wines, many with a populist appeal and sold at low prices, from 20 types of grape.

Sweet, off-dry and dry Rieslings have been standouts.

He designed a striking eight-sided wood-faced winery, which quickly became a tourist draw. So did its adjacent, spacious Ginny Lee Cafe, opened in 1983.

Both provide some of the region’s most breathtaking long-distance views. In 1997, the property added a microbrewery, the Wagner Valley Brewing Company.

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Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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