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Kelby James Russell launches winery in New York’s Finger Lakes region

Acclaimed winemaker Kelby James Russell has launched a winery called Apollo’s Praise in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes region.

Russell has spent the last 11 years making highly-rated wines at Red Newt Cellars and Empire Estate, located on the east side of Seneca Lake.

He decided that the time was right to launch his own venture, so he purchased Lahoma Vineyard from grower Ken Fulkerson in April.

The 8ha Lahoma Vineyard is located just three miles away from Red Newt, but it is on the opposite bank of Seneca Lake.

Russell has now unveiled Apollo’s Praise, which will produce wines including Riesling, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner and Cabernet Franc.

His wife, Julia Rose Hoyle – the winemaker at Hosmer Winery – will serve as his ‘co-conspirator’, although she will retain her full-time role at Hosmer.

‘This project is a dream come true for me,’ said Russell. ‘After 11 fantastic years at Red Newt, it is time for me to write my own story with Julia, from vineyard to bottle.’

Russell was born and raised in the Finger Lakes region. He left to study at Harvard, with a focus on orchestra management, and he never planned to return to the area.

However, winemaking pulled him back, and he has worked at Red Newt since 2012, gaining a reputation for creating powerful Rieslings and exuberant Cabernet Francs.

Apollo’s Praise is named after a song he performed with the Harvard Glee Club as an undergraduate, highlighting his twin passions – wine and music.

‘It’s been obvious how much this farm has meant to Kelby, and how much he has meant to establishing the reputation of this farm,’ said Fulkerson, who is staying on for a year as an advisor. ‘I keep telling him I can’t wait to come back in years to come and see where they’ve taken it.’

They have already had to deal with unprecedented spring frost, which ravaged the Finger Lakes region just as the vines were at their most vulnerable.

Russell, who plans to release his first wines from the 2023 vintage, said: ‘We wish there were more grapes, but we’re going to make people sit up and notice with the wines we do get to make.’

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