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The Face of NY Agriculture

Kris Kane
21 Brix Winery
Portland, NY
It's a multi-generational grape farm that produces 17 different varieties of grapes.
Kris Kane

Can you describe your farm?

It is a multigenerational grape farm located along the Lake Erie shoreline in Chautauqua County.  There are 17 different varieties of grapes that Olde Chautauqua Farms grows consisting of both vinifera (ie: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Gewürztraminer) and natives (ie: Concord, Niagara and Fredonia) in addition to a U-pick cherry orchard and asparagus patch. The 350 acre farm is one of the largest in the county.

Why did you choose to expand your family’s operation to include a winery?

Farming was not a true passion for me and my heart was not completely sold on this. I actually went for my undergraduate degree in Biology/Pre Med since I was planning on becoming a Chiropractor and Massage Therapist. When I returned back to the farm after graduating, I worked for a year in the vineyards. I felt as though it was job and not a true passion in which I saw myself working in for decades. However, I was interested in the chemical aspect of the grapes and the winemaking side. In this capacity, I am able to take the grapes from our farm and turn it into an end product, which can be enjoyed by many people. In the end I have found my true passion and still have a role with the farm.

What is your role at the vineyard?  

My job in the actual vineyard is minimal. I discuss and work with my father, Mike Jordan of Olde Chautauqua Farms, to decide on which grape varieties to plant and when each variety should be harvested. As far as a physical vineyard presence, it is minimal. The winemaking job takes up much more of my time!

How do you incorporate technology into your operation? 

Technology is incorporated into our operation so that it helps to streamline our production and to make work time more efficient. This might consist of purchasing state-of-the-art equipment and connecting all of our tanks to a central glycol system to regulate temperatures during the fermentation we control this with an app that allows us to control the temps at a push of a button remotely. This gives us full access at the most critical times of the process.

Social media technology has played a large part in the advertising of our winery and creating a presence in the region as one of the newer wineries in the Lake Erie Wine Country area. Our POS (Point of Sale) system has enabled us to create a Loyalty Club for our customers so we’re able to stay connected with people who visit us and continue to gain popularity.

What is the biggest challenge facing agriculture in New York State?

One of the biggest concerns facing agriculture has to do with labor issues. From the discussions about overtime pay for farm labor to not having people in younger generations or millennials entering the agriculture field it’s concerning. This is something that we as agriculturalists need to put to the forefront to keep ag moving forward.   

My other concern and challenge I see facing New York Ag and Ag in general is how it pertains to the non-agricultural community. The way we communicate and tell our story about what we are doing on the farm, how and why we are doing the particular practices in the fields etc. and how this affects the food they are consuming.   The message can become garbled and twisted at times and that concerns me.

What is the biggest opportunity?

The diversity of what the state offers in terms of agriculture, ranging from dairy to craft beverages is a big attraction for the entire ‘shop local’ initiative. People have become more involved and concerned about where their food is coming from. With the range of products being grown in our ‘backyard,’ it’s exciting to see the interest in consumers in supporting local businesses.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love that in my line of work each day presents a different set of tasks, challenges and opportunities. No two days are alike since some days I’m working on making wine, other days I’m at the desk toiling with business paperwork while other days I’m able to be on the road promoting my business.

I like that I’m in a craft beverage market in that consumers are seeking us out and that they are looking for a great experience. Many people come to the winery looking to learn more about the winery and what we’re doing. I love sharing my passion and my love for the industry and region with others.

How do you anticipate your grape harvest will yield this year with such a hot and dry summer?

In the bulk juice grapes (including Concord and Niagara), I anticipate the drought to impact these varieties more so than others. Berries will be smaller and will not be as juicy, therefore affecting juice and yield, the sugar and flavor will be more intense just not as much volume. In regards to vinifera varieties, including Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, this weather has been great. I would actually prefer this type of dry heat since their flavor profiles will be more intense and we’re anticipating a good balance of sugar and acid in these grapes and reaching optimal maturity.

Will the drought impact your vines and yields for future harvests?

Yes, it will because the fruiting potential for the following year is based upon the current year. Being that the vine has been a little stressed with more focus on the fruit than on the leaves and new bud wood I’m anticipating a smaller crop in the subsequent years due to the drought conditions of this year. We have been irrigating our vines to help reduce the stress which will hopefully aid in production for the following year.

Why is Farm Bureau important to you?

Farm Bureau is important to me since they look out for New York State and Federal agriculture and the field in general on an international scope. They help keep farmers informed with policies that could affect us in the future and help to tell the story of the farmer. By telling the story of the farmers and putting a spotlight in the farmers, it’s helping to spot the local industry. They look out for the best interests of people involved and raised in the agricultural field.