[Marti and Tom Macinski, Standing Stone Vineyards / courtesy of Marti Macinski]
Marti Macinski, Co-Owner/Winemaker of Standing Stone Vineyards is on a mission to move into the history of the future, with the great vineyards of the world, while bringing deserved recognition to the new world-class wines of New York’s Finger Lakes Region. Twenty years ago people may have laughed at the thought of the Finger Lakes defining itself through its Rieslings and Gewürztraminers, but not Marti. She and her husband, Tom, had an unwavering belief and vision in the historic vineyards they purchased in 1991 and knew what they tasted in the terroir. Tying it altogether to create wines that Wine Spectator has consistently ranked highly since their first crush in 1993 only proved to others what the Macinskis already knew: that they have some of the best dirt to grow grapes. You can hear the smile in Marti’s voice as she shares candidly that their big egos and belief in assured success drove them forward.
Meet Marti, an attorney-turned-winemaker who understands the allure of the romance and glamour that follow the wine industry, but is refreshingly frank as she shares the “dirty” and hard work part of owning a winery. Stop by the vineyards during bottling and you’ll likely find her climbing the ladders of the tanks, tossing around the hoses and brushing off what she calls her mechanic-looking hands filled with the grime of working in the best dirt around.
RS: What was your “A-Ha” moment when you knew wine was going to be your career?
MARTI: It was more of a “we” moment with my husband, Tom. Tom was working as a quality engineer for IBM and I was an attorney. We were both workaholics who loved working and talking about each other’s work, but we wanted to work together. Our moment came while we were using up our frequent flyer miles on Pan Am Airlines for a long weekend to San Francisco for food, wine and fun. We were going to do a single day trip to wine country. So, we’re traveling in first class, drinking bubbly and we looked at each other and said, “Why don’t we do a wine business?” We didn’t just jump in. We came back and spent the next two years researching things. We wanted to be sure we understood what was involved and that we really wanted to do this. Wine was a big part of our lives, so we just decided to make it a bigger part.
[Courtesy of Marti Macinski]
RS: How did the name Standing Stone Vineyards come about?
MARTI: We bought the vineyard to create a business, so we wanted a strong business name. Our name Macinski is a Russian name, which can sometimes be in and sometimes out, so we wanted something that would stand up in history. After researching the local area, we discovered that the Oneida Indians believed that if you found a standing stone, you found perfection. We thought that was kind of cool and paid homage to the history of the land.
RS: How did you become the winemaker?
MARTI: I am the winemaker now, but. I wasn’t originally. The thought had been Tom’s background would lend to winemaker and I would do the marketing and sales side of the vineyard. We’ve had several assistant winemakers throughout the years, but as we threw me into the winery full-time first, I became the winemaker. Tom kept his job with IBM until 2006, when he joined me full-time.
RS: What is your favorite part in the winemaking process?
MARTI: Harvest. When we’re just getting started it’s incredibly exciting. It just feels like pure, raw potential. We just finished growing the grape, they’re just right and taste great. To be able to work 20-hour days consistently and smiling the whole time just means we love what we do.
RS: Do you have a grape varietal you prefer to work with?
MARTI: That’s like asking me if I have a favorite child. These are all my children, so I can’t pick. It’s interesting in a young wine industry, which the Finger Lakes still is, as I think all young industries start off making too many wines. They inherently aim for the tourist market, so they start off trying to have something for everyone. We’re really trying to mature now as were in our 20th harvest this year. If you look at the European models, they seem to focus more on a few varietals, but the hard part of focusing is deciding which of our children we cut out of the line. It’s just hard. This year I’m feeling warm and fuzzy with our Riesling, but last year I was feeling like they were my problem child that we had to really work with for success...
RS: What do you feel women bring to the table in an industry that’s been mostly run by men?
MARTI: I was raised in an interesting era by a feminist mother, and the net effect of that on me is to almost deny that there are differences. If the world is working properly and women have their place, then there shouldn’t be a significant difference between woman and men operating anything; in the wine cellar, the vineyard, sales, etc…I think this is healthy for the industry as a whole. I guess if anything is different from, say 20 years ago, it’s the way people are buying wine. They used to typically listen to the male wine writer telling them how to drink and what to choose. Wine is a big part of business, which men have always been a part of. Also, I think people are more adventurous in their wine choices. Women also buy more wine now than ever before and the upcoming food and wine generation are much more interested in the various avenues of wine than my generation was.
[The Macinskis at the beginning, 1990s / courtesy of Marti Macinski]
RS: What would be one piece of advice you’d give to a woman entering the wine industry?
MARTI: The problem with a career in the wine industry is that is sounds very romantic. But it’s very physically hard work. That’s not to say a women can’t do the physical work, but you have to really talk to people in the industry, both female and male to have a real understanding and appreciation of what they do day to day. Then you need to ask if this is really what you want. If you’re scientifically minded and are fascinated by the winemaking and blending, then you should work for a bigger winery. If you like the image of working outdoors and being part of the process from the dirt to the glass, then you better like wearing long underwear and working in a small winery. In small wineries we don’t have all the fancy equipment. We were bottling the last two days and I think I went up and down the ladders 75 times… My hands look like a mechanic after two days of bottling because when you’re moving wine and hoses you’re physically cruddy a lot of the time. It’s kind of liberating for me because as a little girl 40 years ago, I was brought up to be clean and pretty. Maybe that’s part of the fascination for me. You have to really think about where your heart is, where your mind is….
RS: What do you think attributes to your consistent high 80’s & 90’s ratings with Wine Spectator Magazine?
MARTI: I’ll give credit to Wine spectator itself. James Molesworth came out to the area in the early 2000s for an article about wine across America and they gave a lot of attention to every state, including the Finger Lakes. I remember joking with James when he was here that he must have drawn the short straw having to come up to the Finger Lake region. Now, he’s a senior editor and covers Bordeaux and is obviously an important writer who still has our beat. I think he has really helped shape the Wine Spectator view. He spends a lot of time coming to the area almost every harvest and knows who is seriously investing in there vineyards and wine. Some of us are in this to see how far we can push the limits. We have good dirt—really good dirt—that was proven by research in the 70’s and were growing more than most ever expected back then and pushing the envelope. We’re proud that our ice wines are getting higher scores than most others in the Finger Lake region.
RS: What is an ice wine, exactly?
MARTI: Real ice wine started as a mistake. There was a bad freeze in Germany and the grapes froze before they could be picked. Some person, a crazy visionary perhaps, went “Let’s throw them in the press and see what happens.” When you press frozen grapes, you get intensely sweet juice. It also has higher than normal acidity. If you ferment it properly, it will make a very rich, lovely and sumptuous dessert wine. Thanks to climate changes a lot of us have started picking late in the harvest, freezing commercially and then finishing the process to create these wines. If you do it right, the outcome will be a sweet wine that is incredibly balanced so there’s a delightful play of sugar and intense varietal flavors with a bright acidity that ties it all together and almost makes it sparkly. Not like a sparkling wine, but the effect is more of an everfessent pop in your mouth.
RS: Is there a women in history, real of fiction that you relate to most?
MARTI: I don’t know how to answer that. A common thing I’m saying is that our historic vineyards are making the wines of the future. Maybe we will be some of the people in the future that people point to and say “wow they really had a vision, they saw the possibilities in the Finger Lakes.”
To learn more about Standing Stone Vineyards and wines, visit the website, like them on Facebook or follow Marti on Twitter. Join us at WineTable today, follow me and together we’ll continue to discover the fabulous stories of the women who are making the future history of wine.
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