Local Winery Owner Explains Process

Grapes on vines
Wine grapes grow at Colloca Estate Winery. Photo by: Kassadee Paulo

FAIR HAVEN – From college athlete, to chiropractor, to inventor, to CEO, to the owner of a winery, Chris Colloca has always had a taste for wine. 

The owner of Colloca Estate Winery was introduced to his passion for wine by his brother during his senior year at Ithaca College.

As he drove from his hometown of Oswego to Ithaca, he always admired the picturesque vineyards he would pass. The site stuck with him throughout the years following his time at Ithaca.

After his education and he began working, he was able to begin investing into cases of wine to add to his collection.

After that, his passion continued to grow through the years as he opened his own practice as a chiropractor in Arizona, as he invented a chiropractic tool used worldwide and founded Neuromechanical Innovations, and as he traveled around the world.

During his travels – about 200,000 miles per year – to train other chiropractors how to use the tool he invented, he has always made an effort to visit the vineyards in that country. He also has been able to use his travels as inspiration for his vision here in New York.

He decided to move back to the area he grew up in with seven older siblings, Oswego County, and get started on building the winery it is today.

“After I had children, it really impacted me. I really missed home,” Colloca said. “I wanted my kids to know their New York family and I wanted my family to know the kids.”

A brick building
The tasting room invites guests to try Colloca’s wines.

His family visited Oswego every summer for a few weeks, escaping the hot summers in Arizona. After years of searching for the right property, he bought the first part of the current estate in Fair Haven from SUNY Oswego in 2008, and then he was able to buy four other parts to piece the land together to 103 acres. This brought him one step closer to his dream of having his own vineyard. 

He began building the vineyard in 2009 and he knew it would take three years for the fruit to grow, giving him time to prepare. The tasting room opened in the fall of 2014.

He learned the process of creating a successful vineyard from a program at Cornell University

What Went Into Creating The Vineyard:

  • Seven mile drainage pipe under the vines
  • Buy 13,200 grafted grapevines to avoid phylloxera, a plant louse that kills vines, and other supplies
  • Annually clip the vines back as they establish a root system
  • In the wintertime while the vines are dormant, prune the vines and train them on a trellis 
  • Buds begin to form in April or May then produce shoots, which the grapes grow on
  • Cut off some shoots to allow for a better quality of grape clusters
  • Tend to vines 10 to 12 times per year
  • Pull off the leaves that cover the fruit to allow for more sunlight on the grapes
  • Harvest the grapes
  • Destem, crush, ferment and process the fruit to make the wine
  • Bottle close to a year later
  • Begin pruning again to prepare for the next year’s harvest

A unique part of the process that Colloca takes advantage of is the lake effect from Lake Ontario. He had seen the effect the Finger Lakes has on wineries west of Oswego County, and figured since Lake Ontario is so much bigger, the effect would be magnified. 

“What we have here is the perfect storm of terroir,” Colloca said. “We have glacier dug soils and rich minerality, beautiful clay, soils.”

Terroir is the natural environment in which wine is produced. These factors include climate and soil type. Colloca said the winds help to prevent mildew from forming and keep the vines aerated. 

“The lake effect keeps the vines warm in the wintertime and cool in the summertime,” Colloca said.

This helps the vines to survive the winters and the grapes to maintain acidity levels because they are able to cool off at night.

Colloca entered a New York Wine & Grape Foundation wine competition in May, where he said his three types of Riesling scored 93, 94 and 95 points, which is considered excellent. Colloca Estate Winery was chosen as the 2019 New York Riesling Winery of the Year in the New York International Wine Competition.

Colloca credited this success to the lake effect, the winemakers and the winery’s commitment to quality over quantity. 

Their Late Harvest Riesling also won Best of Class in the New York Wine Classic. He said he is proud of these accomplishments because the judges did not know where the wine came from, and they deemed it as the best.

The property, which includes 900 feet of waterfront, although focused on creating wine, also is open to the public. 

The estate offers a venue for weddings and other events, live music and festivals. Colloca said he will be adding an event center for these occasions to protect against cold, rainy weather. He said down the line he would like to open a cabin or a lodge.

The winery will be holding a Harvest Festival Oct. 5, where attendees can pick grapes, go on an estate tour, experience a wine tasting and other activities.