John Martini, carving Anthony Road’s path

How much has the world changed during John Martini’s nearly four decades in the wine biz?

“My son Peter is the vineyard manager,” said Martini, owner of New York’s Anthony Road winery. “When he was growing up, you couldn’t even get him to change a hubcap. Now there are no hubcaps. 

Pretty much everything has evolved mightily since John and Ann Martini planted their first grapes in the Finger Lakes region. John himself has added several chapeaus to what he still considers his primary vocation, farming. “I’m the sales guy, the ambassador, the bill payer. 

As for Peter: “He went to Clarkson and majored in beer,” John Martini said. “When he got out of college, he had all the answers, and I knew he was wrong. Now he’s right about half the time, but he’s a smart kid. 

An even bigger evolution has taken place on his home turf. In 1973, New York state had 18 wineries, and most of the grapes were French-American hybrids sold to Taylor to make native port and sherry. “After Coke bought Taylor, we started watching the market disappear, so we had to get out or go deep. So, in 1990 we started to grow vitis vinifera [European grapes]. 

Foremost among them, then and now: riesling, followed by (in no particular order) pinot noir, pinot gris, cabernet franc, lemberger, gewürztraminer, merlot and vignoles. They’ve about given up on cabernet sauvignon. “We took it out,” Martini said. “You could get it right two years in 10. Cabernet franc does better.

As for riesling, “I don’t see anything on the horizon that will take its place. We’re going to learn how to grow it better; 15 years ago we were worried that it didn’t taste like it should. Slowly we realized ‘let’s let the grapes shape the wine.’

“Just as Oregon has been riding the pinot noir horse, we’re gonna ride the riesling horse. 

That’s not the only reason that a dozen years ago, Martini hired a German as his winemaker, even if it is a good reason.

“Johannes Reinhardt’s family had been making wine since 1438. It’s hard to get a-hold of that kind of experience,” Martini said. “Johannes likes to experiment, and I support that. In 2009 we did our first dry yeast fermentation. 

The wines are quite tasty, especially the herby but juicy and refreshing Cab Franc 54%-Lemberger 46% and the clean, focused Dry Riesling. Martini said Reinhardt “really likes the potential of the vignoles,” a grape that generally produces a floral, slightly sweet but crisp wine.

While Martini enjoys the farming (he sells some of his grapes, including 20 tons a year to a Brooklyn winery), he seems mighty comfortable doing that ambassador thing, for his winery in particular and our favorite beverage in general.

*With wine, women get more beautiful, men get more handsome, and everyone gets smarter,” he said. “And it can’t just be the alcohol. It has to be the association with friends and family. Look at the French and the Italians. They’re not exactly known for making war.”

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