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Cultivating a Family Enterprise

By Ahren von Schnell | Photos by Jessica McCafferty

When people hear the term “wine country,” what often comes to mind is the sunny, rolling hills of California, reminiscent of a warm and relatively dry Mediterranean climate. Yet, right here in Northern New York, a region famed for its winter sports, the notion that viticulture is limited to balmier conditions is being turned on its head. In the last decade or so, numerous small, independent wineries have taken root in the Adirondack region, capitalizing on the area’s reputation as a tourism magnet.

Yet, an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit is not the only driver of this flourishing of local vineyards. A strong community of vintners in the region is raising the profile of local wines, making them one more reason for visitors to come here. Highlands Vineyard, owned and operated by Lindsey and Ryan Campagna, is one notable example helping to cement the North Country’s reputation as a producer of fine wines, locally grown and fermented, that can rival the best on offer from Napa Valley.

Schoolteachers by trade, the Campagnas moved back to the Adirondacks after spending time teaching in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. When the land the winery now occupies became available, the opportunity to create a picturesque landscape, cultivated as a family enterprise, was too appealing to pass up. In fact, this has been one of the business’ core values, with the couple emphasizing, “Creating something together with family has been our most important driving force.”

They began purchasing farmland on Highland Road in Keeseville and reclaiming the overgrown fields. In 2012 they laid down their inaugural vines and spent six years tending them before opening the winery in 2018. Initially, they purchased grapes from the Finger Lakes region for their winemaking, but as the business grew, they focused on moving to a wholly estate grown, processed and bottled product.

They also make use of the ever-growing winemaking community in the North Country, “The winemakers are very open to share just about anything. Other area winemakers, and winemakers in the Finger Lakes, are helpful in troubleshooting any wine questions we have had.” Rather than seeing other growers as competitors, the Campagnas view them as partners who help to create and maintain a vigorous synergy, benefiting the entire region. With the market for winemaking influenced by local tourism, there is a collective benefit to producers in seeing the industry as a whole be successful. As the North Country further develops a reputation for quality vineyards, the greater the draw for wine enthusiasts who are likely to visit multiple wineries while vacationing in the area. In addition to the overall economic benefits brought to the Adirondack region. Highlands Vineyards and other local wineries are key players helping to define the burgeoning agritourism sector in Northern New York.

With both working full-time, their success is even more remarkable since they operate the vineyard largely in their free time with help from family. And each member of the family has his/her own little niche in keeping things running smoothly.

Ryan particularly enjoys tending the vines, while Lindsey thrives on the creative aspects of managing the business, such as designing the wine bottle labels that adorn the brand. Frank is always happy to assist with brainstorming solutions when problems arise, Kathy and Terry are great at keeping up morale, and Randy takes the lead on meeting the landscaping needs of the vineyard.

It’s a good thing they have all hands on deck. As they both are quick to observe, there’s no such thing as a typical day when it comes to running a successful vineyard on the side, all the while juggling multiple responsibilities. The harvest season is particularly frenetic, demanding most of their attention, but there is hardly a day that goes by that doesn’t see the family inspecting and caring for the vines, maintaining the fencing encompassing the vineyard (necessary to keep out uninvited deer and pilfering raccoons), restocking the winery, and doing other preparation for the coming week.

But it would all be for naught if the word didn’t get out about the serene atmosphere to be found there. Fortunately, the vineyard, nestled on a verdant hillside overlooking Lake Champlain, is preceded by its reputation as an idyllic retreat where visitors or busy professionals can decompress and savor the scenic beauty of the region. To wit, the Campagnas observed they incur very little by way of marketing costs, finding word of mouth and social media to be adequate in keeping a solid customer base.

Notwithstanding the ease of marketing such an appealing venue, they emphasized that determination and innovation have been keys to their success. This is an especially salient point, as they do not have any outside employees, being solely a family-run operation. This allows them to ensure that their wine is crafted to the highest quality standards. And as producers of a distinctive, novel product, such as their maple syrup wine, they know its success will be only as robust as the standards it is held to by its makers. The Campagnas’ innovation doesn’t stop with wine though, as they have also branched out to the crafting of artisanal maple syrup, sourced from their own nearby sugarbush. Moreover, the vineyard itself, as an in-demand venue, is its own commodity. With its blissful scenery as a backdrop, weddings and other important events are sure to be memorable.

Taking all of this into account, the family is still diligently laboring to develop its business further. While they have no current plans to scale up the size of their operations, they do aspire to offer services that will complement what is already available. In time, they hope to have a pavilion constructed to enhance the events they host.

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Campagnas have their hands full, given all they have accomplished, but they are quick to observe, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” A true enough adage. It can also be said that Rome appreciated the value of a well-tended vineyard. With Highlands, the North Country is in illustrious company.

Highlands Vineyard 1092 Highland Road Keeseville, NY 12944 518 836-5355

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