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New Scout Vineyards winery has big dreams of staying small

Tracy Schuhmacher
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

SENECA LAKE — He was studying geology and hydrology, and planned to be an environmental lawyer. She was studying biology and chemistry and planned to be a doctor. But when you attend college in the Finger Lakes region, it’s easy to get lured by the local wine industry. And that’s what happened to Daniel and Oliva Budmen, both age 27, who now own Scout Vineyards, a new winery in the Finger Lakes. 

Scout Vineyards is at 468 Route 14 in Penn Yan, overlooking Seneca Lake.

Their change of plans took them halfway around the world and into a whole different way of life than what they had initially envisioned.

They met on their first day of senior year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. By then, Daniel had completed an internship as a vineyard scout in Napa Valley and had changed his aspirations from law to wine. “To put it lightly, I got bit by the vineyard bug,” he said. 

That year, he worked the harvest at Anthony Road Wine Co. on Seneca Lake and got a chance to observe some of the winemaking process. He shared what he was learning about wine chemistry with Olivia, and she found it interesting. He brought wines when they had dinner together, and soon she was bitten by the same bug.

After graduating, they headed to Napa Valley, where he worked in vineyard management for Constellation Brands while she worked in hospitality and in the cellar for White Hall Lane Winery.

Daniel Budmen presents a wine for tasting at Scout Vineyards.

After that, they headed to New Zealand, where they worked as vineyard scouts. Olivia worked for an independent grower, and then joined the winemaking team at Kim Crawford, which is owned by Constellation Brands. Daniel also worked for Kim Crawford, in vineyards were almost entirely devoted to the region’s famed Sauvignon Blanc. One day he was working in a block growing a different variety, and he tasted them. They were delicious. “We couldn’t get enough berries in our mouth,” he said.

They reminded him of the Chardonnays that grew in the Finger Lakes. Sure enough, he later learned that they were Chardonnay. That experience sparked a desire to return to the Finger Lakes to focus on wines using that grape

After eight months in New Zealand, they returned to the Finger Lakes in 2016. Olivia worked for Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard as cellar master, while Daniel worked at Kemmeter Wines for two years. Kemmeter Wines is a small boutique winery owned by respected winemaker Johannes Reinhardt, who manages the vineyards, makes the wines and leads the tastings along with his wife, Imelda.

Olivia Budmen presents a wine at Scout Vineyards.

“We would not be where we are today without him,” Daniel Budmen said of Reinhardt.

Scout Vineyards plans a similar approach, focusing on creating a premium product. “Our whole goal is to stay small so that we can manage this with our families,” he said. It’s a relatively uncommon approach in the Finger Lakes.

“I definitely have great respect for this young man,” said Reinhardt, Daniel’s former employer. “What’s exciting on my end is that he cares so much for the vineyard.”

His sense is that Budmen will focus on the best possible wine he can make. “They certainly will do very well,” he said.

The Budmens purchased an organic farm overlooking Seneca Lake in 2018 and added drainage. Next, they planted a series of crops to stabilize the soil and add nutrients. They plan to plant an acre each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in 2021. 

They named their winery Scout Vineyards to reflect their first jobs in the industry, and also because it conveyed the idea of exploration.

They are pursuing their dreams while also working at full-time jobs. Daniel is co-winemaker and vineyard manager for Villa Bellangelo in Dundee. Olivia returned to school in 2017 to become a science teacher; she teaches middle schoolers in Hammondsport.

The wines include unusual ones

The Budmens made their first wine under their own label—a Chardonnay—in 2017. In 2018, they added Pinot Noir. In 2019, they added Riesling, Marquette (a hybrid developed by the University of Minnesota) and three sparkling wines: a traditional method Muscat Ottonel, a traditional method sparkling Vignoles and a Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc.

“We call ourselves modern traditionalists,” he said. “If we want to make better wine, it all comes from the vineyard.”

Their approach to winemaking is generally hands off and takes inspiration from the traditional Old World approaches found in Europe.

In cooler vintages, Chardonnay will be in the style of Chablis, a region in France that produces dry wines with more acidity and less fruity flavors and are usually unoaked. In warmer vintages, his inspiration will be the buttery, complex wines from places like the Montrachet region in Burgundy, France.

Oak-aging is done in new, custom-built, 600-liter French oak barrels made by a cooperage in Cognac, France. The larger size imparts less oak and preserves the delicate fruit from the Finger Lakes grapes, he said.

The 2020 vintage — which promises to be exceptional for the region because of the warm, dry growing season — will bring several wines that are unusual for the Finger Lakes and will likely pique the interest of wine aficionados. It will include three single-vineyard Chardonnays, off-dry Pinot Blanc, Petite Sirah and a Vignoles Pét- Nat. An Alsatian-style blend will include Riesling, Muscat Ottonel and Pinot Blanc. A Riesling collaboration will include half Finger Lakes fruit and half Hudson Valley fruit from Fjord Vineyards.

The Marquette grape will be used in a rosé as well as a Marquette Nouveau made using carbonic maceration in the style of Beaujolais Nouveau. And like the fruity French wine that celebrates the end of the harvest, the Marquette Nouveau will be released the week before Thanksgiving. 

Wines may be purchased at the tasting room or shipped within New York state.

Collaborations and community

The Budmens plan to use their expertise to benefit students at Olivia’s school in Hammondsport. They plan to add a vineyard there to help students from the region have a head start on learning how to grow grapes. 

They also partner with a different young female artist each year. They feature her work on that year’s label, and they offer the artist’s work for sale at the winery.

Visit Scout Vineyards

If you have any interest in learning about wine, having a chance to talk to a winemaker is almost always an interesting and illuminating experience. 

That’s why a visit to Scout Vineyards is a treat. Daniel and Olivia Budmen lead the seated tastings. Without getting overly technical, they give a brief overview of the vintage and the techniques used in each wine, and they’re happy to answer questions. 

The small tasting room is set up with three tables, each of which can accommodate a maximum of six guests. In addition, its outdoor patio, which overlooks Seneca Lake, has three tables.  

The wine and food pairing includes five releases, paired with a food plate, for $15 per person. A recent visit included the 2017 and 2018 Chardonnay, 2019 Riesling, 2019 Marquette and 2018 Pinot Noir. Wines are also offered by the glass or the bottle. 

The winery is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations are required. Reserve online at scoutvineyards.com.