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03/27/2012

Faculty Member’s Wine Book Earns Top Honor

The story of a young, mom-and-pop Finger Lakes winery recently received international praise in Paris, a city where food and drink writing is considered literary art, thanks to an award-winning work by a SUNY Cortland communication studies professor.

Seasons of a Finger Lakes Winery, a 2011 non-fiction book by John Hartsock, took home a first-place prize out of more than 1,000 entries from 162 countries at the international Gourmand Awards. The ceremony, held at the Folies Bergère on March 6, celebrated quality writing about fine food and beverages.

Hartsock’s book won in the lifestyle category for drinks writing.

“I was so sure I wasn’t going to get (the award) that I sat in the balcony,” said Hartsock, a SUNY Cortland faculty member since 1997. “I was stunned.”

An avid wine taster, he said the book was as much about returning to a previous career in journalism as it was writing about Finger Lakes Rieslings. Prior to instructing college students, Hartsock wrote for small newspapers along the East Coast and a Washington, D.C., wire service.

“I never intended to completely give up journalism,” Hartsock said. “I kept my eyes open for a story and, because I do like wine, because we have this marvelous resource of wineries nearby and because I met a local couple who owns one, slowly I started focusing in on this idea.”

Hartsock’s human-interest story traces the changing seasons at Long Point Winery, a young business operation situated on Cayuga Lake in Aurora, N.Y. The winery, which opened in 1999, is owned by Cortland residents Gary and Rosemary Barletta.

John Hartsock
John Hartsock, a professor of communication
studies, took home a first-place prize at
the international Gourmand Awards in Paris
on March 6.

Hartsock put more than five years of research and observation into the book. When it was finished, the text encompassed more than just wine tasting; it was about a budding business that faced some setbacks and enjoyed several triumphs in its early years.

“There was so much that I learned,” said Hartsock, who made a half-hour drive twice a week to the winery. “I just can’t narrow it down to one thing.”

Gary Barletta taught him plenty about the maturation process of wine.

“You could tell that the longer (the wine) aged in oak barrels, the better it was,” Hartsock said.

He saw grapes crushed and the juice slowly ferment. He also witnessed the wrath of Mother Nature. During one winter, a warm spell allowed vines to bud. A deep freeze followed, and many Finger Lakes wineries suffered.

“Still, you could see each year, they were getting a little more successful,” Hartsock said. “It was wonderful to see a local couple slowly bring about this dream.”

Hartsock eventually accomplished his own goal when Cornell University Press signed on to publish his manuscript. The 200-page book earned him a trip to Europe, where he won the award and enjoyed a mini-tour of France.

He lectured at the Festival du Livre Culinaire and shared some of the best wines from the Finger Lakes with a French audience, keeping in mind its high expectations and a storied beverage-producing past.

“They’ve been making wine for thousands of years, which is a considerable head start,” he said.

Some semi-dry wines proved too sweet for French taste buds, but a bottle of Cabernet Franc, a very dry wine with good acidity, exceeded their expectations.

“They were enthusiastic,” Hartsock said. “They were surprised that a winery so young in the Finger Lakes could make such a good wine.”

Not surprisingly, the author celebrated his recent award with a glass of wine.

“The French are into wine and food in a way that’s difficult for Americans to appreciate,” Hartsock said. “For them, (writing about wine and food) is considered literary art.

“So to receive the award there, of all places, made it special.”