It’s a lively summer weekend day at Three Brothers Wineries and Estates in Geneva and the theme park-style complex is buzzing with visitors winding their way through several tasting rooms, a brewery and a coffee shop.
Among the popular attractions: a tiki hut-style building, ringed with grass skirts, serving wine slushies from a window.
Customers head to the courtyard’s Adirondack-style chairs to sip their slushies through straws from large cups emblazoned with the winery's logo.
Three Brothers embraces the icy-drinks trend — and they're not alone. Many wineries around the Finger Lakes and Rochester area do the same, though the approach differs from place to place, with some wineries offering recipes to promote sales of their wines, while others keep them as closely guarded secrets. And some wineries are jumping on an offshoot of the trend: drier versions, called Frosés.
While at a trade show around 2008, Three Brothers owner Dave Mansfield, along with Erica Paolicelli, a partner in the winery, spotted a small Texas-based company selling a powdered wine slushy mix, mixed in a blender. They brought a couple of cases back to the winery, where they mixed the sweet drinks in a countertop blender.
The effect was immediate. Three Brothers started mixing the drinks in slushy machines and ordering the mix by the pallet. After shipping costs became cost-prohibitive, the winery decided to make its own mixes, which gave them more control over the flavor and the quality of the mixes. A New Jersey company now makes flavorings, which are then shipped to a Newark company that adds sugar and packages to the mixes. The ingredients are natural, Paolicelli said; the coloring and flavors are from vegetable and fruit purees, which are mixed with cane sugar.
Now, wine slushies represent “a nice-sized portion of our business,” Paolicelli said.
People demanding the drinks so inundated its Passion Feet tasting room that the winery added the tiki hut in 2012 to separate the slushies from the wine tasting.
The winery is popular with bachelorette parties, which arrive in limos and party buses.
“You cannot avoid them in the Finger Lakes,” Mansfield said. The bachelorette groups do not tend to purchase bottles of wine, but they do purchase wine slushies to go, he said. Others purchase the slushies when they are done with tastings in order to linger and relax at the winery.
The winery now packages and sells its mixes at its own winery and other shops. It also sells its mixes in bulk to wineries in other states via a distributor.
“As a businessman, the opportunity is huge out there for our product,” Mansfield said. “For us it’s all part of our balanced portfolio.”
Another winery with a chill vibe, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, introduced slushies made with its iconic Red Cat wine several years ago.
"We never thought they really would go anywhere, but people just loved them," said Doug Hazlitt. The winery has served its slushies at the Great New York State Fair as well as at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival, and said the response was "unbelievable."
At its Hector, Schuyler County, winery on Seneca Lake, the slushies are served in a tropics-inspired pavilion called The Oasis, which also serves wine, beer and food on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Some find it to be a welcome break from another tasting on the wine trail, Hazlitt said.
At Miles Wine Cellars, the creative spark for serving a wine slushy was its stately, historic Greek revival mansion.
"We have an old house," said Evan Miles. "We don’t have A/C or anything like that.”
Looking for a refreshing beverage, it started making wine slushies about 12 years ago. The winery offers the recipes for visitors who want to recreate the beverages at home.
Wine slushies gain popularity
While a few different wineries lay claim to being the first to make wine slushies, there's no question that The Great New York State Fair dramatically demonstrated the potential for the beverages.
Merritt Estate Winery, a family-owned winery in Forestville, a hamlet in Chautauqua County, is credited for being the first to draw crowds at the state fair.
Christi Merritt, the late wife of owner Bill Merritt, came up with the idea of freezing a simple concoction of wine and "lemon lime pop," with a 5 percent alcohol content, in 1991.
“To the best of my knowledge that is the first one right there," Bill Merritt said.
At the state fair, its lines were known for being so long that they blocked access to other booths.
"We were called a slushery for a lot of years," Merritt recalled. "We’re all friends in this business. It was a tease more than a put-down.”
For roughly a decade, Merritt was the exclusive seller of wine slushies at the fair. “Then everyone said, 'Wow, look at the lines,'" Merritt said. "They bit the bullet and became a slushery, I guess," Merritt said with a laugh.
Merritt estimates that now, there are more than 50 places to buy a slushy at the state fair.
"Pretty much all the wineries around us sell slush, but we still do OK," Merritt said.
The winery has branched out to making a bottled wine slushy concentrate “designed for the American consumer who wants it right now, or soon," Merritt said. The product, available online and at many stores in Rochester, is added to ice and blended. The winery also hit the road with a slush bus last year; it serves slushies at events around the Buffalo and Fredonia area.
Lev Saltonstall, the second generation to run Treleaven Wines, in King Ferry, Cayuga County, remembers watching Merritt's lines at the state fair.
"The lines at their booths was unreal — 12 days of a line all day," he said. “It was the buzz of the state fair.”
While he saw other wineries start to jump into the icy pool, a barrier for the family winery on Cayuga Lake was the worry that slushies would hurt its brand, he said. He pointed out that the Finger Lakes aspires to become a great wine region, and places such as Napa and the South of France are not serving slushies.
Finally, he finally persuaded his parents, winery founders Tacie and Peter Saltonstall, to test the concept at their booth at the state fair.
"It’s time to bring in a new product line and find a clientele that we’re missing," he said.
Their popularity, as well as the margins, convinced them that wine slushies were a smart decision. They started selling the icy drinks at the winery's on-site music venue, away from its higher-priced vinifera wines. Together with the offerings of domestic beers and country bands, the winery is now seeing an entirely new demographic group, including men aged 35 to 55.
Next trend: Dry Frosés
Whereas Treleaven took a while to catch onto the slushie trend, its plan is to be among the first to take the beverage to the next level.
"I thought, 'This year, let’s bring frosé to the Finger Lakes, and more importantly the state fair,' " Saltonstall said.
The talk of the national food media in 2016, frosés are based on dry rosés, also a trend in the wine world. While the winery's offerings at the state fair have always been among the driest of the bunch, its frosé will be even drier.
The offering is a response to people requesting dry slushies at last year's state fair, which is not as easy to create as it may seem. If you just chill down a wine and it doesn't have a residual sugar, it will be an acid bomb, Saltonstall said. That's why the winery adds fruit juice, which brings a fruity character while lightening up the acidity.
Point of the Bluff Vineyards, on Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, introduced frosés for the first time this year. The recipe was developed by assistant manager Samantha Reed; it took her 15 tries to settle on the right blend.
"We all begrudgingly taste-tested," said Tasting Room Manager Brian Durnin, with a wry note in his voice.
The finished product is based on the winery's dry rosé, accented with a purée of local strawberries, fresh lemon juice and a little sugar, made to order in a blender.
"When it’s colder, you need more pungent flavors in order to taste it," said Reed. "That acidity is critical to carry through.”
Apogee Wine Bar on Rochester's Park Avenue started making a different wine slushy each weekend in the summer of 2016, and continued in the summer of 2017.
“They are popular, especially on hot days," said Simone Boone, owner.
Some people have questioned why Boone, a certified sommelier, would make the a beverage that has a reputation for being less sophisticated. Her response is that the wine bar uses good-quality wines and wholesome ingredients.
“It’s fun and it’s really refreshing on a hot day," she said. “Get your nose out of the air and try it.”
(DISCLAIMER: In the effort of full disclosure, an employee for WGRZ is a relative of Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards and Hazlitt's Red Cat Cellars, but did not participate in the production of this story)
The wine slushy trail
- Apogee Wine Bar, 151 Park Ave.; Fridays and Saturdays only.
- Hose 22 Firehouse Grill, 56 Stutson St.
- Hazlitt's Red Cat Cellars, 1 Lake Niagara Lane in Naples, Ontario County (former Widmer Wine complex).
- Brew & Brats at Arbor Hill, 6461 State Route 64 in Naples, set back behind the winery. Open Friday through Sunday, May through October.
- Point of the Bluff Vineyards, 10489 County Road 76 in Hammondsport, Steuben County.
- Stever Hill Vineyards, 3962 Stever Hill Road, Branchport, Yates County; served summers only.
- Ashley Lynn Winery, 827 Route 318, Waterloo (midway between Keuka and Seneca lakes).
- Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, 5712 Route 14, Hector, Schuyler County; slushies served in The Oasis party pavilion Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
- Magnus Ridge Winery, 6148 Route 14, Rock Stream, Yates County.
- Miles Wine Cellars, 168 Randall Crossing Road, Himrod, Yates County.
- Three Brothers Winery and Estates, 623 Lerch Road, Fayette, Seneca County, just south of Geneva: tastings in Passion Feet Wine Barn; slushy hut open weekends and some holidays.
- Americana Vineyards, 4367 E. Covert Road, Interlaken, Seneca County.
- Buttonwood Grove Winery, 5986 Route 89, Romulus, Seneca County.
- Lucas Vineyards, 3862 County Road 150, Interlaken.
- Montezuma Winery, 2981 Auburn Road, Seneca Falls.
- Swedish Hill Winery, 4565 Route 414, Romulus.
- Treleaven, 658 Lake Road, King Ferry, Cayuga County.
- Varick Winery, 5102 Route 89, Romulus.
- Merritt Estate Winery, 2264 King Road, Forestville.
- Great New York State Fair; Aug. 23 to Sept. 4; 581 State Fair Blvd., Geddes, Onondaga County.
Wine slushy recipes
1 cup Wisteria wine
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups ice
Mix all ingredients in blender for approximately 15 seconds.
Wisteria is a sweet, fruity blush wine made from Catawba grapes. It has 6 percent residual sugar. If you can't find it, substitute a similar sweet blush wine.
Peach Frosé, Apogee Wine Bar
Basil simple syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Several sprigs basil
Bring ingredients to a simmer in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Let the basil steep in the syrup for about three minutes, then remove the leaves. Cool.
½ bottle dry rosé wine
8 ounces frozen peaches
1 ounce basil simple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a blender with about 1½ cups ice. Blend until slushy. Serve immediately.