Philip Maguire sells cars. He is president of Maguire Family of Dealerships in Trumansburg and Ithaca, N.Y., dealing in dozens of car brands including Audi, Ford and Volkswagen. But a new business has recently occupied his attention and that of his wife, Nicole: Maguire Family Vineyards.
Though neither of them has a background in agriculture, they purchased 400 acres in Lodi, N.Y., four years ago. The Finger Lakes region has long been prized as prime grape-growing land. The Maguire’s land is no exception. But the family didn’t seek the land initially with the idea of starting a vineyard.
The property’s features made Phil Maguire “fall in love with it,” he said. “It’s a beautiful piece of land from a real estate point of view.”
Much of the property is wooded and it features 2,500 feet of Seneca Lake frontage. The Maguires rent the lake home through Finger Lakes Premiere Properties. A local Amish family farms 100 acres of the rich soil for crops. The Maguires partner with Doyle Vineyard Management based in Hammondsport to manage their 75 acres of grapes.
“It started as a real estate investment and ended up as an agricultural pursuit,” Phil Maguire said. “It’s been educational. The best lessons are learned the hard way.”
Nicole Maguire, a real estate broker, was “dragged into it kicking and screaming,” as Phil Maguire put it. She had recently given birth to the couple’s first baby.
Family ties of another sort changed her mind. Nicole Maguire’s sister, Heather Wilcox, who lived in the Chicago area, had just started a family. Heather Wilcox’s family wanted to move to the Finger Lakes, so joining forces in the vineyard business seemed a good way to stay busy without having full-time hours.
The previous owner had been in the business 30 years and stayed on one season to help the family get into the business. Along the way, the Maguires have phased out of marketing their own grapes as table grapes and now sell to winemakers. Last year, they purchased the farm next door which boasts even more grapes.
“We’ve enjoyed the land, the agricultural and wine movement in the Finger Lakes, and doing our part to make it a better community and place to live,” Phil Maguire said.
He said the family may consider getting into winemaking someday, but for now, Phil Maguire said he is content with growing wine grapes and buying and distributing table grapes purchased from area farms to local stores such as Tops, Wegmans and Giant.
“It was very difficult to retain full-time employees for a three-month season,” Phil Maguire said. “The farm started planting wine grapes so they could employ key people all year-round.”
Wine grapes also sell for higher prices per ton.
Though Doyle Vineyard Management handles all the day-to-day operations, Phil Maguire said that the entire adventure in viticulture has been a learning experience. But some lessons he has learned in the automotive industry have carried over to viticulture.
“You have vendors and partnerships and relationships, and that’s similar,” he said. “Ethics in business, that’s the same, obviously, and trying to sell a product for a little more than you paid for it. Just the details are different.”
In the coming seasons, Phil Maguire said he hopes to replace worn trellises and cycle out lower-yield vines with new ones.
“The original plantings date back to the 1700s and 1800s,” he said. “We want to turn our vineyard into a premium growing site.”
The farm’s location is off the deepest part of Seneca Lake, south of Lodi, and lies dead center of the Finger Lakes. The sloping land and lakeside location is said to mimic France’s wine-growing region.
“It’s been a very positive experience for us and our family. We’ve made a lot of great friends in the viticulture world,” Phil Maguire said. “We’re proud of the Finger Lakes wine movement and the emphasis on great food and great people and great viticulture practices to make premium wines. I have a newfound respect for agriculture.”