Five Artisans: Raymor Estates Cellars
Producing small batches with a sense of vinacultural history, this Bloomfield winery at home is at farmers markets and small town restaurants
It’s dawn outside a small building in a backyard near Bloomfield, about thirty miles southeast of Rochester. The sun plays across a two-story home, the leaves of tall trees, a children’s playhouse, a climbing structure, and a small trellis of grapevines. Winemaker Herb Raymor is already hard at work charting out his day of fermentation, temperature control, and piping product from large glass casks into 750-milliliter bottles that will be labeled “RAYMOR ESTATE CELLARS.” Meanwhile, his wife, Pam, gets to work on social media marketing, private tastings, and upcoming appearances at various public markets throughout Greater Rochester.
Almost five years ago, the Raymors decided to convert a barn on their property into a fully functioning winery. “When we decided to do this, it was just going to be the two of us,” says Pam. “We want to be known as a small boutique winery.”
Due to the small nature of the business, the winery is open for private tastings by appointment only. They can also “bring the winery to you” at your home or other location. The Raymors’ wines are also sold at several area stores and through their website.
Herb takes a glass down from a wooden shelf, above which are dozens of photos of his children pictured from their earliest years through adulthood. He releases wine from one of the casks into the glass, swirls it as he holds the glass up to the light, then draws a sip into his mouth.
Not quite yet.
This one needs to wait a little longer.
A seed is planted
“I always wanted a business of my own,” says Herb, now operating a machine that precisely applies a label he designed to the same place on the bottle every time. He worked as a systems engineer for more than twenty years while pursuing winemaking as a hobby. “In the corporate world, there was too much politics and bureaucracy. All I could think about was the things I could have accomplished if I could do it on my own.”
Herb acquired this self-starter attitude while growing up on his father’s farm in Ontario County. For almost sixty years, the Raymor family harvested apples and cherries on a 200-acre plot. As a young man, Herb learned every aspect of the business—from driving the tractors and trimming the trees to business and accounting.
“I learned that process and planning are key to running a small business,” says Herb. “My father always planned years in advance, and he bought with cash.” Despite their best efforts, rising costs and government regulations eventually made it impossible for the Raymor family to turn a profit, and the farm was sold in 1970. When Herb entered the traditional workforce, he knew that his asthmatic condition prevented him from returning to the farm, but he still dreamed of owning a small business. On his own time, he learned the traditional handcrafted method of winemaking from several established winemakers in the Finger Lakes, including John Brahm of Arbor Hill Grapery and Winery in Naples.
“My approach to winemaking is old-school,” says Herb, “What I do now is based on what I learned over twenty years ago, doing most of it by hand and not using the sophisticated tools that are out there today.”
In 2011, the Raymors began selling wine produced from local grape varietals rarely seen in the Finger Lakes, though the grapes have been around for many years. Their small vineyard is set aside for reserve wines. The Raymors purchase most of their vinifera and hybrid grape juices from other vineyards throughout the region.
Sharing the bounty
While Pam Raymor sets out the glasses, Herb visits the cellar to select the best vino for the guests who will be arriving for a private wine tasting. Like any gracious host, Herb makes sure to bring out a variety of red and white wines to suit every taste. Later, as the guests arrive, the couple greets them warmly before taking their place at a large table. No one is in a rush today, and the guests relax while the Raymors pour and share their passion for great wine.
This seems like any other gathering of family or friends, but that’s because the Raymors treat customers like one of their own. Pam and Herb work tirelessly to create unique wines that will make their mark in the Finger Lakes region among countless vineyards, wineries, restaurants, and well-stocked wine and liquor stores. “In order to compete as a new winery, we had to come up with something different,” says Pam, who also works as a special education aide in the Victor Primary School. “We don’t make a chardonnay or riesling, but we create wines using similar characteristics.”
Herb is especially proud of his Iona, an award-winning semi-sweet white produced from rare local grapes. “It’s made from the iona grape, and no one else does it,” says Herb. “It’s something unique and different for the customers.”
Raymor Estate Cellars also produces custom house wines for area restaurants and taverns, such as Donnelly’s Public House in Fairport, the Rabbit Room in Honeoye Falls, Cottage Hotel of Mendon, and Lento, located in Rochester’s Village Gate. “Making custom wines is our niche,” says Herb, who adds there are fifteen-to-eighteen varietals fermenting at the winery at any given time. “Because we are a small boutique winery, we can make small batches of a number of different wines.”
Marketing through the grapevine
Instead of relying on traditional advertising, the Raymors spend most weekends at area markets, festivals, and wine events. “We do it in a different way than the big wineries, mostly by word of mouth” says Pam. “Our customers have a lot of questions, and they can talk directly to the winemaker.”
While Raymor Estate Cellars prides itself on producing local wines, the business is gaining speed with orders from wine lovers in Michigan and California. As the couple plans for the future, Herb is reminded of another lesson he learned as a boy on the farm, a message that still resonates with him today. “Do it once and do it right so you don’t have to keep doing things over and over,” he says. “You can’t just jump into things without thinking them through.”
From nearly three decades as a hobby winemaker to a successful small business owner, it’s safe to say that Herb Raymor and his wife are well on their way to a fruitful future.