Three times five
Three brothers celebrates fifteen years in the Finger Lakes
The first couple of generations of winery owners following the Farm Winery Act of 1976 were often reluctant businesspeople. Aspects like marketing, for example, were left to either the owner or the tasting room manager and more often than not were an afterthought. But when Dave Mansfield and his wife, Luanne, opened Three Brothers Wineries & Estates in 2007, they put business front and center. “Dave came in as a businessman starting business,” explains coowner Erica Paolicelli. “He looked at this as a business, not a hobby, not a family farm, and he thought,‘This is going to be a viable business model.’” Fifteen years along, Three Brothers also has a brewery, a cidery, slushies, coffee, and craft soda in addition to extra dry to sweet wines.
Mansfield grew up in Bloomfield as the middle of—you guessed it—three brothers. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he ran a signage business whose clientele included major league sports teams, and the business had Mansfield crisscrossing the country.
But by 2006, he’d found himself ready to get off the road. He found out that New York State was offering incentives for startup wineries and decided to look into it. Then he caught wind that Nagy’s Newland Vineyard, a fledgling winery on the east side of Seneca Lake, was up for sale. He bought the property and began looking for outside help.
His first hire was Erica Paolicelli, a recent graduate of SUNY Oneonta. Paolicelli had been looking for a summer job to make extra money while she waited to start graduate work in exercise nutrition at the University of Missouri. Paolicelli began to develop a rapport with Mansfield and, realizing she wasn’t too keen on moving to Missouri, soon scrapped her plans for graduate school. “It was like a current when you walked toward him,” Paolicelli recalls. “You could see his vision, and it was contagious.” Soon, Mansfield had promoted Paolicelli to general manager. “He would be like, ‘Take a look at these labels. Which ones do you like more, and what do you think about them?’” Three Brothers’ three wineries—Stony Lonesome, Passion Feet, and Bagg Dare (originally Rogue’s Holow)—were initially modeled after the personalities of Dave and his two brothers. In 2009, they made an attempt to do something that wasn’t so widespread at that point—a brewery within a winery. The only other winery in New York State that also had a brewery was Wagner, also located in Seneca County. Three Brothers opened War Horse Brewing, and a year later came its cider line, Bombshell. Wine slushies soon followed. Later, they further diversified into nonalcoholic beverages like coffee and craft soda, and they offer soda flights for children at their tasting room. “There are so many people that come here that are driving and not drinking, and they’re taking home root beer as well,” states Mansfield.
Winemaking duties are currently handled by Kim Marconi, and her duties at Three Brothers bring her career full circle: her first job in wine was in the Three Brothers tasting room following her graduation from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2009. She holds a master’s degree in viticulture and enology from Washington State University and previously worked as assistant winemaker at Sheldrake Point. Marconi makes the wine for the Stony Lonesome line and oversees production for the Pas- sion Feet and Bagg Dare wines, which are made by Derek Wilber of Swedish Hill. Their previous winemaker, Aaron Roisen, also a veteran of Hosmer and Lamoreaux Landing Wineries, returned to the fold last year to make cider. Paolicelli believes that making Three Brothers a great place to work is what makes talent like Marconi and Roisen want to return. Adds Roisen, “I like the dynamics of the positive and supportive work environment along with making and crafting unique and creative cider in the Finger Lakes.”
Always maintaining an experimental edge, it is currently the only vineyard in the region to grow Barbera, a red Italian vinifera varietal they also use for a bourbon and sparkling Barbera rosé. They also have a pilot series, an experimental wine series that for Paolicelli is about keeping the winemaker happy. “The pilot series goes back to the vision for our employees. That makes Kim happy having the capacity, the bandwidth, and the freedom to really express herself in the moment and make a wine that she came up with rather than something we handed to her.” Marconi relishes the opportunity to experiment, saying that Three Brothers “are very encouraging of creative projects and directions,” and says of the pilot series, “It’s a great way to test out new practices or ideas. If the wines do well they will ‘graduate’ to the Stony Lonesome lineup.”The past eighteen months have thrown Three Brothers a few curve balls. Like many tasting rooms, Three Brothers dealt with a COVID-related staffing shortage; in response, they have recently hired a hospitality director to address the issue. In December, Bagg Dare’s tasting room burned down completely. The fire was ruled accidental, but Paolicelli believes that much of 2022 will be consumed by rebuilding Bagg Dare’s tasting room. Such curveballs have not kept the winery from taking new risks, however. Last year, they embarked on lodging, opening the Vineyard Cottage, which visitors can book on AirBnb. “The lodging is kind of an experiment still,” says Paolicelli, who adds that operating lodging on well water presents a challenge. “It’s a nice little addition, and we’re considering doing more lodging in the future.” This past April, Three Brothers embarked on another first for a Finger Lakes Winery: releasing a celebrity-endorsed wine. Bravey is a rosé commissioned by Alexi Pappas, a Greek American track Olympian turned filmmaker and memoirist. Paolicelli met Pappas through a mutual contact. “It was just serendipity,” she says, adding, “It’s a risk for us, a big investment. It’s another thing we’re trying, but it’s worth it because it can really bring a lot of eyes that wouldn’t otherwise come to the Finger Lakes and Three Brothers.” According to Paolicelli, Pappas asked that the wine be “bright” but otherwise lets the winery have freedom and leeway.The final product is a blend of Barbera, Zweigelt, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir. Fifteen years after being hired as Mansfield’s first employee, Paolicelli now owns a substantial share in the winery and doesn’t plan on selling it anytime soon. “I would’ve been long gone if this company wasn’t growing,” she says. “The fact of the matter is, in the last fifteen years, we’ve grown.”