Christopher Bates met his wife, Isabel Bogadtke, while working at Immich Batterieberg in the Mosel back in 2004. They were both there to learn how to make wine in a place they both loved, though it turns out they had much more in common than a passion for winemaking.
Christopher Bates, MS, has spent over 15 years in all aspects of the hospitality industry. At the ripe age of fourteen Christopher embarked upon his restaurant journey—first as a dishwasher, then as a busboy, a server and eventually as a cook. After choosing to attend the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, it became obvious that this passion was to become his career path. As a freshman, Christopher spent most his time as a cook at the Statler Hotel where he had the opportunity to learn from several influential mentors. It was also at that time that he became interested in wine. Already a fan and student of single malt scotch, he was encouraged to learn more about wine when his father Robert (co-owner of Element Winery) gave him an issue of Wine Spectator to read. With the influences from professors and peers at the Hotel School, Christopher became obsessed with not only wine, but beverages in general. Food, drink, and the hospitality therein, sculpted Chris’ future.
Isabel also started her career in hospitality, though she was mostly focused on service. Growing up in Berlin, she worked for a Relais & Chateaux property in Germany before moving to Frankfurt where she worked at the Michelin starred Brick restaurant. After harvest in the Mosel, Isabel and Christopher moved to Italy where she worked at a winery during the day and at Christopher’s restaurant at night. Along with Christopher, she has spent the last seven years managing first The Inn at Dos Brisas, and later the Hotel Fauchere. While at the Inn at Dos Brisas, Isabel was awarded Best Service in the World by Mobil Travel Guide, and remains the only person to have ever received this honor.
Upon returning to the states, the couple began to think about how they could take advantage of cool climate fruit that grows in upstate New York, and so they began with apples. Having grown up in the area with parents who loved to ferment cider and beer, Chris was well-aware of the region’s potential for quality beverages. In 2006, Chris and Isabel processed their first few tons of apples and pressed beautiful cider—they fermented it spontaneously in a makeshift winery at his parent’s house. After several years of production and administrative challenges, they were near ready to give up when Robert Bates, Chris’ father, filled an empty tank with Riesling in 2009 as an experiment. As the grapes slowly began to ferment, it became apparent that they were onto something special. Wanting to dig deeper, they traveled and tasted constantly before ultimately deciding to take the plunge and capitalize on the region’s (then untapped) potential. Now, after seven years of experimenting with winemaking and exploring their local terroir, Chris and Isabel have purchased their first estate vineyards.
Though the history of wine growing in the region dates back to the mid 1800s, it was not until the 1960’s that grapes became a serious topic of conversation; an active tourism industry helped put these wines on the map. In the last decade, however, the wines of the Finger Lakes have picked up momentum and have reached wider audiences, which has resulted in a steady improvement in overall quality.
The Finger Lakes region is in upstate New York, roughly between Rochester and Syracuse, and is the state’s largest wine growing region with more than one hundred wineries and countless vineyards planted around Cayuga, Seneca, Canandaigua, Keuka, Conesus, and Hemlock Lakes. Without the lakes’ influence, growing vinifera in this part of the world would be nearly impossible, as the weather conditions are too extreme; not only is there a severe diurnal shift, the summers are very cold, and inversely, the winters are quite mild. These deep, glacial lakes create a lake-effect which help moderate temperatures and deter spring frosts (during shoot development) and fall frosts, leading up to harvest. Melting glaciers dispersed the soils, consisting of gravel, limestone, clay, and silt, over extremely deep shale subsoils that help drain the region’s plentiful rain fall. Cool evening temperatures and long hang times help the grapes develop beautiful flavors without the added risk of over ripeness. As a result, the wines are often delicate, balanced, and elegant.
Element’s intention is to make sound wine with as little intervention as possible. They will forever be committed to quality over quantity and strive to produce clean fruit with proper flavor development. They have discontinued the use of herbicides in the vineyards and are working hard to naturally restore the biodiversity in the soils. Grapes are picked by hand and are hand-sorted. Wines are fermented slowly and spontaneously without temperature control and whites often go through malo. The grapes are basket-pressed, undergo a short settling and are racked into old, neutral puncheons where they will rest without disturbance until bottling. There are no additions and no adjustments, the wines are unfiltered and unfined.
When asked about is his philosophy, Chris replied:
Be the best. Work hard, relentlessly, despite opposition and doubt, with the understanding that we are creating the future of this wine region and believe that one day it will stand amongst the great wine regions of the world.
Today, Christopher and Isabel own F.L.X. Wienery and Element Winery, F.L.X. Table (a small restaurant focused on a communal tasting menu) and F.L.X. Culture House (a nano-brewery focused on sours and barrel aged beers) in the Finger Lakes.