Owera Vineyards: From Garden to Grapes
By: Abbey Adams
Driving down the winding entrance to Owera (meaning “of the wind”) Vineyards makes you feel so relaxed. An enticing field oasis awaits you – almost like a one-day vacation. To say it’s beautiful would be an understatement. Every decoration, garnish, and piece of furniture felt curated for the space – like it belongs there and only there.
I sat down with Nancy Muserlian, the woman behind this gorgeous establishment. Initially, she and her husband bought the Cazenovia property with a big vegetable garden in mind. It was 100 x 150 and ended up producing way more than they thought it would. “I started donating to food pantries and my friends. When we eventually built the tasting room and the café, we decided to use the fresh vegetables in the café. So we started with the vegetable garden, and then we bought a hundred apple trees (from orchards in Utica)” said Muserlian. They dug up the trees and transplanted them over to the property to give them a new home. Now they have an apple orchard.
“We were sitting around the dinner table one night, and my husband said ‘You know; you really like wine. Maybe we should grow grapes!’ I said ‘In Cazenovia? Are you crazy? This is not Napa or Sonoma.’ So, we looked at the different types of grapes you can buy and found out that there’s a hybrid grape there that can withstand up to 40 below wind chill.” They went on to plant the grapes 10 years ago and had their first harvest around 2012. Since they had no facility yet on the property, they decided to do mobile bottling of their first grapes. They also hired a part-time winemaker to help the process.
When I ask Nancy if she’s always had an interest in wine, she immediately says, “I like to drink wine…” she chuckled and continued to say, “I was a chardonnay girl. I don’t consider myself a wine expert. I consider myself a little bit of an entrepreneur. What I did was I hired very smart people and people that are gifted in their areas. My general manager is amazing and has run events all over the country and has great attention to detail. My winemaker started out in the vegetable garden; but she has Masters from ESF and just started training and now works with our consultant winemaker in the Finger Lakes. Basically, she is the winemaker now. Who would have ever thought that she could work into being a winemaker in Cazenovia, New York?”
After receiving money from a New York State grant, Owera became what it is today. Complete with a tasting room, barrel room, production center, and then an event center where birthdays, weddings, fundraisers, and many more events now take place every year. They also have a kitchen, including a brick oven for homemade pizzas (the dough comes from Columbus Bakery in Syracuse). While I was there, Nancy told me I had to try their pizza, I did, and it was phenomenal. The Auburn native told me, “In order to promote our wine, we decided to have events, because we’re not on a trail like the Finger Lakes. So we really had to come up with a way to draw people to Owera Vineyards. By having a wedding, birthday party, or a shower, people would come to the event and say ‘What is this place?”
Nevertheless, what Nancy is most proud of, is the wine they’ve created. Their chardonnay has won at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Two of their wines are named after their mothers “Betty’s White: my mother was Betty, and that’s a white blend, and Teddy’s Red: my mother-in-law was Theodora. So we paid homage to our mothers.” They also make an un-oak ed chardonnay, Solo Chardonnay, and a Cab Franc that is quite tasty this year. However, Owera is most known for their Rieslings, the dry Riesling, and the semi-dry. Owera only buys New York State grapes, and their wine can be found in liquor stores and restaurants throughout the area. The wine business is expensive, which is why they decided to open a tasting room for people to visit and learn more about their wine, taste it, and find what they like the best.
Owera also partners with several charities, non profits, and businesses (Nascentia Health, JCC, Clear Path, etc.) for various events each year. Nancy is a big advocate for giving back and supporting all local businesses/artisans as much as possible – which was instilled in her at a young age. “I actually believe in what’s called reciprocity. My father had a local business in Auburn, NY where I grew up; and he believed that if someone did business with them, you do business with them. So if he put a heating and air-conditioning unit in a restaurant, we’d go and eat in the restaurant.” Almost every, if not all, aspects of Owera Vineyards are from area businesses, farms, entrepreneurs, etc. Nancy explains how the back panels behind the bar were constructed by a local man; the paint on the walls in the tasting room was done by a local painter. “I know Amazon is probably employing a lot of people; but I think it’s also important to stay local. I think eating locally is important. Eating what you grow in your own soil is very important” she says.
Another important part of Owera is the comfortable family atmosphere it has created. “It’s a family business. And my daughter, we felt that we wanted to start a business where she could actually grow up and be a part of it. So, we kind of built it for her; and she works in the events’ area.” Nancy and her husband hired a landscape architect company, who helped craft the road that you drive up. The ponds were developed and what species of trees to plant, etc. There was a lot of effort put into the external portion of this vineyard to make people feel invited. Not to mention, the small staff (15 full-time employees) adds even more to the welcome wagon right as you set foot inside. It means a lot to Nancy to have a tight-knit group of people who are passionate and ready to work; people who aren’t afraid to clean the bathrooms, wipe down tables, or take on extra work.
Being an entrepreneur:
“I think when we first started this business, we thought maybe it would be easy to find someone to run it. But it was pretty specific, so when we decided to develop the property, my husband is very busy in his other business, so he said ‘You know; you’re going to have to take the reins and run this company.’ I said ‘I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’ll give it a try.’ I just surrounded myself with smart, talented, and honest people. I was part of all the interviewing, the training, just to make sure they really were the right fit for Owera. I think I just learned by doing. I’ve always had pretty good people skills and I always have a kind of a sixth sense. I can tell when I talk to someone whether or not they’re going to work out or whether or not they’re honest. So I just tried to hire staff that would help us be successful. Because, it’s not just me; it’s the people, you know. It’s the core group of people that help run Owera, that I really owe the success to.”
Nancy’s best advice? “Be involved, be present. Don’t be afraid to do anything that they’re doing, sweeping the floors, vacuuming, cleaning the toilets. Be kind. Treat everyone with respect.”
In some way, Nancy has always been a leader. Before Owera Vineyards, she was employed by Weight Watchers for 15 years as a motivational leader. Helping others along on their journey is something she loves to do. Nancy is still involved currently as a part-time employee.
Future plans for Owera:
I asked Nancy where she sees Owera in the next five years. She said, “I wish now that the facility was a little bit bigger, because we have to turn people away now. I think I’d like to see the Beverage Trail in Cazenovia grow and develop so that people that are now traveling almost two miles to the Finger Lakes wineries will instead think about coming here right down on Route 13.”
Owera Vineyards is open: Wed-Thurs: 4pm – 9pm Fri-Sat: 12pm – 10pm Sun: 12pm – 5pm
For more information, visit: http://oweravineyards.com/ or call at 315-815-4311