Weddings at Wagner VineyardsOct 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Karey Solomon
“When we talk about a grapevine, you’re only seeing half of the vine,” explains Alex Jankowski, marketing and public relations manager at Wagner Vineyards and Wagner Valley Brewery, where about forty sunset weddings take place each year. He notes that the vineyard itself might be considered a metaphor for a marriage. “Each grapevine has four to eight feet of a root system. Having a solid foundation is important whether it’s a grapevine or a marriage.”
The Wagner family knows firsthand about solid foundations—they’ve been growing grapes and making wine in Lodi for five generations. Patriarch Stanley “Bill” Wagner broke ground for the estate winery before the passage of the Farm Winery Act in 1976. While it was under construction, passersby were intrigued by the large and unusual octagonal building with its fluted roof. It was Bill’s design.
The tank room is housed in the center of the octagon, with a walkway wrapping partway around so you can see where they make their wine. They produce their wines and beers and host their tastings in the same building, so you can watch a winemaker or brewer work while you sip.
When it opened in 1979, Wagner Vineyards was the first farm winery on the east side of Seneca Lake. Since then, Wagner Vineyards has grown with the times—it’s one of the largest wineries on Seneca Lake, but it’s still owned and managed by the family. “We owe so much to Seneca Lake,” says Alex. “We have nineteen acres of vineyard just between the café and the lakefront.”
In 1983, in the spirit of pairing wine and food—and making the winery even more of a destination—the family opened an eatery on site. It was named the Ginny Lee Café after the young woman who was then Bill’s only grandchild. That Virginia “Ginny” Lee worked her way up through vineyard and winery jobs as well as some of the most basic café positions. These days, Ginny manages the café named for her and also works as a wedding planner there. There are now more grandchildren. One of these grandchildren, Ginny’s brother Kevin, got married here last May.
“And it was a beautiful day,” she says.
Many local couples also choose this as their venue for weddings and wedding-related festivities. Weddings are held here from April through October and, after nearly forty years in the wedding business, the process runs smoothly and professionally, Ginny says. She’s planned weddings here for the past twelve of those years and has been present for all of them. Many of her clients are people who first visited the winery on vacation (Wagner’s award-winning FLX rieslings are a good reason for a visit any time), or for a special event when they attended one of the many colleges in the Finger Lakes region.
When a couple comes to learn about holding their wedding here, they meet with Ginny who explains the full range of possibilities on the menu. She’ll take them through a wine and beer tasting, they’ll meet with chef Vachel Mitchell to discuss food options, and taste some of these as well. It’s a delicious demonstration of what Wagner nuptials come with.
In addition to the wine and beer crafted on-site, the venue has a license that allows them to stock and serve from a full bar. Ginny has a portfolio of recommended vendors who can take photos and videos, furnish flowers, provide a bespoke wedding cake, play music, offer lodging, and arrange for transportation. “I’m a very organized person,” she says. “I give people a ton of information so they can figure out what they need.”
Her staff is equally accomplished and orderly. When the café closes after lunch at 4 p.m., they swing into action “like a well-oiled machine,” she laughs. In little more than an hour, they can transform the space from a popular lunch destination to an elegant set-up for a wedding. If the vineyard has also been booked for the ceremony, they set up seating on the lawn. Up to 200 guests can be accommodated, with seating indoors as well as on the deck. If the wedding is to be held outside, the bride and groom can remain out of sight as the celebrants arrive and wander about. The café makes a perfect hiding spot until it’s time for the processional.
“Because we have all the facilities here at the café, we curate the little things too so there’s less potential for a snag,” Ginny says. Of course, there are always unforeseen circumstances and glitches, she adds. But her staff takes care of these so seamlessly there’s no indication they occurred.
“Because my crew is that good,” she says, adding that “every wedding has something special about it.”
After the guests are gone, and real life resumes, couples often visit to celebrate anniversaries with lunch, and of course a toast to new memories.
“We have a big photo in the winery [on the winery’s photo wall of a couple who got married here,” Alex says. “They come back each year and recreate the photo standing next to it.”
Find Wagner Vineyards and Wagner Valley Brewery at 9322 State Route 414 and get more information at wagnervineyards.com or by calling (607) 582-6574. Reservations are strongly suggested for guided wine tastings and can be made online. Self-guided flight tastings are first come, first served. They are open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through late October but are only open weekends through mid-December and then closed till mid-March.