Standing Stone Vineyards
"We tasted hints of greatness."
Brett C. Vermilyea
Tom and Marti Macinski take a scientific approach to wine.
Marti and Tom Macinski ’78 saw the Finger Lakes wine industry’s potential in the early ’80s when they’d spend the weekends sailing Cayuga Lake and touring wineries on rainy days.
“We tasted hints of greatness,” Marti says.
“Twenty years ago, if you toured the Finger Lakes and came back with a case of wine, you didn’t necessarily understand why you bought the whole case. But you would find one here, one there, all these little ‘wows.’”
They started looking for property shortly after they were married, but it took them years to find the right one. They pored through the Binghamton University library, then Cornell’s, looking at vineyard sites, grapes, temperature mapping, “basically anything we could get our hands on.”
In 1991, they closed on the perfect property on the east side of Seneca Lake. They released Standing Stone Vineyards’ first wine three years later, “a whopping 800 cases,” Tom says dryly. But the tiny size was intentional. They wanted to keep control of the wines and vineyards, and both still had day jobs — Marti as a lawyer and Tom as IBM’s team manager for purchasing all the printed circuits IBM used in just about every machine it made.
At a time when there was little recognition of Finger Lakes wines by the outside world — “going back to the quality of the wine 20 years ago, there was good reason for that” — Marti and Tom wanted Standing Stone to reflect their interpretations of great wine, to be that great vineyard they knew the region could produce. Every decision — which grapes to grow, where to plant, which fertilizer to use, when to harvest, which bottles to use, which yeast to pitch and a million more — was made with that goal in mind. Their hands-on approach worked. Since that first vintage, Wine Spectator magazine has scored Standing Stone wines well into the 90s, with its Vidal Ice label doing so three years in a row. But in an industry promoting luxury, it wasn’t always easy to stay focused.
“We’ve tried to keep our eye on what’s really important, and that’s making the best possible wine,” Marti says. “I know wineries that aren’t as recognized as we are but have more fancy furniture in the office; the tasting room may be nicer.” Her distinctive laugh fills the lab she’s sitting in as she adds, “we’re definitely the renovated barn look.”
Binghamton’s School of Management adjunct Assistant Professor Angelo Mastrangelo, who teaches about entrepreneurship, says in a region awash in wine, concentrating on making the product stand out is essential.
“The basics are the basics,” Mastrangelo says. “If they are making wine and they’re doing something special with their products and/or with their services … they should do well. But if they are just making wine and copying what everybody else is doing, why would the customer want to buy it?”
Marti and Tom explain the essence, and success, of Standing Stone through the French term terroir, which means the total surrounding environment. “It has to do with this soil, this dirt, the way it faces the sun,” Marti says.
Even Tom’s chemistry degree comes into play.
“There’s no way I would claim to be a research vinoculturalist or a research vinologist,” he says. “But the background from Harpur College gave me the ability to understand what I need to do in the vineyard and what we need to do in terms of winemaking.
“Everything is different all the time. You need to be able to take a look at what you have, analyze it appropriately and make a rational decision. And that is, to use a cliché, the advantage of a liberal arts education. It will teach you to think.”