A brief history
Red Newt Cellars is located on the east side of Seneca Lake in the hamlet of Hector in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Red Newt Cellars was founded in 1998 by David and Debra Whiting. Wine production was started with the 1998 vintage with a mere 1,200 cases of Chardonnay, Riesling, Vidal, Cayuga, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The first white wines were released at the grand opening of the winery and restaurant in July of 1999.
Red Newt Cellars has joyfully produced Riesling and Cabernet Franc from Seneca Lake since 1998. With a full suite of Rieslings, from dry to dessert, and several Cabernet Franc bottlings every harvest, winemaker Kelby James Russell embraces the single vineyard ethos that he inherited from founding winemaker David Whiting. Pushing the envelope with spontaneous fermentations, lees contact, cold soaking, and basket pressing; Red Newt's wines are designed to open up in bottle for years to come.
Debra and David have received recognition from local and regional press as well as from national publications such as Food and Wine, Nations Restaurant News, and Wine Spectator. Recently, Red Newt Cellars has been named among Wine & Spirits Magazine’s 2011 Top 100 wineries of the year. The Wine Spectator describes David and Debra as “untrammeled lovers of the Finger Lakes scene,” and it couldn’t be more true. David and Debra Whiting met in the late 1980s. At that time David was working as cellar master at a Finger Lakes winery while Debra was supervising microbiology labs at Cornell University. Following a passion for food and wine, David continued his oenological career as winemaker at three different wineries in the Finger Lakes. Debra’s path led her into a gourmet cheesecake business and then an upscale catering business. When the opportunity arose in 1998, David started wine production with the 1998 vintage and the following summer Debra opened the Red Newt Bistro concurrent with the first wine releases in June of 1999. Red Newt Cellars represented the achievement of David and Debra’s longtime goal to combine their efforts and expertise in the exploration of regional wine and cuisine. Their focus was on not only producing exceptional wines and food, but also creating a synergy between them.
David is one of the top winemakers in the Finger Lakes Region. His career spans three of the most exciting and progressive decades of the Finger Lakes wine industry, including winemaking at McGregor, Chateau Lafayette Reneau, Swedish Hill Vineyards, and Standing Stone Vineyards. The current production at Red Newt Cellars is approximately 20,000 cases with the white wine focus on aromatic varieties: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris. “Circle” Riesling, Red Newt’s most popular and widely distributed wine, shows off a classic Finger Lakes style, expressing bright aromas of tangerine and honeysuckle and an elegant palate of citrus and peach. The wine – and the price – are great, and represent one of the best value Rieslings in North America. Red varietals include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Debra Whiting was a visionary chef in the Finger Lakes wine growing region, and was a pioneering localvore chef before it was popular. The Bistro featured eclectic and seasonal menu changed about every three weeks. The Bistro has been celebrated in its emphasis on building relationships with local farms and producers and fostering the concept and practice of regional cuisine.
Her passion was not just the food as it appeared on the plate, but the food as it grew on local farms, supported local farmers and communities, and offered a wholesome and rewarding lifestyle to an entire region. Drawing on her relationship with husband and winemaker David Whiting, the evolution of a truly inspired regional cuisine was developing on her plate.
As chair on the executive board of the Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty – an organization committed to increasing the awareness of regional products and developing relationships between regional chefs and farmers – Debra had seen the regional restaurant farm scene transform from a handful of local, sustainable farms to a region with dozens of farms producing greens, produce, meats, and artisanal cheeses.
During the 12 years that Debra led the culinary team at Red Newt Bistro, she was a leader in the development of farm to table relationships that blossomed with the development of the burgeoning wine industry of the Finger Lakes. Debra Whiting Foundation has been formed to carry on Debra’s vision and commitment to wine, food, farms, families and community.
In addition to her efforts in the bistro kitchen, Debra was very active in promotional activities and teaching. She presented at 171 Cedar Arts Center in Corning, NY and at the NY Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, NY – both as lectures/demos and as hands-on workshops. In New York City she presented Master Classes at Vintage New York in Soho, and co-hosted “a Finger Lakes Regional Dinner” at the James Beard House in New York City.
Debra Whiting was a visionary chef in the Finger Lakes wine growing region. Her passion was not just the food as it appeared on the plate, but the food as it grew on local farms, supported local farmers and communities, and offered a wholesome and rewarding lifestyle to an entire region. Drawing on her relationship with husband and winemaker David Whiting, the evolution of a truly inspired regional cuisine was developing on her plate. With her life cut short on June 30th, 2011, the Debra Whiting Foundation has been formed to carry on Debra’s vision and commitment to wine, food, farms, families and community.