Red Tail Ridge

Red Tail Ridge Winery 15 sec commerical


At Red Tail Ridge Winery we specialize in limited production wines because we believe that quality is more important than quantity. Keeping our production down allows us to better monitor the details of the wine making process. We produce small-lots (sometimes less than 50 cases) to further preserve and enhance the varietal characteristics that we generate in the vineyard.

Location Description

Located on the western shore of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of up-state New York.


  • Great wine, environmental responsibility and community support.

Additional Information

  • Meeting / Conference Facilities:
  • Caves:
  • Wedding Facilities:
  • Picnic Facilities:
  • Dog Friendly:
  • Winery Tours:
  • Wine Tasting:
  • Art or Architecture:
  • Organic / Biodynamic:
  • Awards:
  • Wine Club:
  • Lodging / Bed & Breakfast:

Average Bottle Price

$ 20


Red Tail Ridge winery is owned and operated by Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan, a husband and wife team, who are dedicated to producing fine wine in the Finger Lakes.

Mike and Nancy moved to Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes of up-state New York around 2004 when they first purchased the 35 acre property. Mike moved east before Nancy and began the long process of clearing and preparing the land for vineyard development. The property was primarily woods and scrub trees, so he had his hands full clearing trees, picking rocks, pulling stumps, leveling soil and placing drain tile. Very, very glamorous stuff! Before embarking on this project, he was working for a national company that rents heavy equipment to consumers. Mike used to manage the financial service center that supported most of the individual locations west of the Mississippi. He’s a numbers-guy, with a lot of hands-on and practical experience in heavy equipment and construction. Winegrowing is a second career for Mike. He picked up the basics quickly and has proven to be a great partner in trying new approaches and thinking “outside the box”. Mike is also one of the most meticulous and exacting viticulturists that Nancy has ever worked with.
Nancy arrived in the Finger Lakes a few years later, leaving her position as Vice President of Viticulture and Enology R&D at a large corporate California winery to start a new life with her husband. Her focus is on winemaking, sales and marketing for Red Tail Ridge. Once Red Tail Ridge reaches veraison (the onset of ripening), she usually walks the vineyard constantly to taste the fruit and assess ripeness. Then once harvest has started, she moves her focus away from the vineyard and concentrates on the wine production process and eventually sales. Together the two have combined their skills to produce a variety of premier wines from the beautiful vineyard that is now Red Tail Ridge Winery.

The Team

Zach joined Red Tail Ridge as the assistant wine maker in May 2013. He got his start during a couple of harvest seasons producing premium Pinot Noir and Riesling in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Later on he expanded his love of rare varietal wines during a year managing a wine program at a New York City hot spot. He obtained his masters in Enology at Cornell and completed training at several local wineries. Zach is excited be a part of Red Tail Ridge team in producing some of the most interesting and delicious wines on the Finger Lakes.

Jim From Native to Vinifera grape varieties, Jim has been there, seen it, trimmed it. Current resident of Penn Yan, NY he keeps a busy schedule, but can usually be found outdoors. When he’s not spending time with his wife Karen and two children—Jess and Tim; his “home away from home” is our vineyard. Hidden somewhere along a row of vines, Jim can usually be found with a headset radio, a smile and big wave which comes complete with one of his ever present witty jokes. For Jim, The Finger Lakes region is a place he’s happy and completely content to call home.

Danielle joined Red Tail Ridge in May 2013 fresh out of college. She is currently Red Tail Ridge’s Tasting Room Manager, Marketing and Nest Club Manager. After growing up just below the Finger Lakes, she developed a passion for the region and knew that after her time at Pennsylvania State University she wanted to return and jump right into the wine industry. Danielle brings her journalism and public relations background to the Sales and Marketing position to share Red Tail Ridge’s principles and values. You’ll also find her sharing news and updates on the winery’s website, social media and promotional materials. In addition, she will be involved in many of Red Tail Ridge’s events and activities both in the tasting room and for outside events.

While at RTR, Danielle has grown in her wine knowledge with the completion of the Introductory Sommelier Course and Exam and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) advanced certificate (level 3) with distinction.

Jared began his love affair with wine 8 years ago when he found himself moonlighting at a wine shop in Upstate, NY. Soon after, he was in NYC working in both retail and wholesale wine sales, wine storage, and eventually received a certificate in Viticulture and Vinification from the American Sommelier Association. No stranger to the Finger Lakes wine region; Jared has recently received his A.A.S. in Viticulture and Oenology from the Finger Lakes Community College. Prior to becoming an extension agent for Red Tail Ridge; Jared interned for RTR as a vineyard assistant and cellar rat.

As Jared is a huge fan of Teroldego, Blaufränkisch, and Dornfelder; it was important for him to work at RTR so he would be able to spend more time with his aforementioned varietal friends.

When not obsessing over wine: he enjoys obsessing over wine, music, cats, baseball, and a good taco.
Taylor pic

Taylor is RTR’s cellar hand for the 2014 season and will be experiencing his first harvest this fall. A Rochester native, he is joining the winery while finishing up his hockey career and various college classes. Taylor’s interest in the wine industry was sparked by his family members working in the California wine scene. He plans to expand his skills and knowledge while at RTR and further his experience in the industry by traveling to other wine regions nationally or even worldwide.

Sarah came to the Finger Lakes in 2006 and found her new work home at Red Tail Ridge in October of 2007. The most important task she has is customer service in the tasting room, pouring and selling wine. Other duties include answering the telephone and e-mail, preparing wine for shipment to customers and competition, and taking care of the perennial – shrub boarder. In her previous life she did garden design and consulting, so was very happy to have the opportunity to design and maintain the garden at Red Tail Ridge. Sarah feels Red Tail Ridge is a great place to watch Red-tailed Hawks, the seasons change and the weather as it passes over Seneca Lake.

Linda arrived at Red Tail Ridge Winery in the Fall of 2007. She tasted the wine, met Mike and Nancy and was hooked. After a career in education she discovered that there is no better way to spend retirement than tasting, serving and introducing others to Red Tail Ridge wine.

Bobby “Welcome to Red Tail Ridge” is the first thing you’ll hear when Bobby is in the tasting room. She loves to hear about your adventures in wine, while you are tasting ours. Her favorite wine “depends on the day” but our “obscure red varietals” hold a special place in her heart.
Her other favorite thing is spoiling Scooter and Shazzam.

Gail She became a fan of Red Tail Ridge wines over the past couple of years and was thrilled to begin working in the tasting room in Fall of 2012. During the week you’ll find her in Ithaca, but over the weekends, in the warmer months, you’ll find her on Seneca Lake, her favorite of the Finger Lakes.

Katie Since moving to the Finger Lakes in 2009, Katie caught the “wine bug” and took a keen interest in Red Tail Ridge Winery. When she found a tasting room position offered she knew it must be kismet. She’s especially fond of the “obscure red varietals” and is excited to be working and learning about wine in her favorite tasting room.

Shazzam is a seven year old German Sheperd. She is originally from Kentucky; we adopted her when she was about 8 weeks of age. Shazzam has A LOT of energy. She especially likes to play hide and seek where she gets to look for hiding people. She is also a little obsessive about retrieving. So if you ever visit, don’t be surprised if she deposits a stick, rock and/or toy at your feet. Be forewarned, once you start throwing for her—she will keep bringing it back. She is a little relentless, if you know what I mean.

Scooter is an ten year old yellow Labrador Retriever. He has really mellowed out as he has gotten older; but he is still most happy when he is wet. He is an avid pond swimmer; in fact, it is very hard to keep him out of the pond. Scooty really doesn’t need an excuse to go in (like retrieving a stick, etc)–he just likes to swim for the heck of it. His favorite swimming stroke is the “dog” paddle in a figure 8 pattern. He’d be a great mascot for water ballet.

Practices & Techniques


We also believe that experimentation is an important step towards unlocking our vineyard’s, and this region’s, potential. We have 20 acres of cool climate varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. While you may be most familiar with these cool climate varieties, we are also examining some more obscure red varieties that work well in cooler regions of Europe–namely, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Trentino Italy. For example, we currently added onto our small plot of Teroldego and Dornfelder by adding more rows of each in 2013. Teroldego is a red Italian grape variety grown in Alto-Adige. The wines produced from this variety have been compared to Zinfandel due to their deep color, brambly blackberriness, solid acidity and moderate tannin structure. Dornfelder is a red variety grown in Germany that produces medium body wines with velvety texture, slightly floral notes and flavors of plums, blackberries and/or cherry. We also make Blaufränkisch from a local vineyard until our own rows of Blaufränkisch are mature enough. The variety is well known in cooler regions of Europe; the wines are peppery and cherry with slight herbal notes of oregano and rosemary and a good balance of acidity in the finish. Lagrien is another northern Italian variety that we have also planted on our estate. This grape can produce robust, big bodied wines with obvious tannins, low pH and relatively high acidity. Descriptors include plumy, earthy, chewy and mineral. It is a descendant of Teroldego, and related to Syrah, Pinot and Dureza. Over the next couple of years we will be planting small experimental plots of other obscure varieties to examine their potential to produce high quality dry red wines in the Finger Lakes.

Estate Vineyards / AVA

Vineyard design includes contour drain tile to minimize excess soil moisture and ensure uniformity. We use drip irrigation when we experience prolong drought during the berry development phase. We utilize fairly dense vine spacing. Our front hill is planted on 4’ by 8’ spacing and our Riesling is 3’ by 8’.

We continually work on various projects in our vineyard such as:

Utilizing permanent cover crops between our rows. Currently we are utilizing a mix of clover (nitrogen fixing) and rye grass. This is a rather aggressive combination and provides additional competition for water uptake, adding to our ability to minimize excess soil moisture. Every year we till over alternate rows of our cover crop to assist in reducing soil compaction and to enhance the organic content of our soil.

Experimenting with Sorghum plants because they are an enormous biomass producer (organic matter) allelopathic plant. Sorghum roots produce natural compounds that inhibit growth of other plant roots in their vicinity. In this case, we are interested in reducing the incidence of weeds. Preliminary results appear promising, but additional evaluation is needed.

In 2011 and 2012 we worked with an outside company to compare fungicide programs with and without a natural occurring biological control agent, Regalia Biofungicide (EPA Reg. 84059-3) for season-long control of powdery mildew, downy mildew and botrytis bunch rot. The evaluations were conducted within a 10 acre block of our Riesling grapes. As Regalia replaced a chemical fungicide in the powdery mildew program the results strongly support the use of Regalia for control of powdery mildew. No conclusion could be reached regarding downy mildew, and the Botrytis results were mixed. Regalia is now a part of our IPM program below.

Sustainable management for the Japanese Beetle, which can cause significant defoliation in vineyards. This project conducted by Cornell University, targeted the grass areas surrounding our vineyard with naturally occurring organisms, entomopathogenic nematodes (insect feeding) to reduce the adult beetle population and leaf feeding. As of 2013, soil samples show that the two species of nematodes introduced have been established and the assessment of the beetle larvae and adults is ongoing.
Photo of Riesling shoots

RTR employs integrated pest management (IPM) practices to monitor, identify, prevent and control vineyard insect pests and diseases. We also use a mechanical weed knife to avoid herbicide applications. We are not certified organic or biodynamic; however, we utilize a sustainable and environmentally balanced approach in managing our vineyard. Read more on our sustainability practices by clicking here.

All of our vines are on vertical shoot positioning (VSP) trellis. This allows us to continually reposition canes and canopy to optimize light exposure and airflow through the fruiting zone. This improves fruit ripening and also maturation and lignification of wood in preparation for the coming winter. Intensive canopy management techniques are employed when necessary to maintain vine balance and optimal fruit quality. We perform cane/shoot thinning, leaf pulling, and cluster thinning as necessary. All of our red varieties and a significant portion of our whites are hand-harvested.

We also perform routine petiole and soil analysis to assess vine nitrogen and micronutrient requirements. We compost our pomace and winery process waste (i.e. yeast lees, grape solids, etc) for vineyard application.

Red Tail Ridge tries to deter critters in a humane way. The vineyard is surrounded by an 8 foot deer fence. We also utilize bird netting to keep our maturing clusters safe.

The lion’s share of our production is devoted to Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. However, we are also testing some more unusual things for suitability in our climate and terroir including our Obscure Red Varietal Series; Teroldego, Lagrein, Dornfelder, and Blaufränkisch.

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846 State Route 14
Penn Yan, New York 14527
United States

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