So the story begins...
Steve Conaway is originally from Pennsylvania and his wife, Erika, is from Washington. Steve and Erika were married in 1990. They have four children. In 2003, Steve retired from the U.S. Army as a Major after serving more than twenty-two years. During that time, he completed tours in Germany, Greece, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan. While spending five years stationed in Germany along the Rhine and Mosel Rivers, Steve became passionate about Riesling. When the Conaways moved to the beautiful Thousand Islands Region of New York, Steve was inspired by the mighty St. Lawrence River and the grand castles that are located on the islands. He noticed many similarities between the two distant locations. Both areas feature scenic beauty, gorgeous stone castles, large tour boats, and many visiting international tourists. However, the St. Lawrence River lacked the vineyards and wineries which were prevalent in Europe. Seeing this as a tremendous opportunity, the Conaways set out to establish a new grape growing region in New York State and purchased a farm in December 2002.
The Winery farm was once owned and operated by Captain Massey, and his wife Ida. Captain Massey, famed Riverboat Captain in the 1930’s, owned and operated a huge Great Lakes ship which he eventually sold to the Department of Defense for the war effort during World War II. During the 1970’s, the farm was owned and operated by Jerry and Debbie Schaeffer. The Schaeffers raised Arabian Horses and harvested hay on the farm. Jerry Schaeffer was a Captain in the US Army reserves while he lived on the farm. The original farm house was built in 1881 and the barn was later ordered from a Sears & Roebuck catalog in 1923. The Conaways, having a new vision for an old farm, began the quest for cold-hardy grapes that could survive the North Country winters. The experts at Cornell University told Steve that it was impossible to successfully grow grapes in the Thousand Islands region. Undaunted, Steve began to research grape varieties that were unknown to Cornell University. He soon discovered a grape program in Minnesota which was working with grape varieties like Frontenac that could survive extremely cold climates and produce exceptional wines.
Thousand Islands Winery® officially opened to the public in 2003 with a starting inventory of 1,100 gallons of wine. The region was new to vineyards and wine production. Many thought that the Conaways were foolish and would soon go bankrupt. However, the exact opposite was true. Not only did Thousand Islands Winery® survive, it thrived! The Winery experienced rapid growth and purchased an additional thirty acre farm on Wellesley Island in 2013 and now produces over fifty thousand gallons of wine annually. As of 2017, thanks to the Conaways’ vision, initiative, and risk taking, multiple other wineries and craft beverage businesses now exist in Northern New York.
When Steve first began his winery operation, he found that the general population of Northern New York preferred beer and hard spirits. He had to educate his customers and specially tailor his wines to fit their taste, not his own. He started with five wines and quickly found that his customers favored sweeter style wines. After several years, the area’s taste began to evolve towards drier wines like Merlot. Today, Thousand Islands Winery® produces twenty-two different varieties of wine in five categories. The categories include Dry, Semi-Dry, Semi-Sweet, Sweet, and Fruit & Dessert Wines. It also produces a fortified port style wine and a honey mead. Thousands Islands Winery® has over nineteen acres of wine grapes planted on the farm. The grapes consist primarily of Frontenac, Marquette, La Crescent, and Riesling. The Winery plans to produce Ice Wine in the future.
Thousand Islands Winery® has been gaining recognition in various wine competitions across the country since 2006. From 2007-2016, 168 medals have been awarded. The medal list includes the 2010 New York State Wine & Food Classic Double Gold and Best of Class for Wellesley Island White, the 2011 Indy International Wine Competition’s Double Gold and Best of Class for Saint Lawrence Red, the 2011 Florida State Fair International Double Gold for Frontenac, the 2012 International Riverside International Wine Competition Gold (Best of Class, Chairman’s Award, Unanimous) for Marquette, the 2013 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition Double Gold for North Country Red, the 2014 New York Food & Wine Classic Gold for Marquette and Frontenac, the 2015 Florida State Fair Gold & New York State Fair Golds for Marquette, the 2015 International Women's Wine Competition Gold for Pinot Grigio and the 2016 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition Gold for Moscato and Semi-Dry Riesling. The Winery is still entering competitions to date and hopes to receive many more medals in the future!
And the story continues...