Listen to this article

By Serena Norr

Photography by Adria Ellis

On October 6, Bedford resident Christy Counts was drenched. She’d spent her day, beginning at 7 a.m., working with her all-female team to harvest the cabernet franc grapes at her new vineyard, Hidden View Vineyard, and it had rained most of the day. Located in the Finger Lakes on the west side of Seneca Lake, Hidden View is situated on a seven-acre plot that is gently sloped toward the lake. The vineyard includes a mix of riesling, chenin blanc and cabernet franc grapes; the team had harvested the chenin blanc grapes the week before, and that day, despite the pouring rain, it was time to pick the cab franc.

“Our first harvest was a magical experience,” Counts exclaims. “It represented the culmination of many years of preparatory work. The rain we experienced that day made the harvest even more memorable and exciting. The forecast didn’t show any rain until the afternoon, but the weather, as in usual Finger Lakes style, had a mind of its own and decided to bring on the rain in the late morning. Luckily, we were able to pull most of the grapes in before the weather, so ultimately, it didn’t have a negative impact on our grapes.”

The Finger Lakes region has a long wine history, beginning in 1829, and is known for varietals that thrive in a cooler climate, such as riesling, chardonnay, cabernet franc, and pinot noir. The number of vineyards has expanded dramatically over the past two decades, and there are almost 150 wineries and 11,000 acres of vineyards in the region today. 

When Counts, a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) advanced certified wine educator who has almost completed her WSET 4 diploma, chose to produce wine in the Finger Lakes region over California (her original preference), she also chose to stand out. Save

“All four people on our team are women,” says Counts. “It’s a fully women-driven team celebrating sustainability. One of the biggest problems with the wine industry is the carbon footprint. It costs a lot to ship wines around the country and around the world, and it leaves a heavy carbon footprint. Meanwhile, we have high quality amazing artisanal wines right here in New York. So why are we shipping wines from France and Italy?”

Pursuing her passion for wine

Prior to starting her wine label, neverstill, Counts worked in the nonprofit industry, focusing on animal welfare. She served as president of both the WaterShed Animal Fund and The Right Horse Initiative (now part of the ASPCA), and she was also the founder and CEO of the Central Oklahoma Humane Society (Counts is originally from Oklahoma); in addition, Counts served as executive vice president of the Arnall Family Foundation.  However, wine and her dream of owning a winery were always in the back of her mind. 

Counts assumed this would happen in California, where she lived for five years. But when Counts and her husband, Ben Morton, moved to Bedford in 2013, they began to explore the Finger Lakes wine region and were blown away by its potential for producing cool climate wines and the down-to-earth vibe of its people. 

Given the fires and climate change on the West Coast, Counts was excited about the possibilities for New York wine, so she started her search for a vineyard. In 2020, Counts made the decision to gradually transition from her work in animal welfare to focusing on a career in the wine industry. 

“This is really exciting because it’s a midlife career change,” says Counts. “We are growing some world class wines in New York; a lot of people don’t even know that. So that’s what’s extra exciting to me about this; [the region] is growing and has a long future ahead of it.” 

Putting the pieces in place

Counts purchased Hidden View in 2023 after first attempting to acquire grapes from other vineyards, a common practice in the region. But due to the light harvest in 2022, there were no grapes to be had, and Counts decided she didn’t ever want to be in that position again.

Around the same time, Counts met her now consulting winemaker, Nova Cadamatre, when she visited Cadamatre’s tasting room for her brand, Trestle Thirty One, in Geneva, NY. Above the tasting lounge, Cadamatre operates a two-bedroom vacation rental called The Loft at Trestle Thirty One, where Counts stayed during her visit. The two connected instantly.  

“We spoke the same language,” says Counts. “And I was intrigued by her work and her background in the wine industry. She was kind of an enigma.”

Cadamatre, a freelance wine consultant, received a bachelor’s degree in viticulture from Cornell University in 2006. She went on to earn a Master of Wine (MW) in 2017 from The Institute of Masters of Wine (based in London), becoming the first female winemaker in the U.S. with this designation.

“Being a woman in production is pretty unusual to begin with,” Cadamatre explains. “A woman in production pursuing the Master of Wine is even rarer. I was very excited when I finally achieved that. It was very challenging, but it allowed me to expand my thought process on how to make my wines.”

Cadamatre was first introduced to winemaking when her boyfriend (now husband), Brian,  whose family owned wineries in Italy, suggested they start a vineyard. She jokingly responded, “Let me look into how difficult this could be.” And thus began a career that led the couple to start their own brand, Trestle Thirty One. 

Cadamatre, who is also intrigued by the Finger Lakes region, connected Counts to the seller of Hidden View. 

“The land offers beautiful eastern sun in the morning, and it also has protection from the prevailing winds because it’s on the hill’s slope,” she explains. 

Counts began putting together the rest of her team, hiring Bryce Lianna as the assistant winemaker last summer and bringing on Bedford native Grace Bartlett as the hospitality manager, who will fully join after graduating from Cornell in June. 

The inaugural season

Within the first season, Cadamatre was able to produce wine, which she says is a dream. 

“neverstill is really unique because I’m managing the vineyard in addition to making the wine,” she explains. “It’s great to bring both halves of my career and love for this industry together. Plus, I can grow the grapes the way I want them to be grown, as well as make the wine I want to make.” 

This summer, neverstill will release its first wines; Counts says she will produce 670 cases in 2024 and 2025. The first varietals will be the chenin blanc (a light and crisp wine) and riesling in late June, followed by the reserve riesling (a late-harvest riesling) in the fall.  In 2025, neverstill will release a 2023 vintage cabernet franc (which is currently in barrel) and a 2024 vintage rose. 

“Our riesling is very dry and highly acidic, as well as fresh and bright,” Counts explains. “New York grows some of the very best grapes for riesling wine.”

They’ve nicknamed their reserve riesling, which is made from grapes harvested late in the season, “Wild.” 

“The Reserve riesling, or as we call it, the ‘Wild riesling,’ was made using indigenous yeasts,” Cadamatre explains. “Many wines are made using commercial strains of yeast, and some of ours are as well. The indigenous yeasts allow us to capture the essence of the site. It can be risky; however, it is a very special wine when it turns out as amazing as this one did.” 

“The wild riesling has a lot of textural elements to it,” Cadamatre continues. “It’s a more cerebral wine. And, neverstill is one of only two producers of chenin blanc in the Finger Lakes. Our chenin blanc is a very unique and rare wine from the New York area.”

“Everyone who has tasted it is going nuts over it,” Counts adds. 

And neverstill wines, which Counts says are “light and fresh,” have an additional drinkability factor.

“Cool climate wines tend to have lower alcohol,” she explains. “Our wines are not as big as your California wines or wines grown in warm climates. This is important for many people who love wine but desire lower alcohol as they get older.”

Focusing on sustainability

In addition to offering cutting-edge and artisanal wines, Counts is passionate about sustainability and finalizing the brand’s sustainability certificate.

Her first step to reduce neverstill’s environmental impact is the bottling. neverstill wines are in lightweight bottles, which decreases the amount of fuel needed to transport the wines.

“The lighter the bottle, the less it costs to ship,” Cadamatre explains.“The biggest carbon footprint in the wine industry is shipping bottles,” says Counts. “Many people don’t realize that one way we can all be sustainable is to buy locally.” 

Counts also has “big and exciting plans” for neverstill.

“I’d love to start a wine bottle recycling program where consumers can reuse and recycle bottles,” she explains. “And I’m looking into alternative packaging down the line, which is largely limited due to what is available locally.”

Additionally, neverstill is not using a capsule, the protective foil on top of their wine bottles. 

“Capsules have nothing to do with wine quality,” Cadamatre explains. “It’s mainly for aesthetics and tradition. In the past, it was used to prevent bugs from getting into your wine cellar, which isn’t relevant today. So, we’re leaving the capsule in the past and saving those resources for something else.”

Making it personal

Counts wanted her tasting room to be community-based and accessible for travelers and visitors coming from Westchester or New York City. She found a former millinery in Hudson that fit the bill. 

She purchased the building in 2023 and gutted the space so she could restore it to its original finishes. Counts says she fell in love with the region as a tourist and felt connected to its vibrant, artisan community. 

“The community is very creative,” she says. “And they care a lot about the values of the winery that we’re creating.” 

In addition to neverstill wines, Counts’ tasting room will also feature and sell other wines made in New York. Her goal is to educate others about the high-quality wines throughout the state.

If traveling to Hudson isn’t possible, Counts says neverstill will also be available at various farmers markets and local pop-ups throughout Bedford and the Finger Lakes region. It will also be available locally at Wine Geeks in Armonk. Plus, the wines will also be available online.

While some Hudson-based restaurants will carry the wine, Counts mainly wants to sell neverstill directly to consumers, which, she says, will allow her to provide a personal approach.

“We want to have a one-on-one relationship with our customers,” Counts explains. “It’s of utmost importance to me that we have a direct line of communication with our customers. We are an experiential brand, which includes personal relationships and knowing exactly who customers are and what they want. We want our customers to not only know our values, but feel them through every experience they have with us.”

The neverstill tasting room is slated to open in August 2024 at 739 Warren Street in Hudson, NY. 

This article was published in the May/June 2024 print edition of Connect to Northern Westchester.

Serena Norr

Serena Norr is a freelance writer, playwright, and founder of Let’s Make a Play, a playwriting program for kids and adults. Her plays have been performed at the Omaha Fringe Festival, White Plains Performing Arts Center, the New Deal Creative Arts Center, Westchester Collaborative Theater, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, The Players Theater with the Rogue Theater Festival and the NYC Short Play Festival, The Tank, The Flea, the University of Alabama as well as various productions over Zoom. She is also a teaching artist with the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and Caramoor Center for the Arts.  For more information, visit http://www.serenanorr.com/