Matthew Thorn Smith, 31, joined the Lakewood cellar crew as a production assistant in October 2022. Smith had just completed two harvests at Hillock & Hobbs and was looking to hone his skills in the cellar. “I want to learn all aspects of winemaking. One day I hope to be a true ‘vigneron’ and grow my own grapes and make my own wine,” Smith says with a smile.
A native of Montclair, New Jersey, Smith’s path to the wine industry was not exactly linear. While pursuing a BFA in photography at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Smith took a job at Rebelle, a Michelin-starred French restaurant, to help with expenses. He started as a backwaiter, but quickly ascended the ranks and was tasked with receiving wine orders, maintaining the wine cellar and running bottles. A few years after graduation, Smith found himself selling wines at Morrell Wine in Rockefeller Center. In 2021, Smith made a decision about his future in wine: “Rather than sell other people’s stories, I want to write my own.”
Smith looked for production positions in California and Washington before accepting a vineyard job on Seneca Lake, and eventually transferring to production at Lakewood Vineyards. When asked why he chose the Finger Lakes, Smith says, “The viability of my dream is actually possible here. I’m also closer to home. Why go anywhere else when I can make wine in my backyard?”
When asked what Finger Lakes wine he would bring to a casual party, Smith’s eyes light up and he says, “2021 Lemberger from Lakewood. Although I prefer the name Blaufrӓnkisch. I like the varietal for its blue-fruitedness and peppery-ness. It fits the slot for a steak wine. Lemberger deserves more space here.”