Ithacash, new local currency, set to launch in May

"Ithacash" or "Ithaca Dollars" will go into use in May.

“Ithacash” or “Ithaca Dollars” will go into use in May.

An Ithacan reaches into his or her pocket. They are about to buy a movie ticket at Cinemapolis, but instead of grabbing a United States issued $10 bill, they reach for their phone. They pull up a new text message, which is linked to their online Ithacash account, type “Pay Cinemapolis 9.50” accompanied by their individual pin number and press send.

Ithacash or “Ithaca Dollars”, a new regional currency, will debut this May. Founder Scott Morris originally came to Ithaca in hopes of exploring what was happening with Ithaca Hours, a similar system that revolutionized local currencies when it launched in 1991.

Continue reading →

NYS maple producers face delayed start due to frigid temps and snowfall

Dan Beasley, of Sweet Trees Maple, hammers a tap into place.

Dan Beasley, of Sweet Trees Maple, hammers a tap into place.

Two men, dressed head to toe in Carhartt jumpsuits, trudge through knee-deep snow as powdery flakes fall steadily from the sky on a cloudy March Sunday morning. One, the son, carries a DeWalt power drill and plastic clear-handled hammer in hand, the other, the father, follows steadily behind.

This day will be just like any of the other three days the duo has been out in the woods this season. Snow fills their boots and the cold bites their faces, as they struggle to make it through the 17-acres of their 170-acre property, tapping trees for this year’s maple syrup season.

Continue reading →

On-demand app, Minibar, delivers alcohol to Ithaca customers

By Emily Hull and Lyndsay Isaksen

Elliot Castillo, 22, orders from Top Shelf Liquors via the Minibar Delivery app.

Elliot Castillo, 22, orders from Top Shelf Liquors via the Minibar Delivery app.

It’s happy hour on a Wednesday night. Sitting in his Ithaca apartment, Elliot Castillo, 22, is craving some Pinot Grigio. He pulls out his Android smartphone and touches his finger to a recently downloaded app in the bottom right-hand corner of his home screen. With a simple touch, Castillo is brought to the entire inventory of Top Shelf Liquor Store on Ithaca’s South Hill.

Castillo is a weekly visitor of Ithaca’s liquor stores, but now the liquor store is being brought to him. On October 6, Minibar Delivery app launched in the Ithaca community, making alcohol an “on-demand luxury consumable.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 2.38.59 PM

According to, Minibar was ranked 149th of more than 10,000 ‘food and drink’ apps available in the app store, as of Oct. 13, 2014.

Minibar Delivery was co-founded by Lara Crystal, a 2003 graduate of Cornell University, and Lindsey Andrews after receiving their master’s together at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

“We saw an empty space in alcohol where there really wasn’t a go-to destination online to shop for wine and spirits,” Crystal said. “It’s one of those industries where people still have to go to the store.”

The startup launched in New York City in February 2014 and according to Crystal the company has been growing exponentially each month. With its rapid success, Minibar is ready to expand beyond the city, starting with Westchester and now in Crystal’s college town.

“I spent four years in Ithaca and thought it would be a great test of a suburban market. There’s more driving, it can be really cold and people don’t necessarily want to drive around to their local liquor store,” Crystal said.

Although, the app only launched this past winter the company saw an increase in use in New York City during inclement weather.

Crystal said talks of expansion to the Ithaca market began about a month ago, when Top Shelf Liquors approached Minibar. She said they hope to eventually add a beer store to the platform as well.

“We’ll definitely learn a lot as we go about the drinking habits of Ithacans versus New Yorkers,” Crystal said.

The app requires customers to make a $25 minimum with no additional delivery fee and guarantees the order will be at your door within an hour.

Christopher Kusznir, owner of Top Shelf Liquors said he had been pursuing a delivery service for his business for a couple of years. The biggest challenge was finding a way to have their inventory accurately displayed online. Top Shelf looked at other alcohol delivery apps, such as Drizly, to digitize their sales.

“We liked where Minibar was at as a company,” Kusznir said. “They were more adaptable and flexible for smaller stores.”

Kusznir said Top Shelf has hired two delivery drivers to accommodate the new partnership and the business plans on promoting Minibar through flyers, coupons and promotional material.

A current New York City partner, Atlantic Cellars, began working with Minibar upon its launch in February. General Manager, Guido Venitucci, said Minibar has helped increase revenue to the business.

“For any store like ours that has limited foot traffic, it has expanded the walls of our store,” Venitucci said.

Regardless of location, Crystal believes Minibar will fill a niche market for today’s generation.

“Millennials are looking for an easy way to get everything brought to them,” Crystal said. “They don’t want to spend time running errands. Having a conveniently, merchandised app that allows you to easily find what you want is something people are looking for.”

See this post on Ithaca Week

September weather increases quality of Finger Lakes grapes

By Emily Hull and Steve Derderian

Harvesters at Hosmer Winery, in Ovid, New York, check out the Chardonnay grapes they harvested Thursday afternoon.

Harvesters at Hosmer Winery, in Ovid, New York, check out the Chardonnay grapes they harvested Thursday afternoon.

With record-low temperatures throughout winter 2014, Finger Lakes wineries are now seeing a smaller yield of their product. However, ideal temperatures in September have led to a heightened quality of grapes this harvest season.

“The warm sunny days are great to speed up ripening and cool nights are ideal for flavor development,” Jim Trezise, president of the New York State Wine and Grape Foundation, said. “The weather couldn’t have been better.”

Scott Osborn, president of Fox Run Vineyards in Penn Yan, New York, said he saw a 70 percent loss in his other grape varieties, but his Chardonnay grapes were saved by the balanced climate of the past month.

Aaron Roisen, winemaker at Hosmer Winery in Ovid, New York, said even though there is a smaller crop, the winemaking process is being positively affected by the recent weather habits.

“The sugar levels are really high in most varieties because the crop is down quite a bit,” Roisen said. “Some years you’re not favored the luxury of natural ripening.”

Since Labor Day, wineries throughout the Finger Lakes have been reporting a smaller yield compared to last year. The 2013 harvest saw a record-setting season for New York State, bringing in 200,000 tons of grapes. According to Trezise, the 2014 harvest is below average.

“We haven’t had a polar vortex-style winter since 2004,” Cameron Hosmer, owner of Hosmer Winery, said. “It’s just the first time in ten years we’ve had a winter like this one.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 2.40.57 PM

Hosmer’s greatest loss was in the Sauvignon Blanc variety. In 2013, the Hosmer’s harvested 18 tons of grapes from their vines, this year only one and a half. Hosmer said the damages throughout the Finger Lakes would be site specific.

Trezise said location played a big part in the amount of winter injury the grapevines saw.

“It really depends on north, south, east and west,” Trezise said. “The northern ends of the lakes, up by Geneva on Seneca Lake, were hit much harder than down by Watkins Glen. The vineyards that are on the eastern sides of the lakes that have a western sun exposure, did better than the ones on the west side of the lakes.”

Trezise said the eastern sides of the lakes receive more lake effect benefits and have longer exposure to warm air and sunshine.

Most wineries suffered from “bud kill”, where the buds, or what become grape clusters, are killed due to the low temperatures. Trezise said this is much more manageable than when the grapevines die.

“If you have bud kill you just have a smaller crop for that year,” Trezise said. “If you have vine kill then it takes you five years to recover because you have to pull out the dead vines, prepare the land, plant the new vines and wait four years for a new crop.”

Grapevines are a tough crop because they can withstand five to 10 below zero degrees Fahrenheit, Trezise said. The snow helped tremendously in insulating the vines, Hosmer added.

Vincent Altiperi, owner and winemaker at Billsboro Winery in Geneva, New York, said he and his team are making changes to their harvest process.

“We’ve already made adjustments to the vineyards — reducing crop load and leaf pulling,” Altiperi said. “We’re just trying to anticipate as best we can knowing the season was a bit cool and things are delayed. Every year you make a little different style of wine, so this is probably not going to be a year where you have big, high alcohol bold reds.”

Altiperi said previous successful harvests will allow wineries to maintain their stock even if this year is less bountiful.

“Even with some damage or major damage, most wineries are going to survive,” Altiperi said. “It definitely could’ve been worse, it always could be worse.”

See this post on Ithaca Week.