Suzanne Hunt has built a rich life. As co-owner of Hunt Country Vineyards and Vice President, Policy at Generate Upcycle, she works hard at her two full-time jobs to fuel her passion for climate solutions and clean energy. At the same time, she is an integral part of her family’s seventh generation farm and second-generation winery in the heart of the Finger Lakes, Branchport, New York.
“My passion has always been to protect and preserve the planet that we live on. Without that, nothing has value. We can’t succeed in farming if the climate is not stable. So, that’s been my driving passion. The farm is my other passion. That is where my heart is. I try to do both, and they directly benefit from each other.”
Returning to the Farm
Suzanne returned to the Finger Lakes and Hunt Country Vineyards after years in Washington D.C. in a high-powered career advocating for clean tech and climate change policies. She has been an ardent environmentalist since she was a young child. A graduate of Penn Yan Academy, she earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in environmental resources management from Penn State University, a master’s in international development from American University, and a second masters in natural resources and sustainable development from Universidad para la Paz in Costa Rica.
Her father and mother, Art and Joyce Hunt, were role models when it came to change. They took over the farm in the 1970’s from the previous generation and incurred new debt to plant vineyards. The vineyards were finally starting to have a full crop, when the grape market crashed.
Suzanne explains that her parent saw some of the most respected growers in the area lose their farms because they couldn’t change direction or innovate. This ended up being an important lesson for them, and they started the winery. Today Hunt Country produces a range of wines: reds, whites, rosés, sparkling, and dessert. They are also the oldest continuous producer of genuine ice wine in the United States.
Now Suzanne and her husband are expanding the winery into a destination spot by holding experiential learning events. In addition to traditional tastings the winery now provides “meaningful experiences where people put their cell phone away and learn new skills.” Visitors are learning how to build stone walls and rustic furniture; taking walks through the farm to discover edible and medicinal wild plants; and even participating in creative writing workshops.
She has also been redesigning the winery’s inside and outdoor spaces. Hunt Country installed soft, sustainable flooring in the tasting room, and now holds yoga classes there every week. She went through the old barns and discovered that the beautiful tools her ancestors made and used were shoved in corners. Now they hang on the walls.
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