Jan Klapetzky - winemaker extraordinaire

From amateur to professional

By Wilma Young

Williamson, May 4 – He holds 32 gold medals overall and uncounted silver and bronze medals from state and national competitions for his homemade wines. Jan Klapetzky is one of those intelligent guys – a retired Kodak chemical engineer – who has used his genius to enhance a life-long hobby for making wine. Klapetzky has been making wine in earnest for 37years, although he started way before then.

Jan’s winemaking began as a 10 year old when he started a batch of hard cider using bakers’ yeast. “My parents caught me and scolded me, but when I looked out my bedroom door I saw they were drinking it,” he shared. Klapetzky grew up in Syracuse, NY.

After completing a Masters in Chemical Engineering, Jan moved to Rochester for his new job at Eastman Kodak Company. He made a friend who had a little vineyard (actually it was his aunts), and was pressing the grapes and making wine in his garage.

“That was fun,” Jan continued, “so I took a couple of courses and purchased juice and started experimenting on my own.” It was trial and error at the beginning; some wine was just awful, but most was palatable and with each batch Klapetzky learned something new.

In 1977 he moved to Williamson and began planting his own grapes: DeChaunac (a red wine grape), Duchess, Delaware and Catawba. Getting the 200 plants in the half acre of ground was a lot of work, taking care of the vineyard, although rewarding, was also a lot of work. Picking was a family event. With his sons in tow, they harvested, de-stemmed, and pressed the fruit for its juice….and that was a lot of work too.

Nights and weekends, the chemist worked away in the basement of his 130 year old farmhouse using this yeast or another, fermenting his concoctions….and all along the way his process evolved, improved, and his wine started getting a reputation among family and friends.

As a supporting parent, Jan volunteered as a cub scout leader; monthly meetings were held at his home. Generally speaking, the meetings went smoothly especially since the adults involved knew they could relax at the end by sharing a bottled of Jan’s wine, but not until all business was resolved.

In 1992 – fifteen years after he began this hobby – Klapetzky entered his first bottle of wine in the New York State Fair homemade wine category; immediate success, he won gold for the entry. WOW! It wasn’t just that he and his friends liked the wine that Jan produced, judges agreed, Klapetzky made prize worthy, superior wines.

Fast forward another 15 years. Klapetzky has retired from Kodak, but never stopped making wine. Year after year, he continued to submit his wines. The shelf on the buffet is loaded with bottles displaying medal upon medal from state and national championships recognition. In 2006 Jan was ranked 10th by the American Wine Society in their amateur winemaking competitions; the 2007 standing has not been announced yet, but it is expected that Klapetzky will move up. During 2007 Jan won four golds and two silver medals at the State Fair, and two golds and four silver medals at the national American Wine Society competition.

Jan’s winemaking hobby has  included membership in the American Wine Society; he is a past chairman of the Rochester chapter; he judged at a number of major wine competitions. Klapetzky shares his knowledge and has taught several winemaking courses and currently teaches winemaking at the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua.

Now Klapetzky is on the cusp of a new phase in his life. He is about to cross the threshold from amateur to professional winemaker. Williamson’s new Young Sommer Winery is about to open its doors for the very first time on May 17 and 18 just in time for Apple Blossom weekend. Wines that will be served will highlight Klapetzky’s gift and talent for all to enjoy.

Winery owners Wilma and Herm Young took a class from Jan five years ago. Even thought the course was for grape wines, Herm was intent on making apple and other fruit wines. Jan and Herm collaborated and more medals were won (more on the winery in next week’s edition).

“I am ready, it’s really time to move into something at a completely different level,” Jan explained. “commercial winemaking is more difficult – you can’t blend out or discard batches as easily – but I’m here because I want to be. I’m enjoying meeting a lot of the other people in the wine making industry and talking with them on an inside basis – that’s a lot of fun.”

“When I retired I was searching for something to do. I thought about working at Lowe’s, I had some carpentry experience. I took a Landscaping tech course and worked at Grandpa’s one summer. I’ve been teaching digital cameras and Photoshop in the Webster adult ed program.

“On top of it all I’ve been given this opportunity to become a professional winemaker – that’s the most fun and will be the most challenging,” Jan concluded and smiled. “I have no idea how I would have had time for Kodak.”

Young Sommer Winery is located at 4287 Jersey Road in Williamson.  Visit www.yswinery.com.



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