Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

Boundary Breaks is Breaking the Mold

It takes the right landscape and the person with the right vision.” That’s what Bruce Murray, founder of Boundary Breaks Vineyard says about building a successful business in the Finger Lakes. 

Murray grew up in the Syracuse area, where he met his wife, Diana Lyttle who is also co-owner of Boundary Breaks. But it wasn’t until decades after graduation from high school that they reconnected. The Finger Lakes Times wrote a great story in January 2022 about Murray and how he and Lyttle came to own Boundary Breaks: THE WINE RANGER: Breaking boundaries — A dotcom CEO transforms to a riesling guru in the Finger Lakes

But here’s a different story – one about economic development and how Murray sees the Finger Lakes region as a collection of unique experiences you can’t find anywhere else in the world. 

“People are coming from these homogenized experiences where major city centers are all very similar overall. But they come here and it’s so unique,” Murray says. 

Boundary Breaks was called “The break-out producer of the Finger Lakes.” by Wine Enthusiast. They grow cool-climate varieties of wines include Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Franc. 

In addition to his leadership at Boundary Breaks, Murray is also giving back to his community by serving in board positions for the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency and Seneca County Chamber of Commerce. 

A Place Unlike Anywhere Else 

He spent years off and on in Silicon Valley in California working in tech and taking in the diverse wine and food culture in the region. One of the tech companies Murray worked for was even owned by Elon Musk. 

When he resettled back in Upstate, he rekindled his relationship with Lyttle, who was working in Connecticut but visiting Syracuse to help care for her parents who were still in the area. They landed in the Hudson Valley, halfway between Lyttle’s Connecticut home and Boundary Breaks in Lodi. Then they relocated to a house on the vineyard property in 2017 where Lyttle added her plant botany background to Murray’s expertise. “With her plant botany background, Lyttle would prove to be an invaluable asset in the vineyard,1” remarked Murray. The couple spent years and significant capital nurturing the grapes, building a tasting room, and growing the Boundary Breaks brand. It took 13 years for the operation to finally make a profit in 2021. You would think that most business owners would be discouraged by that, but Murray remains optimistic about the Finger Lakes and the wine industry. 

“The industry I chose looked poised for growth,” says Murray. “This is an excellent wine-growing region, and it has the right surrounding logistics in manufacturing, healthy tourism, rich history, and unique outdoor recreation experiences.” 

He believes the ecosystem of the region is ready for more food and dining businesses. “It’s very risky and you need experience and access to capital, but I think there’s an opportunity for growth in that area.” He compares the opportunity to the wine scene in Napa Valley which took off when the food scene took off. 

Murray’s not alone. In 2018, the Finger Lakes was named America’s top wine region in a USA Today poll. That same year, Travel + Leisure published a story on Why New York Is Becoming One of America’s Best States for Wine Lovers

“Cheesemakers, beer, wine, spirits, cider, organic grains, garlic – there’s a certain similarity to Northern California and the farm-to-table movement,” says Murray. “We haven’t finished growing. Not by a long shot. I feel the promise we have here.” The data backs up Murray’s hunch that the industry is still growing. The Finger Lakes region had record sales tax revenues in the last two years. 

A Region of One of Kind Experiences 

Lyttle believes that there’s room for more one-of-a-kind experiences in the region. “There’s a great opportunity for wine industry partners that include outdoor entertainment and great places to eat.” 

Boundary Breaks offers food and wine pairing experiences at the Lodi tasting room. Starting on March 6th, every Sunday until Mother’s Day, Boundary Breaks is bringing back their famous Sunday Brunch pairing. Brunch will include five specially-selected Boundary Breaks wines paired with five food pairings handcrafted by their returning Chef Ryan Allen-Parrot, who is the original developer of their Sunday Brunch and Bounty Board. Of course, the rolling hills and lake views visible from the Boundary Breaks tasting room are not to be missed. 

Year-round agritourism (on-farm destination experiences for the general public often involving education) and outdoor experiences are a-plenty in the Finger Lakes. Other notable outdoor experiences in the Finger Lakes region include: 

  • Bristol Mountain Ski Resort (Bristol, NY) touts the highest vertical (1200’) between the Adirondack Mountains of the East and the Rocky Mountains of the West.
  • The Lake House on Canandaigua (Canandaigua, NY) perched on the shores of Canandaigua Lake is filled with all the leisurely comforts and luxuries of a world-class hotel. Outdoor experiences include winter igloo dining overlooking the lake.
  • Brewery Ardennes (Geneva, NY) was originally a sheep barn (1909) on the Bellwood estate and has been impressively rehabilitated by owners Derek and Stacey Edinger, for their Belgian-style craft brewery.
  • Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery (Hammondsport, NY) is a pioneer of Finger Lakes winemaking. His techniques and innovations began a revolution in the Finger Lakes that would forever change the region.
    For Lyttle and Murray, it keeps coming back to vision and they believe there’s a particular profile of a person that’s well-suited to take advantage of the opportunities the Finger Lakes region presents.

“It’s early retirees with a high risk tolerance who are transplants from larger markets looking for something interesting,” concludes Murray. “They’re immensely talented with a lifetime of experience they’re eager to share. What the region really needs is capital-rich folks who see the potential to dig in for the long haul.”

We’re certainly fortunate to have Murray and Lyttle sharing their expertise, enriching the Finger Lakes and breaking boundaries in the region.

Maureen Ballatori is a LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal contributing writer and a member of the organization’s board of directors. She is the founder and CEO of 29 Design Studio, a creative agency for food, beverage, and agriculture brands. Ballatori also owns Metro Collective which helps Upstate NY shared space operators activate their workspaces.

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